Also known as derma peeling, chemical peels are a great, non-invasive way of rejuvenating the tone and texture of your skin.
These procedures can help minimize a host of skin problems, including fine lines and wrinkles, “age” spots and other irregular pigmentations, rough skin and scaly patches, and mild acne and other scars.
Chemical peels are among the most popular cosmetic skin procedures around. At least half a million are performed each year in the United States.
What Does It Treat?
Although chemicals peels are primarily used on the face, they’ve also proven effective for improving the skin on the neck and on the back of the hands.
Chemical peels are also often used in conjunction with other skin treatments—such as microdermabrasion and laser skin resurfacing—to enhance the overall results.
Are Chemical Peels for Everyone?
Chemicals peels are usually not recommended for people with very dark skin tones. In addition, you should not undergo a chemical peel if you’re taking the acne medication Accutane, have active cold sores on your face, or are pregnant.
How Does It Work?
As their name suggests, chemical peels use a chemical solution to remove the skin’s damaged top layer of old, tired cells. After the cells peel off, a new, fresh layer of skin emerges that looks smoother and more vibrant.
Different chemicals remove the cells to different depths. There are light, medium, and deep peels. Your doctor will discuss with you which type of peel would be most appropriate and effective for your skin.
What Can I Expect With a Light Chemical Peel?
Light peels use a combination of alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, including citric acid (derived from citrus fruit), glycolic acid (from sugar cane), lactic acid (from sour milk), and salicylic acid (originally from the bark of a willow tree). The chemical will be brushed on your skin (after it is cleansed) and then left for 10 to 20 minutes. You may feel a slight stinging sensation while your skin is being treated.
These peels are very mild, so you can return to your everyday activities immediately. For a few days, your skin will look as if you have a low-grade sunburn, and its top layer will gently flake away.
For optimal results, many physicians recommend a series of up to six weekly or bi-weekly mild peels, followed by maintenance sessions as needed.
What Can I Expect from a Medium Chemical Peel?
Medium peels remove cells not just from the outer layer of skin (epidemis), but also from the upper part of the skin’s middle layer (dermis). The most common chemical for this type of peel is trichloracetic acid (TCA), although other agents are also used.
To lower the risk of discoloration and to ensure better results, your physician will probably ask you to prepare your skin for 4 to 6 weeks before the procedure with daily applications of retin-A or glycolic acid. Individuals with darker skin tones may also be asked to use a bleaching agent before and after the treatment.
You may be given a pain medication before the procedure to minimize any discomfort or anxiety. Ice water or a cooling fan may also be used to help ensure your comfort. The procedure takes 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how many coats of acid are applied. The acid is only on your skin for a few of those minutes, however. As soon as it reaches the right treatment depth, your physician will neutralize it with a special solution.
Afterwards, your skin will look red and a bit swollen. Recovery typically takes a week or so. During that time your skin will first darken and then crack and peel, revealing the new layer of skin below. The procedure can be repeated every 3 to 6 months.
What Can I Expect from a Deep Peel?
Deep peels—also known as phenol peels—are usually reserved for skin with severe wrinkles and other signs of sun damage. That’s because these peels carry a higher risk of hyperpigmentation (skin discoloration) and scarring.
The procedure is much like that of medium peels, but patients are more heavily sedated and the downtime is longer—at least a week and frequently two weeks or more. The effects of phenol peels are often dramatic and long lasting. But because of the risks involved with these chemicals, it’s very important that you seek treatment from a physician who is highly experienced with their use.