Last updated date: 24-May-2023
Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Yahia H. Alsharif
Originally Written in English
A chemical peel, also known as chemexfoliation or dermapeeling, improves the look of your skin by using a chemical solution. A chemical solution is administered to your skin during this therapy, causing stress or harm to the layers of your skin. The skin layers finally peel away, revealing younger-looking skin. The new skin is generally smoother and has fewer creases and wrinkles, as well as a more even hue and a brighter complexion.
What conditions does a Chemical Peel Treat?
Chemical peels are used to treat certain skin disorders or to improve your look by enhancing your skin's tone and texture.
Chemical peels are most typically used on the face, neck, and hands. They can assist in reducing or improving:
- Fine lines under your eyes or around your mouth and wrinkling caused by sun damage, aging and hereditary factors.
- Certain types of acne.
- Mild scarring.
- Sun spots, age spots, liver spots, freckles, uneven skin coloring.
- Precancerous scaly spots called actinic keratosis.
- Rough skin, scaly patches, dull complexion.
- Dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills.
The depth of your peel will be determined in collaboration with your dermatologist. This mutual choice may differ based on your skin's health and treatment goals.
Chemical peels do not work effectively on sags, bulges, deep scars, deep facial lines, or more severe wrinkles. Other cosmetic surgery treatments, such as carbon dioxide laser resurfacing, a face lift, brow lift, eye lift, or soft tissue filler, will be better alternatives if these are your concerns. A dermatologic surgeon can advise you on the best course of action to address your issues.
Is a Chemical Peel good for All Skin Types?
In general, all skin types can benefit from superficial peels. However, if you have darker skin, you are more likely to have skin darkening after treatment. Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is the medical term for this. If you have naturally darker skin, speak with your dermatologist about less aggressive treatments to reduce your chance of hyperpigmentation.
Chemical peeling may also not be recommended if you:
- Have a history of abnormal skin scarring.
- Have extra coloring in your scars.
- Have skin conditions or take medications that make your skin more sensitive.
- Can't stay out of the sun for the healing period.
Types of Chemical Peels
A chemical peel is an outpatient procedure that can be performed at a doctor's office or a surgical facility. Your skin will be properly washed with an agent that eliminates excess oils, while your eyes and hair will be safeguarded. Your skin is then treated with a chemical solution. Commonly used chemical solutions include glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, and carbolic acid (phenol). The several chemicals cause controlled harm, each penetrating to a different skin depth before peeling away to reveal a fresh layer of skin.
Diverse chemical solutions provide different results. The chemical you utilize is decided on your intended usage. Your peel's depth will be chosen in consultation with your physician.
Light ("lunchtime") chemical peel. A light ("lunchtime") chemical peel gives gradual improvement over time and is frequently performed in succession. The skin's outermost layer is removed. If you have fine wrinkles, acne, uneven skin pigmentation, or dry, rough sun-damaged skin, this option may be ideal for promoting a healthy glow. This sort of peel may be recovered from in a matter of hours to a few days, with little to no downtime.
Medium chemical peel. A medium chemical peel provides your skin a smooth, youthful appearance. The upper section of your middle skin layer and the outermost layer are removed. If you have uneven or severe skin discoloration, age spots, acne scars, or fine-to-moderate wrinkles, this option may be ideal for you. This sort of peel may take a week or more to heal and may necessitate some downtime.
Deep peel. A deep peel The most striking effects are obtained with a thorough chemical peel. This chemical enters your skin's lower middle layer. A deep peel requires more recovery time. This option may be appropriate if you have significant lines and wrinkles, extensive sun damage, deep acne scars, blotchy skin, and/or actinic keratosis, which are precancerous growths. A deep chemical peel requires pretreatment for up to eight weeks. Your doctor will provide specific instructions. A deep chemical peel is a one-time only treatment if applied to your face and does have significant down time.
