A chemical peel is a process for removing the outer layers of skin or exfoliation. The chemical not only removes unwanted skin, it also stimulates the newer skin underneath to be firmer, thicker, and plumper—essentially making your skin look younger. Chemical peels are used for many reasons such as improving the look of sun-damaged skin, reducing the appearance of acne scars, and lightening dark spots or blotchy areas.
Most people can have a chemical peel. Chemical peels work best for people who have lighter skin with unwanted dark spots, such as age spots or liver spots. A chemical peel can still be used on people with darker complexions, but it may be reserved for certain types of problems. Chemical peel treatments are appropriate for people with fine wrinkles and mild acne scarring, but may not be appropriate for people with deep wrinkles or substantial skin sagging.
Certain individuals should not have chemical peels, including people with eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea. If you are pregnant or have recently used certain skin treatments such as Retin-A or Accutane, a chemical peel may need to be postponed.
Your plastic surgeon will review your medical history and examine your skin to make sure you are a candidate for a chemical peel.
Different chemicals treat different depths of skin problems. These treatments are divided into three categories: superficial, medium, and deep chemical peels.
Superficial chemical peels only target the outer layer of skin. These peels are usually mild acids such as alpha-hydroxy acid or a lower concentration of glycolic acid. Superficial chemical peels are sometimes called lunchtime peels because there is very little risk and very little downtime. That said, lunchtime peels are not as effective or long lasting as deeper chemical peels.
Medium chemical peels target the two outer layers of skin, extending deeper than superficial chemical peels. Medium chemical peels are stronger acids, such as a higher concentration of glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid (also known as TCA). Medium depth peels are best for improving age spots, lightening freckles, and smoothing rough skin and fine wrinkles.
Deep chemical peels penetrate deeply into the middle layer of skin, where moderate wrinkles and unwanted pigments are located. Deep chemical peels include substances such as concentrated TCA and phenol. Deep chemical peels often yield dramatic results, removing fine to moderate wrinkles, lightening age spots, diminishing shallow acne scars, and eliminating freckles.
A medical professional with thoroughly clean your skin to remove any makeup, creams, or oils from the surface of the skin. You should not wear makeup or use any moisturizers on your face the morning of the procedure. Your doctor may suggest taking an over-the-counter pain medication the morning of the procedure to make the experience more comfortable (the process may cause a mild burning or stinging sensation). The chemical is carefully applied to the treatment area.
The treated skin may look like a sunburn for several days after the peel procedure. The skin may scale and flake, especially with the deeper treatments. Superficial peels usually heal within one week, medium peels may take 1 to 2 weeks, and deep peels may take up to 3 weeks to fully heal.