Common chemical peel side effects include stinging, redness, and peeling of the skin, and they should be expected by any patient who undergoes a chemical peel. The side effects are a result of the peels' chemical action, which removes the old upper layer of the skin to reveal new, fresher skin. Patients should have knowledge of potential chemical peel side effects prior to a chemical peel treatment to alleviate anxiety and help them make an informed decision about undergoing the procedure.
Stinging and Burning Sensation
A chemical peel will cause a stinging or burning sensation to the treated skin upon contact with the AHA, TCA, or phenol solution. Even the lightest AHA (alphahydroxy acid) peel can result in temporary stinging. Most patients do not find the stinging and burning sensation painful, and some patients even describe it in positive terms.
The strength of the solution used for the chemical peel will determine how much redness will occur, and how long the redness will last. An AHA skin peel may cause no redness at all for some patients, whereas a TCA (medium) chemical peel can be expected to result in significant redness that can last for weeks. A phenol chemical peel will be followed by pronounced redness that can last three to four months.
Crusting and Skin Irritation
Crusts or scabs may develop on areas treated with any type of chemical peel as the skin reacts to the "trauma" of having a mild acid solution applied to it. Phenol peels, in particular, can be expected to result in some crusting as the old layer of skin exfoliates and the underlying layer of skin emerges. Your cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist will give you instructions for treating the crusting and skin irritation produced by a chemical peel, including instructions for cleaning the skin and protecting it with sunscreen.
Flaking and Peeling
Flaking and peeling are normal chemical peel side effects that are temporary and relatively minor. A patient must not pick at the flakes and peeling skin because pulling off peeling skin before it is ready can result in infection and scarring. Your doctor may give you an ointment or lotion to protect your skin as it peels and flakes. The treated skin will heal at its own rate, and the result will be fresher, younger-looking skin.
Changes in Skin Color
Among the more serious and undesirable chemical peel side effects are changes in shin color. It is possible, although rare when you're treated by a qualified physician, to develop hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation after a chemical peel. Hyperpigmentation is increased color of the skin. For example, the new skin that develops after a deep chemical peel may turn darker than the untreated skin near it (especially if sunscreen is not used sufficiently after the peel). Hypopigmentation is depleted skin color. This condition is often temporary. More information about hypo- and hyperpigmentation as chemical peel side effects is available on the Risks and Benefits of Chemical Peels page.
Find a Physician in Your Area
Cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists are qualified physicians who can perform safe chemical peel treatments that minimize the chances of side effects . With the DocShop network, you can find a dermatologist in your area who offers chemical peel alternatives in a safe and professional setting.