Chemical Peels Risks
A chemical peel can cause various side effects, including:
- Swelling, scabbing, and redness. Normal chemical peel healing results in redness of the treated skin. Redness may last for several months after a mild or deep chemical peel.
- Scarring. Scarring from a chemical peel is uncommon, and usually occurs on the bottom half of the face. To lighten the look of these scars, antibiotics and steroid medicines might be employed.
- Skin color changes. A chemical peel can cause treated skin to grow darker (hyperpigmentation) or lighter (hypopigmentation) . After a shallow peel, hyperpigmentation is more prevalent, but hypopigmentation is more common after a thorough peel. These issues are more frequent in persons with dark or black complexion and can be permanent in some cases.
- Infection. A chemical peel can trigger a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, such as a herpes virus flare-up – the virus that causes cold sores.
- Damage to the heart, kidneys, or liver. A thorough chemical peel contains carbolic acid (phenol), which can damage heart muscle and induce irregular heartbeats. Phenol can potentially cause renal and liver damage. To decrease phenol exposure, a thorough chemical peel is performed in 10- to 20-minute intervals.
How you Prepare?
Choose a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon who understands the skin and the process. The results might vary depending on the competence of the individual doing the peel. When performed incorrectly, a chemical peel can cause issues including as infection and permanent scarring.
Before you have a chemical peel, your doctor will likely:
- Review your medical history. Be prepared to answer questions about current and past medical conditions and any medications you are taking or have taken recently, as well as any cosmetic procedures you've had.
- Do a physical exam. Your doctor will inspect your skin and the area to be treated to determine what type of peel you might benefit from most and how your physical features — for example, the tone and thickness of your skin — might affect your results.
- Discuss your expectations. Talk with your doctor about your motivations, expectations and potential risks. Make sure you understand how many treatments you might need, how long it'll take to heal and what your results might be.
Before your peel, you might also need to:
- Take antiviral medication. Your doctor might prescribe an antiviral medication before and after treatment to help prevent a viral infection.
- Use a retinoid cream. Your doctor might recommend using a retinoid cream, such as tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A) for a few weeks before treatment to help with healing.
- Use a bleaching agent. Your doctor might recommend using a bleaching agent (hydroquinone), a retinoid cream, or both before or after the procedure to reduce the risk of side effects.
- Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Too much sun exposure before the procedure can cause permanent irregular pigmentation in treated areas. Discuss sun protection and acceptable sun exposure with your doctor.
- Avoid certain cosmetic treatments and certain types of hair removal. About a week before the peel, stop using hair removal techniques such as electrolysis or depilatories. Also, avoid hair dying treatments, permanent-wave or hair-straightening treatments, facial masks, or facial scrubs in the week before your peel. Don't shave the areas that will be treated beginning 24 hours before your peel.
- Arrange for a ride home. If you'll be sedated during the procedure, arrange for a ride home.
What you can expect?
- Before the procedure:
A chemical peel is often performed in a doctor's office or an outpatient surgery facility. Your doctor will clean your face, protect your hair, and cover your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape, or goggles before the surgery.
A gentle chemical peel usually does not require pain medication. If you have a medium peel, you may be given a sedative and pain reliever. A sedative, medication to numb the treatment region, and fluids injected through a vein may be used for a deep peel.
- During the procedure:
During a light chemical peel:
- Your doctor will use a brush, cotton ball, gauze or sponge to apply a chemical solution typically containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
- 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:
- Your doctor will use 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.
- 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, however.
- You might feel stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes.
During a deep chemical peel:
- You will be given IV fluids and your heart rate will be continuously monitored.
- Your doctor will apply carbolic acid (phenol) to your skin with a cotton-tipped applicator. Skin that has been treated will begin to become white or gray.
- To reduce your phenol exposure, your doctor will do the operation in 15-minute intervals. A full-face operation might take up to 90 minutes.
What happens after the Procedure?
