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If you haven’t heard of a chemical peel, it is a popular procedure that removes dead skin cells on the top of your skin to reveal a more youthful glow underneath. Through chemical peeling on the face, patients can improve fine lines, wrinkles, acne, scarring, uneven coloring, and more.
What Is a Chemical Peel?
As a chemical peeling definition, it is a procedure that involves a chemical solution being applied to the skin’s top layers to safely remove them. As a result, the skin that grows back is smoother. It’s common for patients to seek a chemical peel to treat issues such as scars, wrinkles, and discolored skin. These peels can be completed at different skin depths ranging from light to deep.
Types of Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are also referred to as skin peel facials and are designed to resurface the skin. Depending on your skin and the goals that you want to achieve, you will choose from three different depths.
Light Chemical Peel
One option for your professional chemical peel is a light chemical peel like a Retinol/Glycolic Peel or a Metro/Rejuvenation Peel. This is also referred to as a superficial chemical peel that targets the outer layer of your skin. Light chemical peels are most beneficial in treating fine lines, acne, uneven skin tone, and overall skin dryness. Some patients opt for light chemical peels every 2-5 weeks to keep their skin healthy and radiant.
Medium Chemical Peels
Another option is a medium chemical peel like the Retexturizing Peel from Metropolitan Skin Clinic. This procedure not only removes dead skin cells from the outer layer of the skin but also targets the upper portion of the middle layer of the skin (dermis). Medium chemical peeling products help to treat wrinkles, acne scars, and uneven skin tones. It’s not uncommon for patients to repeat medium chemical peels to achieve their desired results.
Deep Chemical Peels
Finally, patients may opt for a deep chemical peel like the Transformation Peel. In this procedure, the chemical peel removes skin cells from even deeper layers of the dermis. It’s common for patients to opt for a deep chemical peel if they want to target deeper wrinkles, precancerous growths, or non-acne related scars. With this procedure, you will not need to repeat it to achieve the effects that you want.
Chemical Peel Risks
As with any procedure, it’s important that you are aware of the potential risks and side effects. Some patients report bumpy texture after chemical peels while others note dryness, redness, burning, stinging, or minor swelling. If you opt for a deep chemical peel, you might permanently lose the ability to tan.
Let’s discuss some of the more serious risks associated with chemical peels below.
Redness, scabbing, and swelling
Immediately following the chemical peel, it’s not uncommon to notice that your skin is red and swollen. Some patients report that this redness lasts for a few months but each patient is different. In addition, scabbing is possible while your skin heals itself.
Although it is rare, chemical peels can result in scarring. When this occurs, it is usually in the lower part of the face. If you experience this in the wake of your chemical peel procedure, make sure to let your doctors know as antibiotics and steroids can help improve the appearance of the scars.
Changes in Skin Color
Another possible side effect of a chemical peel is that your skin becomes darker than it normally is (hyperpigmentation) or lighter than normal (hypopigmentation). Hyperpigmentation is the more common side effect following superficial peels. For deep peels, hypopigmentation is more common. Changes in skin color are more common for people who have brown or black skin, and these changes can sometimes be permanent.
In some patients, chemical peels can result in a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. This may come in the form of a flare-up of the herpes viruses that are often associated with cold sores.
Heart, Kidney, or Liver Damage
Deep chemical peels often use carbolic acid (phenol). This acid may cause damage to the heart muscle and cause it to beat irregularly. Phenol is often associated with damaging effects on the kidneys and liver. Because of these effects, deep chemical peels are done in smaller portions of 10 or 20-minute intervals.
Other Reasons Against a Chemical Peel
Skin peeling procedures such as a chemical peel are not for every skin type. It’s possible that your doctor might caution you against a chemical peel if you:
- Have taken oral acne medication such as Claravis, Myorisan in the past 6 months
- Are pregnant
- Have a personal or family history of keloids, or ridged areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue
- Have frequent or severe cold sore outbreaks
How to Prepare for a Chemical Peel
Despite its downsides and potential risks, there are many positives that chemical peels offer. Before you complete the procedure, you will first meet with your skin care specialist for a consultation. During this time, you will review the following areas.
