Chemical peels are a treatment that can improve the appearance of skin on your face, neck, chest or hands. It works like an extreme form of exfoliation—a chemical compound is applied to the targeted area which causes the topmost layers of skin to peel off, revealing fresh, smooth skin underneath. If you suffer from acne, wrinkles, scars, or hyperpigmentation, a chemical peel may help.
Depending on how extensive you’d like your peel to be and the extent of the cosmetic issues you’d like to correct, there are three different types of chemical peels you can choose from.
Superficial peels are the mildest form of chemical peels. They use a dilute acid such as alpha-hydroxy acid to exfoliate the upper layers of skin. The selected chemical is applied with a small sponge brush or cotton applicator and then wiped off with water or alcohol after a few minutes. It’s an extremely gentle process and is best used to treat minor skin problems.
A medium chemical peel uses a stronger acid such as phenol or trichloroacetic acid or high percentage glycolic acid to reach and remove dead or damaged skin cells in the middle layers of the skin. Medium peels are applied in a similar manner to superficial peels, but are left on longer. It can be more uncomfortable than a superficial peel while it is being applied. However, the discomfort typically does not continue after the peel is over. This treatment can help alleviate wrinkles, moderate skin discoloration, as well as fine lines and age spots.
Medium chemical peels do require some down time, as the recovery period is typically a week to two weeks, and it may require you to take a few days off work to recover. There can be some swelling, especially if the peel was applied around the eyes.
The most extensive chemical peels are called deep peels, which uses the same chemicals as a medium peel. However, because of the intensity with which the chemicals are applied, deep peels are only ever applied to the face, and only once in a lifetime. A deep peel can take an hour to an hour and a half. Those with darker skin tones may not be eligible candidates for a deep peel as it can cause a lightening of the skin.
Deep peels can treat cosmetic issues that medium and superficial peels cannot, including more severe cases of wrinkles, extensive sun damage, serious cases of discoloration, and larger growths on the skin.
However, this type of chemical peel requires an extensive healing process, which can take 2 to 3 weeks. During the procedure, the patient may be given oral pain medication or may be given medications to reduce swelling. The face must be bandaged afterwards, antibiotics are typically prescribed to prevent infection, and ointment must be applied regularly for a few weeks after the treatment. The patient can’t be exposed to direct sunlight for three to six months after a deep chemical peel and will have several follow up appointments. These peels usually require some type of sedation medication and are often done in conjunction with surgical cosmetic procedures. The deep chemical peels are not as popular as they used to be since lasers peels have similar results with a quicker recovery.