Your skin will be red, tight, inflamed, or puffy after any depth of chemical peel. For sun protection, washing, moisturizing, and putting protective ointments to your skin, follow your doctor's instructions. Also, refrain from picking, rubbing, or scratching your skin. It may take many months for your skin color to return to normal and for the full effects of the peel to be visible.
What to expect varies depending on the depth of your chemical peel.
If you’ve had a light chemical peel:
- Expect a sunburn-like reaction to occur after your peel, meaning you’ll see redness followed by scaling that lasts between three and seven days.
- Apply lotion or cream as directed until your skin heals. After your skin heals, apply daily sunscreen.
- You can wear makeup immediately after treatment or the next day.
- Additional peels may be repeated every two to five weeks until you achieve your desired results. Typically, three to five peels are needed to achieve your goal.
After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen. You'll experience a stinging sensation. To soothe the region and prevent dryness, your doctor may apply a protective ointment such as petroleum jelly. You can use cosmetics to conceal any redness after five to seven days.
For relief, apply cold packs. Over-the-counter pain relievers including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, and others) may assist. You'll most likely be scheduled for a checkup soon following your treatment so your doctor can monitor your progress.
As swelling decreases, treated skin will begin to form a crust and might darken or develop brown blotches. Treated areas take about seven to 14 days to heal after a medium chemical peel, but redness might last for months.
After a deep chemical peel, you'll experience severe redness and swelling. You may also experience burning and throbbing, and the swelling may cause your eyelids to bulge shut.
A surgical dressing will be applied to the treated skin by your doctor. He or she may also prescribe pain relievers. For around two weeks, bathe the afflicted skin and apply ointment several times each day.
After a deep chemical peel, treated regions will generate new skin in approximately two weeks, however redness may remain for months. Treated skin may become darker or lighter than usual, or it may lose its ability to tan.
You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing from a chemical peel. You'll likely need several follow-up visits soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.
Once new skin completely covers the treated area in about two weeks, you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness. Use sunscreen every day.
To get the best results, regardless of the depth of your peel, follow these tips:
- Don’t use a tanning bed or other type of indoor or even outdoor tanning while your skin is healing.
- After your skin heals, always apply a daily sunscreen.
- Apply a daily moisturizer, as directed, to keep your skin moist to prevent scarring.
Your new skin is more fragile and prone to problems. Your doctor will provide you post-treatment recommendations to help you avoid acquiring abnormal skin tone and other issues following your peel.
Professional vs. at-home treatments
It is critical to select a dermatologist who has prior expertise with chemical peels. This is especially crucial for individuals of color; whose skin is more susceptible to the negative effects of chemical peels.
The dermatologist will explain which type of peel is appropriate for a person's skin and which items will help the skin heal afterward.
Professional treatments, which include larger doses of acid than commercial ones, may produce better outcomes for people with more severe skin issues.
However, expense might be an issue. A shallow peel will cost at least $125, while a medium-depth peel would cost more. The average cost of a chemical peel is $644, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Insurance companies do not cover the cost; as chemical peels are cosmetic treatments.
Although at-home products are less expensive, they include weaker chemical solutions. These may be more appropriate for persons who have lesser skin issues, such as modest sun damage.
While there is no downtime required for items to heal, it is still vital to minimize sun exposure.
Even when used by specialists, strong acids can have major negative effects. At home, never use professional-strength chemical peeling agents.
Even less potent chemicals in commercial items can result in burns. Use with caution and carefully follow the directions.
A chemical peel is a method for improving and smoothing the texture of the skin. Scarring on the face can be improved, and facial skin is mainly addressed. Chemical peels are used to remove the skin's outermost layers. The selected peel solution causes a regulated damage to the skin to accomplish this job. The wound healing processes that result begin to regenerate new tissues. Eventually, the dead skin peels off. Typically, regenerated skin is smoother and less wrinkled than old skin. Some chemical peels can be purchased and given without a medical license; nevertheless, consumers are urged to obtain expert advice from a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon before undergoing a treatment.
Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Yahia H. Alsharif