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All you need to know about chemical peel

What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is a skin-resurfacing procedure that involves applying a chemical solution to the skin to remove the top layers and regenerating the damaged skin for a smoother and younger look.


Chemical peels are used to treat wrinkles, skin discoloration, sun damage, fine lines and scars on the face, hands, and neck.

What are the benefits of a chemical peel?

The benefits of a chemical peel include:


  • A more youthful texture skin with a uniform coloration

  • Reduced fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth

  • Reduce wrinkles caused by sun damage and aging

  • Improved appearance of mild scars

  • Reduced age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma)

Who is an ideal candidate for a chemical peel?

Fair-skinned and light-haired patients are better candidates for chemical peels.


People with darker skin may also have good outcomes but at the same time, they are more likely to have an uneven skin tone after the procedure.


The ideal candidate for a chemical is someone with:


  • Sun-damaged skin resulting in wrinkles

  • Uneven pigmentation

  • Sunspots

  • Age spots

  • Melasma

Which types of chemical peels are available?

There are three types of chemical peels, depending on the depth of damage in the skin.


Superficial chemical peel


A superficial chemical peel removes the outer layer of skin and it is used to treat fine wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, and dryness.


Medium chemical peel


A medium chemical peel removes skin cells from the epidermis and from portions of the upper part of your middle layer of skin (dermis). It is used to treat wrinkles, acne scars, and uneven skin tone.


Deep chemical peel


This type of peel removes skin cells from the epidermis and from portions of the mid to lower layer of your dermis.


Your doctor might recommend a deep chemical peel if you have deeper wrinkles, scars or precancerous growths and it can only be performed once.

What are the possible risks of a chemical peel?

Potential risks of chemical peels include:


  • Scarring

  • Redness

  • Changes in skin color

  • Infection


The phenol used in deep peels can actually damage the heart muscle, kidneys, and liver, and cause irregular heartbeats.


To limit exposure to phenol, a deep chemical peel is done in portions at 10- to 20-minute intervals.


Note that with deep peels, you may permanently lose the ability to tan.


The common side effects of chemical peels are temporary.

What should I expect during a chemical peel procedure?

Your expectations vary depending on the type of peel.


During a light chemical peel:


A brush, cotton ball, gauze or sponge is used to apply a chemical solution typically containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid.


The treated skin will begin to whiten and you might feel mild stinging while the chemical solution is on your skin.


Your doctor will apply a neutralizing solution or wash to remove the chemical solution from the treated skin.


During a medium chemical peel:


A cotton-tipped applicator or gauze to apply a chemical solution containing trichloroacetic acid, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid.


The treated skin will begin to whiten and after a few minutes, your doctor will apply cool compresses to soothe treated skin. You might also be given a hand-held fan to cool your skin.


No neutralizing solution is needed and you might feel mild stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes.


During a deep chemical peel:


Your doctor will administer intravenous (IV) fluids, and your heart rate will be closely monitored.


A cotton-tipped tool is used to apply carbolic acid (phenol) to your skin. Treated skin will begin to turn white or gray.


To limit your exposure to phenol, your doctor will do the procedure in portions at about 15-minute intervals.

What should I expect after a chemical peel?

You should expect a reaction similar to a sunburn followed by scaling for up to a week.


Mild peels may be repeated at one to four-week intervals until you get the look you're after.


For medium-depth and deep peeling, you should expect swelling as well as blisters that may break, crust, turn brown, and peel off over a week or two.


After treatment, you should expect to have bandages for several days in the treated areas. Your new skin might be lighter or darker than normal, though is temporary.


You should also expect to avoid too much sun exposure for several months until your skin is strong enough.


Your doctor will provide guidelines for cleansing, moisturizing and applying protective ointments to your skin

What should I expect in a chemical peel recovery?

You should expect a downtime of one or two weeks for deeper peels. Recovery from deep phenol peels may also require prescription pain medication for the first week.


Note that the amount of visible skin peeling does not indicate the success of the peel.


All peels require some follow-up care:


Superficial peels are expected to heal in a week. The treated skin will initially be red and may scale. Your doctor may recommend the daily use of sunscreen.


Medium peels are expected to heal in two weeks. The treated skin will initially be red and swollen for about 48 hours.


You should expect your skin to crusts and peel off for one to two weeks. Your doctor may recommend to soak and apply ointment to your skin. Avoiding sun exposure until the healing is complete is a must.


Deep peels are expected to heal in two to three weeks. For this type of peel, the treated area will be covered in a bandage. Your doctor will recommend soaking your skin from four to six times a day, followed by an ointment application for the first two weeks.


You should also expect to take antiviral medication for up to two weeks. This type of peel requires avoiding sun exposure for three to six months.

What results should I expect from a chemical peel?

All types of chemical peels improve the texture and tone of your skin, as well as the appearance of fine wrinkles.

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