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What Is Chemical Peels?

A Chemical peel is a solution which causes controlled damage to the applied skin causing it to blister, exfoliate and eventually peel off, giving way to a smoother and less wrinkled skin in its place. This treatment is beneficial for those wanting to improve their skin’s appearance.

Chemical peels are usually done on the face, neck, or hands and specially used for:

  • Reducing fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth
  • Treating wrinkles caused by sun damage and aging
  • Improving the appearance of mild scars
  • Treating certain types of acne
  • Reducing age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills
  • Improving the look and feel of skin

There are three basic types of chemical peels and your doctor will be able to best judge the one most effective for your treatment.

  • Superficial or lunchtime peel: Alpha-hydroxy acid or another mild acid is used to penetrate only the outer layer of skin to gently exfoliate it. The treatment is used to improve the appearance of mild skin discoloration and rough skin as well as to refresh the face, neck, chest or hands.
  • Medium peel: Glycolic or trichloroacetic acid is applied to penetrate the outer and middle layers of skin to remove damaged skin cells. The treatment is used to improve age spots, fine lines and wrinkles, freckles and moderate skin discoloration. It also can be used to smooth rough skin and treat some precancerous skin growths, i.e. actinic keratosis.
  • Deep peel: Tricholoracetic acid or phenol is applied to deeply penetrate the middle layer of skin to remove damaged skin cells. The treatment removes moderate lines, age spots, freckles and shallow scars. Patients will see a dramatic improvement in skin appearance. The procedure is used on the face and only can be performed once.

It is important to note that a lot of care is required after the treatment. The skin tends to be more sensitive to the sun, therefore wearing a sunscreen every day is a must. Also, the sunscreen needs to be a ‘broad-spectrum’ one, meaning it needs to protect against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. It would be better to also limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

What To Expect?

A chemical peel is an outpatient procedure. Your practitioner will begin by first cleaning your skin thoroughly. After which they will apply one or more chemical solutions — such as glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or carbolic acid (phenol) — to small areas of your skin. During the process, most people feel a burning sensation that lasts about five to ten minutes, followed by a stinging sensation. Applying cool compresses on the skin may ease that stinging. Some people may need pain medication during or after a deeper peel.

Post Treatment

All peels require some follow-up care:

  • Superficial peels require one to seven days to heal. Treated skin will initially be red and may scale. Lotion or cream should be applied until the skin heals, followed by daily use of sunscreen. Makeup can usually be worn the next day.
  • Medium peels require seven to 14 days to heal. Treated skin will initially be red and swollen. Swelling worsens for the first 48 hours. Blisters may form and break. Skin crusts and peels off in seven to 14 days. Skin must be soaked daily for a specified period, followed by ointment application. Antiviral medication is taken for 10 to 14 days. Mild lotion or cream may be applied. Avoid all sun exposure until healing is complete. Camouflage makeup may be worn after five to seven days. A follow-up appointment will be necessary to monitor progress.
  • Deep peels require 14 to 21 days to heal. The treated area will be bandaged. Skin must be soaked four to six times daily, followed by ointment application for the first 14 days. Afterwards a thick moisturizer is applied for the next 14 days. Antiviral medication is taken for 10 to 14 days. Mild lotion or cream may be applied. Avoid all sun exposure for three to six months. Camouflage makeup may be worn after 14 days. Several follow-up appointments will be necessary to monitor progress.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do chemical peels do?
What should I expect during treatment?
How long is the recovery after a chemical peel and what type of care is necessary?
Why did I not have any visible peeling after my peel?
What products or procedures should I avoid before a chemical peel?
What are the counterindications to chemical peels?