Removing the top layers of skin on your face, neck or hands with a chemical peel allows younger, healthier-looking skin to take its place, resulting in a more youthful appearance.
A typical chemical peel usually causes the top layers of skin to peel away wrinkles, discolored skin, acne and scarring. Chemical peel depths vary from light to deep. The deeper the peel, the more dramatic the results may be, but it may also take longer to recover. Depending on the type of peel, you often need more than one procedure to get the desired results. You can have a chemical peel alone or combine it with other procedures.
Chemical peels seem to work best on lighter skin but can suitable for darker skin as well. Your doctor will tell you if you are a good candidate and which procedure is best to help reach your desired goals.
Why Chemical Peels?
More than 1.3 million people get a professional chemical peel each year in the United States to reveal younger-looking skin. Professional chemical peels can:
- Unclog pores
- Clear up acne
- Reduce scarring
- Improve skin tone
- Improve skin texture
- Reduce fine wrinkles
- Improve skin hydration
- Reduce skin discolorations
- Give you radiant looking skin
- Reduce future acne outbreaks
Chemical Peels Potential Risks and Complications
Chemical peels can cause side effects including:
- Redness, scabbing, and swelling can occur in the treated area for up to a few months.
- Scarring happens rarely, but when it does, steroids and antibiotics can reduce the appearance of the scars.
- Changes in skin color sometimes happen, causing your skin tone to become lighter (hypopigmentation) or darker (hyperpigmentation).
- Infections such as fungal or viral infections are rare but can happen.
- Heart, liver, or kidney damage is rare but can occur during a deep chemical peel due to exposure to carbolic acid (phenol). These peels are no longer often used.
Chemical peels are not for everyone. You may not be a good candidate at this time because you:
- Have herpes
- Are pregnant
- Have cold sores
- Have taken certain oral acne medications in the past six months
- Have a family or personal history of ridged areas of skin (scar tissue or keloids)
Your doctor will be able to tell you if you are a good candidate during your first consultation.
Preparing for Chemical Peels
During your initial consultation, your dermatologic surgeon will take your medical history and examine your skin to determine what kind of peel is best for reaching your goals. Before you leave, they will give you instructions explaining what you need to do to prepare for your treatment, but generally speaking, you should:
- Talk to your doctor about your expectations.
- Tell your doctor if you have a history of repeated cold sores or scarring in the area that they will be treating.
- Let your doctor know if you have had any previous treatments or surgeries in the area that they will be treating.
During your first consultation, your doctor may:
- Tell you to avoid hair remover
- Tell you to avoid certain cosmetics
- Instruct you to use a retinoid cream
- Instruct you to use a bleaching agent
- Tell you to avoid exposure to the sun
- Prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medicine
- Tell you to stop taking certain medications
What to Expect
What to Expect
During the Procedure
Chemical peels are usually done at an outpatient facility or in the surgeon’s office. During the procedure, you can expect your surgeon to clean the area they will be treating. Your surgeon may also protect your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape or goggles.
For a light chemical peel, you typically will not need any pain management. However, if you have a medium peel, you may be given a painkiller or sedative. If you have a deep peel, your doctor may administer a sedative and something to numb the area to be treated. Your surgeon may also give you fluids through an IV.
During treatment, your surgeon will apply a chemical using a brush, cotton ball, cotton-tipped applicator, gauze or sponge. You may feel a stinging sensation as long as the solution is on your skin or even after your surgeon removes it. After the allotted time, your surgeon may wash the solution off your skin and apply a neutralizing agent to halt the chemical reaction. They may also give you a hand-held fan to cool your skin. Depending on which type of treatment you have, your doctor may do your procedure in intervals of 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Treatments can take from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the process.
You should not expect to stay overnight.
After the Procedure
You may feel a burning sensation after your treatment. This sensation usually lasts for about five to 10 minutes and may be followed by a stinging or throbbing sensation. Your surgeon may apply an ointment such as petroleum jelly to soothe and protect your skin, followed by a surgical dressing. Your surgeon may recommend naproxen or ibuprofen to reduce discomfort. Cool compresses may help to ease the pain.
Your skin may form a crust that can take seven to fourteen days, or sometimes longer, to heal. Your skin will be red, tight, swollen, throbbing or irritated for days to weeks afterward. It is crucial that you follow your surgeon’s care instructions to avoid complications. Do not touch, rub, pick at or scratch the treated area.
Your surgeon will give you instructions if you need to soak the treated area or apply ointment. Contact your surgeon if the over-the-counter medications are insufficient in reducing the pain.
It may take a few months before your skin returns to a normal appearance; however, new skin may appear lighter or darker than usual. This color difference is usually temporary. You should be able to use cosmetics after about a week in most cases.
Your surgeon will schedule follow-up appointments soon after your treatment so they can monitor your recovery.