Chemical peels are a popular method for removing sun damage, pigment spots and acne scars from your face. The procedure is now so common for skin rejuvenation that more than 1 million peels were performed in 2012.
While many are done professionally by dermatologists – chemical peels claim to renew your skin by removing damaged cells (including even pre-cancerous ones) — you can even find do-it-yourself chemical peel ‘kits’ at your local pharmacy.
So what’s the problem?
Their active ingredient is typically trichloroacetic acid (TCA), a compound that the International Agency on Cancer Research suggests should be classified as a suspected human carcinogen. While most of the studies to date have been done on animals, they strongly suggest that TCA may cause cancer. The state of California has even decided to add the compound to its registry of toxic substances.
Martha Sandy, chief of the Reproductive and Hazard Assessment Branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said:
“When there’s evidence of carcinogenicity in animals, we assume it has the potential to cause harm in humans … One of the purposes of putting a compound on the list is to make the public aware of the current state of scientific knowledge.”
TCA isn’t only found in chemical peels – it’s also found in antiseptics, medications, soil and in drinking water as a byproduct of chlorination.
However, animal research shows it can be absorbed right through your skin, increasing concerns surrounding exposures during chemical-peel treatments. At least one study to date has also shown evidence of both genetic and cellular damage from TCA in humans.
Reducing Damage from Exposure to Environmental Toxins
It’s far too soon – and too simplistic – to suggest that getting one chemical peel may increase your risk of cancer. But the fact remains that your body is like a sponge, soaking up minute (and larger) quantities of toxins on a daily basis. No matter how “clean” a life you lead — healthy eating, exercise, regular stress relief — your body is likely to show evidence of accumulated toxicity.
Taking steps to minimize such exposures is important and may very well help to lower your risk of cancer and other chronic disease. You should definitely take this into account when considering optional procedures like chemical peels.
For those exposures you’ve already had, or can’t avoid, however, here’s a simple guide for doing a detox, including why you should.