Review Your Medical History
Your skin care specialist will first start by discussing your medical history including asking questions about current or past medical conditions and medications. They will also discuss any cosmetic procedures that you’ve had in the past to get a better understanding of your skin. Collecting this information can give them a better idea of how your skin tolerates different procedures and provides a good foundation for future treatments.
Do a Physical Exam
After your doctor has a better understanding of your medical history, he or she will inspect your skin and determine the ideal type of peel for you. For example, they will look at the tone and thickness of your skin to see how these factors will impact the chemical peel’s results. Feel free to ask questions during this process so you can understand the reasoning behind the doctor’s recommendation.
Discuss Your Expectations
There should always be an open dialogue between you and your doctor. Use the initial consultation to discuss any of your motivations behind getting the procedure in addition to realistic expectations and potential risks. This is also an ideal time to discuss the number of treatments that you’ll likely need, what the healing process will be like, and what your results might be.
You Might Also Need
Chemical peeling on the face is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Here are some other factors to keep in mind as your doctor might ask you to:
- Take antiviral medication to use before and after treatment to prevent viral infections from happening
- Use a retinoid cream such as Renova or Retin-A for a few weeks leading up to the treatment. This can help with the healing process
- Use a bleaching agent such as hydroquinone before the procedure to minimize the risk of side effects
- Minimize sun exposure and ensure you always wear sunscreen when you step outside
- Avoid certain types of hair removal or cosmetic procedures including electrolysis or depilatories. Hair-dying treatments, facial masks, facial scrubs, or permanent hair treatments should also be avoided the week before the procedure
What to Expect
The chemical peel process should be carefully followed to yield the best results. To minimize the risk of negative side effects, here’s what you can expect before, during, and after the procedure.
Before the procedure
Now that you’ve decided that you want a skin peel facial, it’s important that you take the right steps before the procedure. Before the doctor starts the procedure, he or she will clean your face. Your hair will be protected in addition to your eyes as they will be covered with ointment, gauze, tape, or goggles.
You might be wondering about the level of pain during the procedure. Most patients do not need any sort of pain relief during the procedure. In the case of medium chemical peels, it’s possible you will receive a painkiller or sedative. Deep peel preparation often consists of a sedative in addition to a numbing agent on the treatment area.
During the procedure
What occurs during the procedure depends on the type of chemical peel you’re receiving.
During a light chemical peel:
- Your doctor will apply a chemical solution that contains glycolic acid or salicylic acid. He or she will use a brush, cotton ball, or gauze to do so. The skin that has been treated will begin to whiten.
- It’s possible to feel a mild stinging sensation while the chemical solution sits on your skin.
- Your doctor will use a neutralizing solution to remove the chemicals from the treatment area.
During a medium chemical peel:
- Your doctor will use gauze or a cotton-tipped applicator to apply a chemical solution to your skin. This contains trichloroacetic acid and is sometimes combined with glycolic acid.
- When a few minutes have passed, your doctor will use a cold compress to soothe the skin. For medium peels, no neutralizing solutions are necessary.
- It’s possible to feel a burning and stinging sensation for up to 20 minutes.
During a deep chemical peel:
- You’ll be given fluids through an IV while your doctor closely monitors your heart rate.
- Your doctor will use a cotton-tipped applicator and apply phenol to your skin, resulting in your skin turning white or grey.
- Your doctor will work in 15-minute intervals to minimize your exposure to phenol. It’s common for a deep chemical peel to take 90 minutes.
After the procedure
In terms of what to expect after a chemical peel, it’s common for your skin to be swollen, tight, red, and irritated. Make sure to closely follow your doctor’s aftercare instructions to protect your skin from the sun, cleansing, moisturizing, and applying the right protective products. Avoid rubbing or picking your skin as it could cause damage. Keep in mind that it could take many months before your skin returns to its normal color and you see the full results of the peel.
