An acne chemical peel may be appropriate when over-the-counter acne skin care products and prescription acne preparations such as Accutane® are not effective in reducing, controlling, or eliminating an individual's acne. Acne can be unsightly and uncomfortable, and severe acne can negatively affect a person's self-esteem. Cosmetic chemical peel treatments performed to address acne problems include several different types of acne chemical peels and acne scar peel procedures.
What Is an Acne Chemical Peel?
When topical acne medications do not provide satisfactory results, a clearer, healthy-looking complexion may be achieved with a chemical peel for acne or acne scars. An acne chemical peel is performed by applying a chemical solution to the skin. The solution causes the skin to blister and peel over a period of several days. As the treated skin comes off, fresh new skin replaces it. This exfoliation caused by the acne skin peel eliminates or reduces the appearance of acne blemishes and scars. A cne chemical peel treatments provide benefits in addition to acne treatment — they can improve the skin's pigmentation and make the skin smoother.
There are three general categories of chemical solutions used as acne chemical peel treatments: alphahydroxy acid (AHA) or glycolic acid peels, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels, and phenol peels. AHA peels are the lightest and most gentle; TCA peels are a bit stronger; and phenol peels are the strongest. Each type of peel has advantages and disadvantages.
The best candidates for acne chemical peel treatments are people with superficial acne or acne scars. Individuals with severe or very active acne may not be good candidates for acne chemical peels. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are not good candidates for a chemical peel to treat acne.
Chemical Peels for Deep Acne Scars
Acne scars are the result of the body’s inflammatory response to acne lesions. There are several different types of scar left by acne, and each affected person has a different and unique facial "topography." Acne scar treatment must therefore be implemented on a case-by-case basis. Although no single treatment is best for everyone, an acne chemical peel may provide effective treatment for some patients' deep acne scars. A deep TCA peel or a phenol chemical peel may be able to resurface the treated skin enough to eliminate the appearance of acne scars. With the TCA acne chemical peels , more than one treatment may be necessary. Another alternative for deep acne scars is laser skin resurfacing.
What to Expect after an Acne Skin Peel
The extent of recovery necessary after an acne skin peel depends on the type of chemical peel used — AHA, TCA, or phenol. Patients commonly experience some temporary chemical peel-related side effects such as redness, dryness, and flaking or scaling after undergoing an AHA chemical peel for acne, but these side effects are usually mild and do not prevent patients from returning to regular daily activities after treatment. A TCA acne skin peel can have the same side effects of an AHA peel plus significant swelling (depending on the strength of TCA used). A mild pain medication may be necessary after a strong TCA chemical peel for acne scars, and the skin may form a temporary crust or scab on the treated area. The swelling and discomfort of a TCA chemical peel subside within about a week, and after about 10 days the skin is healed enough that the patient can return to normal activities. After a phenol acne scar peel, the face may become very swollen, even to the point that the eyes are temporarily swollen shut. For this reason up to two weeks of at-home recovery are typically needed after a phenol chemical peel.
The long-term results of acne chemical peel treatments are generally good. AHA chemical peel treatments for acne can be continued with at-home preparations to maintain the unblemished appearance of the skin. The acne or scars may need to be treated again eventually to maintain the effect.
The long-term results of TCA acne chemical peel treatment include smoother skin with a reduction or elimination of acne scars and blemishes. However, as with AHA peels, more than one TCA peel may be required to achieve the desired effect. The redness produced by the stronger TCA chemical peel sometimes lasts up to three months. The newly formed layers of skin must be protected with plenty of high-SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen, to prevent blotchiness and hyperpigmentation. Although TCA is not as strong a chemical peel as phenol, TCA peels can produce unintended skin color changes.
After a phenol acne chemical peel, new skin begins to form in about a week, and the treated skin, which will initially be very red, gradually fades to its normal color over a period of weeks or months. The aesthetic results of a phenol chemical peel can last for many years.
Find a Skin Care Specialist in Your City
A board-certified cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist should administer your acne chemical peel. Unfortunately, in some states, a medical degree is not required to perform an acne chemical peel — or even phenol chemical peel treatments. Other states permit non-physicians to offer some acne skin peel treatments, but the acid strengths permitted are regulated. Use DocShop to find a qualified dermatologist in your area who can determine the best acne chemical peel treatment for your skin.