Chemical peeling improves the skin’s appearance by applying a solution to the skin, which causes the top layers of the skin to come off. Depending upon the depth (strength) of the solution, the new skin may be smoother, less wrinkled, and more even in color.

Dermatologists may enhance the results of a chemical peel with laser or light-based techniques. Or, they may combine it with another procedure, such as dermal (soft tissue) fillers or botulinum injections (shots). A thorough evaluation by your dermatologist will help you decide what best meets your needs.

What Chemicals Peels Do

  • Reduce fine lines, mainly under the eyes and around the mouth.
  • Treat mild scars and some types of acne.
  • Fade skin discoloration, such as sun spots, age spots, liver spots, freckles, or blotchiness.
  • Refresh skin texture and color.

The Chemical Peel Process

Before beginning the procedure, your dermatologist may tell you to stop certain medications and prepare the skin with pre-conditioning creams, which you apply at home.

You can get them on your face, neck, chest, hands, arms, or legs. They vary by how deep in the skin they go. There are three types: superficial (a light treatment on the top layer of skin), medium, or deep.

Most often this cosmetic procedure takes place in the dermatologist’s office. It involves:

  • Cleansing the skin to remove excess oils.
  • Protecting the eyes and hair from the chemicals.
  • Choosing the proper peeling agent (chemical solution) and depth based on the type of skin damage you have and your desired results.
  • Applying the agent to the chosen site, using one or more chemical solutions, they include glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or carbolic acid (phenol). Your dermatologist will discuss the type and choice of solution with you.

During a chemical peel, most patients feel warmth or heat that may last about five to 10 minutes. Your skin then may sting. A deeper peel can be more painful, and you may need a numbing medicine during the procedure and pain medicine after. You may also need more than one treatment.

After Treatment Care

Depending on the type of treatment, there may be a mild to severe sunburn-like reaction. The gentlest type, a superficial “lunchtime” peel, most often makes the skin red. There may be scaling of the skin that lasts three to five days.

Medium-depth and deep treatments can result in swelling and blisters. These blisters may break, crust and turn brown, and then the skin comes off. Deeper peels take longer to heal; seven to 14 days or longer. When they cause blisters, you may need surgical tape on part or all of the treated skin. This covering helps prevent infection.

After treatment, dermatologists advise daily use of a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum (blocks both A and B rays). Sunscreen helps lessen formation of new spots and lines.

Possible Complications

People with certain skin types are at risk of having a temporary or lasting change in skin color. This risk may increase if you take birth control pills, have been pregnant or have a family history of brownish spots (hyperpigmentation) on the face. Sometimes redness can last for a month.

Although very low, there is a risk of scars. If scarring does occur, there are many treatments to decrease scars that offer good results.

People with a history of fever blisters (cold sores) or keloids (raised scars) are at higher risk for complications after the process. Tell your dermatologist if you have these problems so the doctor can take proper precautions.

Chemical Peels Cannott:

  • Tighten loose or sagging skin
  • Remove deep scars
  • Change pore size or remove broken blood vessels on the face (but may improve their look)

Dermatologists can perform other procedures to repair these skin problems.

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