A chemical peel is a treatment that rejuvenates the skin through exfoliation. It uses an acid solution to peel the upper layers of skin, removing dead cells and damaged tissues to make it smoother. Chemical peeling can be very effective when done by a well-trained professional, balancing skin tone and removing wrinkles. However, the procedure involves some risks and is not always recommended, you should discuss your options with a dermatologist.
Just like the name suggests, a chemical peel uses a strong chemical agent to make the skin look better. The compound is applied on the skin and needs some time to penetrate it. It causes the skin to exfoliate, which can happen the next day or after as long as two weeks. The procedure is destructive for the skin but this is the intended result, which allows a new layer to grow. Exfoliating or wounding agents are alternative names for the chemicals used.
Chemical peeling can be classified in several types, depending on the chemical used and how deep it goes into the skin. There are several factors that influence if a chemical agent reaches the deeper skin layers: the time it is allowed to work, the strength of the acid itself and how many times it is applied. Obviously, deeper penetration does more damage to the skin and the effects are more obvious. However, the procedure is more painful, more risky and the recovery time is longer.
Peeling can be split into three main types. The superficial or mildest peels use a weak acid, usually a diluted solution of glycolic acid. Sometimes, solid carbon dioxide is used instead, a compound also known as dry ice. Since the peeling is not aggressive, it can be used on any skin type.
Medium peeling reaches deeper layers of skin and causes a burn. The effect is much stronger than the one of superficial peels. The agent used is usually TCA or trichloroacetic acid. In some cases, the procedure is done with several different chemicals to soften the skin, with TCA at the end.
The most aggressive treatment is the deep peel, which causes a serious burn by penetrating deep skin layers. Phenol is the most common agent of choice for this procedure, which is only done on the face. It can change the skin tone and make it lighter, so it should be avoided by people with darker skin. It is a risky treatment even for light-skinned individuals and should only be done once, since it can bleach the skin permanently.
Chemical peels don't require admission to a hospital and can be done either in the office of your doctor or in a specialized center. This lowers the overall cost of the procedure.
The first step of the process is a meticulous cleaning of the skin in the area. The technician then applies one or more active agents, which can be glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, phenol (carbolic acid), salicylic acid or lactic acid, to minor patches of skin. The result is a wound, but one created in a controlled way, in order to allow new skin to grow.
Initially, chemical peeling usually causes a burning sensation. After five or ten minutes, burning ceases but the area starts to sting. This can be reduced by applying wet compresses on the peeled patch. Deep peeling can be very painful and medication against pain is usually needed both during and after the procedure.
The aftermath of chemical peelings depends on the type and intensity of the procedure. Usually, it causes symptoms that resemble sunburn. The area becomes red, inflamed and scales appear on its surface for a period between three days and one week. If the results of the first peel are not as expected, the process can be repeated after an interval of one to four weeks.
Mild peeling rarely has other side effects but medium and deep peels might cause swelling and other issues. Blisters emerge on the surface, which develop a brown crust after they burst and are exfoliated after one or two weeks. Medium peels can only be repeated after a minimum of six months.
The peeled skin must be protected for a few days using bandages. The area will be very sensitive for some time while the new skin is still fragile, so you should avoid direct sun exposure for at least a few months.
If your skin has been damaged by UV radiation or it is covered by wrinkles and spots, chemical peeling can restore its youthful and healthy look.
All of the three major types of chemical peels used on the face have their particular benefits. Mild peeling can remove the ravages of sun damage, as well as eliminate acne scars and improve skin texture in general. Medium peels can be effective against more serious scars caused by acne, while also fixing age spots and small wrinkles. Finally, deep chemical peeling removes severe wrinkles, restores the health of skin with serious sun damage and can even eliminate some growths that can later become cancer. Your dermatologist can choose the right type of peel for your skin.
Negative side effects are possible, but rarely happen after most types of chemical peels. There is always a risk of infection, scarring or permanent loss of sensitivity in the area. Superficial and medium peels often have some minor and expected side effects, for example scaling, irritation and redness. After a few days, these effects are gone. Deep peels result in severe skin exfoliation and crusting, while the recovery time is a lot longer. Most of these side effects can be reduced and controlled by medication. Make sure that you respect the instructions of your doctor before, during and after the procedure, in order to minimize the risks of side effects.
Severe permanent consequences are very rare. Most individuals only suffer mild side effects and surveys show that almost all of them are willing to do the treatment one more time. The worst possible risks are chemical burns and permanent scars. Individuals with darker skin can also experience skin bleaching with long lasting effects. Your doctor can assess the risk of severe negative issues but he will need your full medical history for example if you had heart problems, blisters, cold sores or have a predisposition to scars.