OPEN THREAD: Ingredient Science vs. Science Fiction

If a "doctor" thought trichloroacetic acid could kill The Blob, is it really safe for my skin?
Publish date:
April 29, 2016
science, open thread, Tca Peel, Trichloroacetic Acid

I am a woman of science. Well, as much as someone who failed 11th grade honors chemistry and had to repeat it in summer school can be a woman of science. All I mean, really, is that I'm not swayed by mystical stuff or even anecdotes; I like scientific proof and explanations for things.

That includes beauty. I want a scientific justification for why an ingredient should or shouldn't be in a product, beyond just "it's natural" (to me, that's pointless) or it's a trendy, buzzy buzz-word. (Remember when companies started putting kale in things? That was... fun.) I'm all for giving unproven ingredients a chance, but when someone asks me what's definitely going to work, I tend to recommend products and treatments with ingredients that dermatologists would give me a sugar-free lollipop for recommending. (Wait... that's dentists who do that.)

One long-proven treatment in the skincare world is the TCA peel. It's a kind of chemical peel that's used for fine lines, discoloration, and blemishes, which are exactly the things about my skin that have started bothering me lately. (I swear, I've seen a major change just since the beginning of this year.) It can be done by a dermatologist at various strengths, and some brands even sell solutions with amateur-friendly percentages of the stuff.

TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid, by the way. And even though I know this is TOTALLY STUPID, it's because of where I first heard of trichloroacetic acid that I've been reluctant to give it a shot.

For the record, I wasn't alive in 1958 when The Blob came out. (I think I'd be much less annoyed with my skin right now if I was.) That said, I watched it in my early 20s, and when, as the online editor at NewBeauty a few years later, I heard about TCA peels, I remembered a scene from it.

It went like this:

Nurse: Oh, Doctor, I'm afraid. Doctor: Try to stay as far away from it as you can. Kate, be calm! Now do as I say. Behind you. The trichloroacetic acid. Throw it! Nurse: Throw it?Doctor: Yes, but for heaven's sake, don't get any of it on your hands.

I don't know if it was the (totally fictional) doctor's warning not to get any on her hands or the fact that they were trying to kill The Blob with it, but this entirely nonscientific use of trichloroacetic acid stuck with me.

I cannot, in whatever part of my inner monologue is voiced by Neil deGrasse Tyson, give a good reason beyond this nonsense scene in a movie why trichloroacetic acid is on my shit list.

So for today's Open Thread, I want to know:

  • Do you have a similar not-backed-by-science reason for avoiding a certain type of ingredient or product? Or for using one?
  • Have you ever had a TCA peel?
  • What else is on your mind as we get all weekendy?