Chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution to remove damaged, scarred or wrinkled layers of skin and improve appearance.
Chemical Peels: What You Need to Know
Chemical peels separate top layers of damaged skin to reveal smoother, more uniform skin.
The treatment can be used on the face or other areas, including the hands or body. More than one treatment may be necessary to achieve desired results.
Some stronger forms of chemical peels may cause scarring or leave areas of the skin lighter or darker.
Chemical Peel: Procedure and Care
Chemical peel treatments can be performed at the doctor’s office or in a surgical center. The doctor ensures that the person is comfortable throughout the procedure.
Depending on the extent of the treatment, the person may not require any anesthesia, since the milder solutions cause little more than a tingling sensation when applied to the skin. For deeper peels, the doctor may offer sedation and local anesthesia — a relaxing medication along with an agent to numb the treatment area.
After treatment, the top layer or layers of skin detach and slough off, revealing smoother skin underneath. Mild peels improve the skin texture and minimize uneven pigmentation, resulting in a refreshed appearance. Deeper peels remove fine lines and wrinkles, acne scarring and dark spots.
Types of Chemical Peels
The doctor chooses a chemical product based on the person’s skin type and objectives.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) Peels
The mildest chemical peels consist of glycolic, lactic or fruit acids. They are a good choice for people who desire smoother, brighter looking skin with less visible fine lines. AHA peels can address mild uneven pigmentation, mild sun damage and dry areas, and help control acne.
Beta Hydroxy and Salicytic Acid Peels
These peels are common choices to treat abnormal dark areas (hyperpigmentation) or discoloration due to acne or other scarring.
Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Peels
Different concentrations of TCA can smooth fine surface wrinkles and remove superficial blemishes, as well as address pigment problems. The chemical is safe for use on the neck or other body areas, and may be a good choice for people with darker skin. More than one treatment is often necessary.
Phenol is the strongest chemical peel. It is used to remove dark blotches caused by pregnancy, aging or sun damage. Phenol peels can smooth deeper wrinkles and remove pre-cancerous growths on the skin. It is only appropriate for use on the face because it can cause scarring on other areas of the body.
Peels containing a combination of acids and phenols can produce the effects of each chemical and maybe used to smooth fine lines, reduce the appearance of acne scars and improve the tone and texture of skin.
After the Chemical Peel
The top layer(s) of treated skin will separate and slough off in the first two weeks.
After that, the skin may be red, raw and swollen, and will take time to heal.
The area may feel dry or irritated, or develop a crust.
Applying ointment for 7 to 10 days will keep the area soft and speed healing.
Cold compresses will help ease any discomfort.
In one or two weeks the new skin layers will be visible in the treatment area.
The redness will fade in about four weeks.
It is very important that the person follow the surgeon’s instructions to prevent infection, control discomfort and ensure the best possible result. This information will include details on keeping the area clean and protected, avoiding extreme temperatures, committing to using sunblock or avoiding sun exposure, and using any recommended medications.
Follow-up care is vital so your doctor can monitor the healing process. The doctor should be notified immediately if the person notices any unusual symptoms such as fever, excessive pain or bleeding.
More Information About Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in the Health Library