What is a chemical peel?
A chemical peel is a procedure in which a chemical solution is applied to the skin to remove the top layers. The word “chemical” may seem quite daunting but this procedure can be very effective when treating many different skin conditions. The professional who does your peel will first clean your skin thoroughly. Then they will apply one or more chemical solutions (such as glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or carbolic acid phenol) to small areas of your skin. This will create a controlled wound, letting new skin take its place. The aim is to improve the appearance of the skin – for example, by reducing age spots and evening out skin tone.
Who is a good candidate for a chemical peel treatment?
Generally, fair-skinned and light-haired patients are better candidates for chemical peels. If you have darker skin, you may also have good results, depending upon the type of problem being treated. But you also may be more likely to have an uneven skin tone after the procedure.
The Fitzpatrick scale is a numerical classification for human skin colour. Developed in 1975 by Harvard dermatologist, Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, as the way to estimate the response of different types of skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. It is a tool often used by practitioners to determine whether your skin type is suitable for lasers, chemical peels, and skincare ingredients.
Because of the potential risk for darker skin to develop Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation after a chemical peel treatment, it is important to leave adequate time between treatments to allow the skin to heal. Ten to fourteen days is ideal, though some peel treatments can require up to four weeks. It is also important that a full medical history is disclosed including discussing your propensity to scar. If you’ve suffered from keloid scarring in the past, then peels are not advisable.
The different types of chemical peels
- skin cells are removed from the top layer of skin (epidermis)
- the solution is applied to the skin and left on for a few minutes
- your skin may feel tight for a couple of hours afterwards
- regular treatment is needed to maintain the effects
- skin cells are removed from the top and middle layers of skin
- the solution is applied and left on for a few minutes
- you may feel burning or stinging when it’s on your face
- your skin may go brown or red for a few days afterwards
- it can take up to 6 weeks for your skin to return to normal
- treatment is needed every 6 to 12 months to maintain the effects
- affect the deeper layers of skin
- a local anaesthetic and sedative may be needed to numb any pain
- the solution is applied to the face and can be left on for 30 minutes or more
- your heart and blood pressure need to be watched because the chemical used (phenol) can affect your heart and kidneys
- you’ll have some peeling, redness and discomfort for a few days
- swelling can last up to 2 weeks, and redness can last up to 3 months
- often lightens the skin so it’s not really suitable for darker skin
- it has long-lasting effects so does not usually need to be repeated
What are the benefits of a chemical peel treatment?
Chemical peels can be done on the face, neck, or hands. They can be used to:
- Reduce fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth
- Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage and ageing
- Improve the appearance of mild scars
- Treat certain types of acne
- Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills
- Improve the look and feel of skin
- Areas of sun damage may improve after chemical peeling.
After the procedure
After a chemical peel of any depth, your skin will be red, tight, irritated or swollen, depending upon the type of chemical peel, a reaction similar to sunburn occurs. Follow your doctor’s directions for sun protection, cleansing, moisturising and applying protective ointments to your skin. And avoid picking, rubbing or scratching your skin. It may take several months before your skin colour returns to normal and you can see the full results of the peel.
After a light chemical peel, treated skin will be red, dry and mildly irritated — although these effects might be less noticeable with each repeat treatment. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the skin. You can usually wear makeup the next day if you wish.
Treated areas take about one to seven days to heal after a light chemical peel. New skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than normal.
After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen. You’ll feel stinging. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area and prevent dryness. After five to seven days, you can use cosmetics to cover any redness.
After a deep chemical peel, you’ll experience severe redness and swelling. You’ll also feel burning and throbbing, and the swelling may even make your eyelids swell shut.
Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing to the treated skin. He or she might also prescribe painkillers. You’ll need to soak the treated skin and apply ointment several times a day for about two weeks.
Treated areas will develop new skin within about two weeks after a deep chemical peel, although redness might last for months. Treated skin might become darker or lighter than normal or lose the ability to tan.