Definition and Overview

Chemical peel is one of the most widely-used skin refining techniques today. In this procedure, a chemical solution is applied to the skin by a dermatologist and is allowed to soak for a few minutes before workup. Depending on its level of penetration, the outer layer of the skin peels off within a day to up to 2 weeks. The effect of the chemical on the skin prompts the formation of new, smoother skin to take the place of the old skin. Chemical peels are often done on the face, hands, neck and the décolletage (upper chest), but can be performed in virtually any part of the body.

Benefits of Chemical Peeling

Skin imperfections are often the result of acne, aging, sun damage and build-up of old, dead skin cells that block the pores. With these, the skin appears wrinkled, dull, patchy, or scarred. Removal of this old, outer skin layer to be replaced by smoother, more beautiful new skin can dramatically improve one's appearance. It can effectively reduce or even eliminate skin problems including acne, acne scars, sun spots and hyperpigmentation, fine lines, freckles, dark circles, large pores, wrinkles, rough patches, and dry scaly skin.

With the growth of new skin cells and the enhanced production of collagen that follows a chemical peel, your skin will be noticeably fresher, more youthful, brighter and smoother.

Types of Chemical Peels

There are several types of chemical peels classified into how deep the chemical will penetrate through the skin, and the type of peel used. These include the following:

  • Superficial or Light Peel : these are the most gentle type of peel available and aim to remove the superficial top layer of the skin for instantly brighter-looking skin.
  • Medium Depth Peel : this type of peel gives more dramatic results and penetrates through a deeper layer of skin. However, this causes more discomfort such as burning and stinging sensations, results to more side effects, and requires longer recovery period.
  • Deep Peel : the strongest type of chemical peel and is ideal for severe sun damage, deep lines and wrinkles, and deep scars; this type of peel will cause the skin to be swollen for a few days and typically requires two weeks recovery time.


Peels can also vary depending on the peeling agent or chemical applied which includes the following:

  • Glycolic Acid : the most common peeling agent, used to treat fine lines, sun damage and results in better skin texture and brighter skin
  • Salicylic Acid : stronger and penetrates deeper making it ideal for acne and oily skin
  • Lactic Acid : less irritating and has natural moisturizers, ideal for pigmentation, dehydrated or dry skin and sensitive skin
  • Fruit enzymes : these acids have anti-bacterial properties, also ideal for acne-laden, dehydrated skin, and for hyper-reactive and sensitive skin types
  • Tartaric or malic acid : less irritating alternative for milder exfoliation
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA): a stronger acid for medium and deep peels, used for skin tightening, fine lines and wrinkles, large pores, acne scars and pigmentation
  • Carbolic acid : the strongest type of peeling agent, used for very deep peels

Chemical Peel: How is it performed?

Depending on your skin condition, your dermatologist may recommend a pre-peel skin care plan for about 2 to 3 weeks for maximum results. On the day of your chemical peel schedule, you will first be prepped through thorough cleansing. A deep peel will require general anesthesia set in a surgical laboratory or clinic. After preparation, your dermatologist will apply the peeling agent quickly and evenly on the subject area. Depending on the type of peel, your dermatologist will remove the chemical at the right time which may range from a few to several minutes.

After the peeling agent is completely removed, your skin will be treated for comfort as necessary. A soothing cream or lotion may be applied, For deep peels, surgical dressing will be placed over the wound.

The time required for full recovery from a chemical peel will depend on the type of procedure performed. For a superficial peel, for instance, healing time takes approximately a week. However, about 3 to 5 chemical peel sessions may be necessary to achieve the desired, dramatic result. For medium peels, recovery usually takes one to two weeks, with soak and application of soothing ointment or cream recommended as daily maintenance. For deep peels, it may take about 20 days for full recovery at home, and several follow-up visits will be required in the first week. After the peel, your dermatologist will require you to strictly avoid sun exposure for a certain time period and apply high SPF sunscreen.

When to see a doctor

A chemical peel is generally safe and effective in rejuvenating the skin. In the hands of an experienced dermatologist, side effects are usually mild and easy to manage. Normal side effects include redness and swelling in the affected area, temporary darkening of the skin, and mild crusting and scarring. Serious side effects are rare and may include allergic reaction, a herpes outbreak (for those who have a history of this condition), increased sensitivity to light and possible infection. If you experience serious discomfort that lasts more than the expected timeframe, it is best to see your doctor immediately.

Other options for skin brightening

Aside from chemical peels, there are other techniques that can brighten and improve the skin's appearance. These include dermabrasion and laser resurfacing, which are also based on the idea of removing the outer layer (exfoliation) to stimulate new skin cells. Dermabrasion involves the use of a tool that creates small wounds to destroy and remove the upper layer of the skin and promote skin regrowth. Laser resurfacing, on the other hand, utilizes a laser machine to target specific imperfections and skin flaws and correct them accordingly.

The best technique for skin rejuvenation will depend on the condition and type of skin, your preferences and your doctor's recommendation. Best results may be achieved using a combination of these effective methods.

References:

  • American Academy of Dermatology. “Is a Chemical Peel the Right Choice for You?” Available: https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/chemical-peel/is-it-right-for-you

  • My Face My Body The Ultimate Beauty Guide. “Types of Chemical Peel” Available: http://www.myfacemybody.com/procedures/non-surgical/chemical-peels/types-of-chemical-peel/

  • Tanzi EL, Alster TS (2008). Skin resurfacing: Ablative lasers, chemical peels, and dermabrasion. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2364–2371. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.

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