After a light chemical peel:
- Your skin will be mildly irritated and red
- Your doctor will apply a protective ointment to soothe the skin
- It’s possible to wear makeup the following day
- You will heal in 1-7 days and new skin could temporarily appear lighter or darker than normal
After a medium chemical peel:
- Your skin may feel swollen and red
- Your doctor will apply a protective ointment to soothe the treated area and prevent dryness
- You can use cosmetics 5-7 days after the procedure
- Ice packs are helpful for comfort in addition to over-the-counter pain medications
- Swelling will begin to decrease and your treated skin might develop a crusted top layer that darkens
- It takes 7-14 days to heal but the redness may last for months
After a deep chemical peel:
- It’s common to experience severe swelling and redness
- You may feel burning and throbbing
- Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing in addition to prescribing you painkillers
- You’ll want to soak the skin and apply ointment several times throughout the day for 2 weeks
- It’s common to develop new skin ~2 weeks after the peel although redness could last for months
- You can use cosmetics to conceal redness after new skin grows on the treatment area (about 2 weeks)
Benefits of Chemical Peels
The chemical peel process comes with a handful of benefits. This is an increasingly popular procedure that is the third-most requested treatment behind Botox and soft tissue fillers. Here are some of the main benefits.
Consider a chemical peel if your other acne treatments have not yielded the results that you want. Through a series of chemical peels, your skin will be cleaned thoroughly and a new layer of skin is revealed.
If you have large pores, you may be wishing that they’d go away. Chemical peels remove the outermost layer of the skin, leaving behind smaller, tighter pores.
Erases Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Chemical peels can stop the aging process in its tracks as they can permanently erase fine lines and smooth even the most stubborn wrinkles.
If you suffer from sunspots, discoloration, or hyperpigmentation in general, consider a chemical peel to help. Many people find that chemical peels help keep the discoloration away for good.
Many people opt for chemical peels for skin lifting benefits without opting for the downtime of a traditional facial.
Scarring is often heavily associated with a permanence that is not accurate. When patients opt for a chemical peel, many of them note that acne scars and other scarring fades.
If you have an uneven skin tone or blemishes, it can add unwanted dimension to the skin. Chemical peels help to improve the overall skin texture.
Give Your Skincare Products a Boost
By removing the outermost layer of dead skin cells, your skincare products will be able to penetrate your skin more deeply, resulting in a higher level of efficacy.
Regular skin exfoliation is an important part of any healthy skincare routine. Chemical peels act as a chemical exfoliant that leaves behind radiant-looking skin.
Minimize Sun Damage
Sun damage such as sunspots, freckles, and pigmentation problems can result in fine lines, blotchiness, and more. Chemical peels help to heal these imperfections.
Melasma is a hyperpigmentary disorder often resistant to many treatments. Some patients with melasma report that the chemical peel helps to reduce the appearance of melasma.
Soften Fine Lines
Medium chemical peels target the middle and outer layers of the skin, helping to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Reduce Acne Marks
To combat the natural aging process and to minimize the appearance of acne scars, many patients opt for chemical peels. Deep peels are the best option for scar reduction.
If you have certain skin imperfections that you want to improve, a chemical peel is a customizable and effective option to do so. Your doctor will recommend which layer is best.
After Chemical Peel Care
Following your skin peeling treatment, it’s likely that your skin is red and irritated. Swelling, burning, and stinging are also common. We’ve outlined tips on what to do after a chemical peel below.
Wash Your Face With Cool Water
Washing your face regularly can help prolong the effects of the peel. Always wash your face with cool water as warm or hot water could further irritate the skin.
Moisturize and Hydrate
Peels temporarily compromise the protective barrier of your skin, making products such as retinol 50/100, vitamin CEF, and daily brighten-up pads that are much more important in the days and weeks following your procedure. You should also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Apply Sunscreen With SPF30 or More
Sunscreen is one of the most important parts of any skincare routine but especially for those who just received a chemical peel. Make sure to use SPF 30 or higher to keep sun damage to a minimum.
Avoid Strenuous Workouts, Dry Saunas, and Steam Rooms
When you increase your blood circulation, it can result in itching, redness, warming, tingling, and other uncomfortable side effects on your face. Make sure to skip such activities on the day that you get a peel.
As peels are already incredibly strong exfoliants, avoid using additional exfoliants for 3-4 days following your peel. When you over-exfoliate it could result in additional sensitivity and redness.