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Chemical Peel

A chemical peel is a treatment in which an acid solution is used to remove the damaged outer layers of the skin. In performing chemical peels, physicians apply alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), trichloroacetic acid (TCA), or phenol to the skin.  

Typically administered as a facial peel, a chemical peel enhances and smoothes the texture of the skin. It is an effective treatment for facial blemishes, wrinkles, and uneven skin pigmentation.  They exfoliate the outer layers of dead skin, revealing a new skin layer with improved tone, texture, and color. In addition to full facial rejuvenation, certain types of skin peels can also be used for spot treatments and as a way to remove stretch marks or rejuvenate skin elsewhere on the body.

The chemical peel is one of the oldest cosmetic procedures in the world, and was performed in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to help people achieve smoother, more beautiful skin. Today, chemical facial peels are popular because they offer nearly immediate results and can be performed as an outpatient procedure.

Candidates

In general, patients with fair skin and light hair are the best chemical peel candidates. However, patients with other skin pigmentation and hair color can achieve good results as well. Ideal candidates for the chemical peel procedure are individuals who are unhappy with the appearance of their skin, have realistic expectations of their procedure, and do not smoke.  

An ideal candidate for a chemical peel is in good physical health, understands the procedure, and has realistic expectations of the outcome. You are likely to be pleased with the results of a chemical peel if your goal is to alleviate acne, smooth wrinkles, improve skin texture, eliminate age spots, or reduce the effects of sun damage. The different types of chemical peels come in varying strengths and provide different levels of treatment. Ask your doctor which chemical peel is best for your skin type and needs.

Candidates for Deep Chemical Peels

Deep chemical peels involve a longer procedure and longer recovery time that lasts up to several months in some cases. Patients who want to correct blotches caused by sun exposure or age, minimize coarse wrinkles, or remove a pre-cancerous growth may benefit from a deep peel. There are certain factors which must be taken into consideration when contemplating a deep chemical peel. Darker-skinned patients and individuals with heart problems are not ideal candidates. Potential chemical peel candidates should be aware that the treatment may take an hour or more, and may require sedation. Anyone who decides on this procedure should be prepared for a long, slow recovery period, and should wear sunscreen whenever exposed to sun.

Medical Considerations

Patients are urged not to smoke for a few weeks before and after a chemical peel. The best outcomes will be achieved in patients who are not taking the acne medication Accutane®, have not taken it for the previous year and a half, and who are free of active skin infections. Also, if you have large or unusual scar formations, such as keloids, your doctor may recommend a different treatment for you. Patients who have a family history of heart problems are not considered good candidates for the deep chemical peel procedure.

Chemical Peels vs. Microdermabrasion

With the ever-broadening range of skin refining techniques available today, it is understandable that consumers often feel confused as to which technique will best meet their needs. Patients commonly wonder about the respective benefits of chemical peels and microdermabrasion.

The most salient difference between chemical peels and microdermabrasion is that microdermabrasion is a non-chemical procedure, and attacks imperfections by actually "sanding" flaws from the skin surface. While treatment plans for microdermabrasion and mild chemical peels such as glycolic acid chemical peels are similar, more advanced chemical peels require only one session. However, deep chemical peels such as the phenol peel also require much more recovery time than microdermabrasion and the more mild peels. Also unlike microdermabrasion, deep chemical peels change the actual pigmentation of the skin through bleaching. Because of this, patients with naturally darker complexions may be better candidates for microdermabrasion.

Chemical Peels vs. Laser Skin Resurfacing

The benefits and drawbacks of laser skin resurfacing vs. chemical peels are slightly more difficult to ascertain, due to the relatively new nature of the laser resurfacing procedure. However, many doctors claim that the improvement to patients' skin after laser skin resurfacing is essentially equivalent to that seen with chemical peels and microdermabrasion. Lasers do allow doctors to target specific flaws and imperfections with much more precision than chemical peels.

Cost

The cost of chemical facial peels varies from state to state and doctor to doctor. The current chemical peel price range is approximately $600 to $900. Possible additional expenses to keep in mind, especially with deep chemical peels, are the cost of anesthesia, use of the surgical facility, and a possible hospital stay. The final cost of your procedure will depend on the type of peel you want, the condition of your skin, and other factors unique to your case. Light chemical peels can cost as low as $150, while deep chemical peels are generally the most expensive, as much as $6000.

Risks and Benefits

Chemical peels rarely result in serious complications, but certain risks do exist. These risks include scarring, infection, swelling, changes in skin tone, and cold sore outbreaks. You can reduce the risks associated with facial peels by following all of the doctor’s instructions completely and by providing your doctor with a complete medical history.

A chemical facial peel can provide several benefits to the skin. The procedure can restore a more youthful appearance to skin and reduce wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, sun-damage, and blotchy patches. DocShop provides extensive information about chemical peel risks and benefits to help you fully understand the procedure.

Light Chemical Peels

Your cosmetic dermatologist will use a specific formula for your chemical peel based on the characteristics of your skin and your desired result. Light chemical peels are used to treat fine wrinkling, areas of dryness, uneven pigmentation, and acne. The solution used for light chemical peels is usually comprised of alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic, lactic, salicylic, or fruit acids. Light chemical peels are ideal for people who want the benefits of a facial peel but do not wish to spend the time required to recover from a deeper peel.

