Chemical Peels

Chemical Peels

A chemical peel is a treatment that removes damaged surface skin cells.  This lets healthy underlying skin shine through.  There are several levels of chemical peels including light, medium and deep.  While these procedures are very safe, it is still important to have them performed by qualified professionals.  This includes board certified dermatologists, plastic surgeons or a licensed healthcare provider.  They will be able to provide the necessary guidance before and after the procedure to maximize your results in a safe environment. 

Chemical Peels Explained

As a cosmetic treatment, chemical peels are safe and effective.  They can be used to improve the appearance of the face, neck or hands.  The treatment involves applying chemical solutions to a particular area.  This exfoliates the area and causes dead skin to slough off.  The exfoliation exposes new skin.  Often, this skin layer will be smoother and with fewer wrinkles.  Also, if there is skin damage from the sun or environment, the underlying skin can appear to have less damage. 

Reasons to Consider a Chemical Peel

People get chemical peels to help with a variety of issues.  These range from wrinkles and sun damage to minimizing acne scars.  Chemical peels are also used to correct uneven skin tone, melasma and hyperpigmentation. 

Types of Chemical Peels

There are three types of chemical peels available.  They range in intensity and recovery time.  Most procedures take between 30-90 minutes to perform. These types include:

Light Peels:  These are very convenient in that they don’t require much recovery time.  A mild acid, such as alpha-hydroxy, is used to gently exfoliate the outer layer of skin. 

Medium Peels:  This treatment uses glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to reach both the middle and outer layers of skin.  This treatment is an efficient way to get rid of any skin cells that are damaged.  As this treatment is more intensive, recovery time is generally two to three weeks. 

Deep Peels:  This is the most intensive treatment in that the chemicals, trichloroacetic acid or phenol, deeply penetrate the middle layer of skin.  Expect a two to three week recovery period. 

The Chemical Peel Procedure

Most chemical peels are done in your physician’s office.  For deep peels, you may not have the treatment performed in an outpatient surgical facility.  During a light peel, a chemical solution, such as salicylic acid, is applied to the treatment area.  The chemical causes the skin to whiten.  You may feel a light stinging feeling during treatment.  Once complete, any traces of the chemical are removed.  For a medium peel, glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid will be used.  A peel with trichloroacetic acid is sometimes called a ‘blue peel’ because a blue color is sometimes added to the solution.  During the treatment period, you may feel stinging or burning.  A cool compress is used to alleviate these issues.  Also, if the solution does have blue coloring added, your skin may have a blue tint for a couple of days.  When you have a deep peel, you will be sedated for the treatment.  Phenol is applied to the skin in 15-minute sections.  This limits the exposure of the skin to the solution.


The type of anesthesia that you receive will depend on the type of treatment you are getting.  For light and medium peels, a topical anesthetic may be used.  For deep peels, your physician may use a regional anesthetic, particularly if neck and face are being treated.  During a deep peel, your heart rate will be monitored while you are given IV fluids.

Preparing for a Chemical Peel

During your consultation with your doctor or skin care professional, you’ll decide which treatment will give you the outcomes that you are looking for.  The professional you are working with will provide detailed information about the treatment.  They will also ask about any medications you are currently taking.  This is to ensure that there won’t be any factors that interfere with the treatment. 

Prior to Treatment

Mostly likely, you will be told to discontinue the use of any medications that include retinol or retin-A several days prior to a chemical peel.  Your professional will also ensure that you haven’t used Accutane for at least six months prior to the treatment.  They will also want a complete list of any medications that you currently are taking. 

Additional Directives

Every patient is different with unique needs.  As a result, your doctor may have additional directives or recommendations to help your procedure be successful.  These may include:

Refrain from waxing or using depilatory products for hair remove one week prior to the treatment.  Hair bleaching should also be avoided. 

If the treatment will require sedation, you will need to have transportation home following treatment. 

Do not use facial scrubs during the week before treatment.

If you frequently experience cold sores or fever blisters, the doctor may recommend taking an antiviral medication to reduce the risk of a breakout. 

They may recommend special lotions that can improve treatment results (glycolic acid) or prevent skin darkening, like a retinoid cream. 

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a sedative or pain medication that needs to be taken prior to your treatment appointment. 

Potential Side Effects from a Chemical Peel

Most people only experience mild side effects following a chemical peel.  This includes redness, slight swelling and a stinging feeling.  However, there can be more serious complications with a chemical peel.  For instance, with a deep peel, you can potentially no longer be able to develop a tan.  People with darker skin sometimes have a darkening or lightening of their skin following a peel.  Sometimes scarring happens during the peel.  Most serious of all, if the deep peel treatment uses phenol, there is a slight risk of heart, kidney and liver damage.  This information about potential side effects is to make your aware of the risks with treatment.  Any procedures and potential side effects should be discussed with your doctor prior to treatment.

Recovery and Aftercare

Your doctor will talk with you about any aftercare and what amount of recovery time you will need.  Its important to follow their instructions.  You should avoid using cosmetics or time in the sun until your doctor oks it.  They will also recommend how often to wash your face.  If you experience discomfort, an ice pack normally helps.

Depending on the type of chemical peel you get, the amount of recovery time will vary.  Just as with any medical procedure, it’s important to educate yourself beforehand and ask your provider all of the questions you have.  The more that you understand what to expect and what the risks are, that happier you will be with the outcome.