Medium Chemical Peels

For medium facial peels, many doctors use trichloroacetic acid (TCA). This chemical works well for treating fine surface wrinkles, superficial blemishes, and pigmentation problems. Similar to the light chemical peel, medium chemical peels require less downtime than a deeper peel. TCA peels are the preferred choice for patients with darker skin.

Deep Chemical Peels

Deep chemical peels are the strongest of the facial peels. The chemical used for deep chemical peels is phenol acid. Deep peels are used to treat coarse facial wrinkles, blotches caused by aging or sun exposure, and pre-cancerous growths. While a deep chemical peel produces the most dramatic, longest-lasting results, the procedure takes longer than other peels (one to two hours) and requires the most healing time. Phenol acid is typically used only for facial peels. Because a deep chemical peel may cause permanent lightening of the skin, prospective patients should seek advice from a qualified cosmetic dermatologist before undergoing the procedure.

Acne Chemical Peel

Certain chemical peel solutions are useful for treating acne blemishes and diminishing existing acne scars. Light chemical peels administered with a solution of alphahydroxy acids (AHA) can be beneficial for treating acne. A lower-strength AHA solution can be mixed with a facial wash as part of a daily skin-care routine. DocShop provides detailed information about acne chemical peels to help you decide if this treatment is right for you.

Side Effects

When performed by an experienced cosmetic dermatologist or plastic surgeon, chemical facial peels are safe. With light and medium peels, relatively mild chemical peel side effects such as redness, stinging, and crusting usually subside within a day or two after the treatment. The side effects of deep chemical peels are typically more pronounced, and recovery time is longer. More serious side effects, such as infection and scarring, are possible, especially with medium and deep chemical peels. However, serious side effects are rare when the procedure is performed by a qualified doctor.

Chemical Peel FAQs

Before undergoing a chemical peel for the first time, patients often have many questions and concerns. Being well informed about every aspect of your chemical peel procedure can help ensure that you are satisfied with the outcome of your treatment.

How are chemical skin peels actually performed?

Some aspects of the chemical peel procedure differ according to the type of peel (light, medium, or deep) being administered. However, all skin peel procedures follow the same basic protocols:

  • The chemical peel is administered in a doctor's office, surgery center, or hospital by a certified and trained cosmetic dermatologist or plastic surgeon. 
  • If a deep chemical peel is being administered, or if the patient requests it, the patient is given a sedative to aid relaxation. 
  • The doctor cleanses the patient's skin and, if necessary, applies a topical anesthetic to the treatment area. 
  • The doctor then applies the chemical peel solution. This solution is formulated according to each patient's specific needs and goals. It is common for the patient to feel a tingling or stinging sensation as the chemical peel is applied. 
  • After the skin peel solution has been on the skin for the prescribed amount of time, it is washed off with water. A soothing ointment is then applied; a thick coating of petroleum jelly is often used after deep chemical peels. 
  • The doctor then instructs the patient on aftercare, and the doctor may also prescribe a mild pain reliever for discomfort after the procedure, especially if a deep chemical peel was administered. 
  • Depending on the patient's skin condition and the depth of the chemical peel, multiple treatments may be necessary to achieve the desired results. 

Can chemical peels be performed on areas other than the face?

Though deep (phenol) peels are only appropriate for the face, the skin on any part of the body can be treated with a special mix of the chemicals used in mild and medium skin peels.

The chemical solution for body chemical peels is typically comprised of a combination of trichloroacetic acid (the main ingredient in a medium-depth skin peel) and glycolic acid (the main ingredient of a mild peel). The solution for body chemical peels is typically formulated to be slightly stronger than the chemical solution used for light or medium facial skin peels, though it is milder than the phenol solution used for deep skin peels.

As with facial chemical peels, body peels address the effects of sun damage, even out skin pigmentation, and improve skin texture. Chemical peels can also be used on the body to minimize stretch marks. Read more about treating stretch marks with chemical peels.

Will I be sedated during a chemical peel?

A local anesthetic in combination with mild or full sedation is typically used for deep chemical peels. For light and medium skin peels, no anesthetic or sedation is necessary, though patients may request a local anesthetic or mild sedation to alleviate discomfort.

Are chemical peels painful?

In general, patients only feel a mild stinging sensation during light or medium chemical peels. After the procedure, the physician may prescribe a mild pain reliever to relieve any discomfort.

Will my skin literally "peel"?

Chemical peels remove the outer layers of skin to reduce or eliminate the appearance of a number of skin imperfections and conditions. After a patient undergoes a skin peel, the treated layers of skin gradually flake away, revealing a fresh new layer of skin.

How long is the recovery period after a skin peel?

The recovery time after a chemical peel depends on the type of peel administered, because each type of peel affects the skin to a different degree.

  • Light chemical peels: These mild peels require virtually no recovery time. Though the skin may be mildly irritated after the peel, patients can return to their daily activities immediately after treatment. 
  • Medium chemical peels: The new layer of skin appears three to seven days after treatment. About two weeks after treatment, the skin will be fully healed. 
  • Deep chemical peels: The new layer of skin begins to appear seven to ten days after treatment, though complete healing can take two months or longer. Patients typically take a week off from work after undergoing a deep chemical peel.

Locate a Chemical Peel Doctor in Your Area

To learn more about the different types of chemical and facial peels, including TCA chemical peels, glycolic acid (AHA) chemical peels, and phenol peels, use DocShop's extensive directory of cosmetic dermatologists to contact a skin treatment expert near you.

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