What are Chemical Peels?

Written by Anza Goodbar (last updated May 13, 2022)

Magazines and billboards are filled with photographs of beautiful women. Our society places a high value on youthful looking skin. Today there are many options available to preserve a youthful appearance one of which is a chemical peel. There are several types of peels available depending on the level of desired results.

Chemical peels can be applied to the entire face or isolated to a particular area. Eyes should be protected during a chemical peel. Chemical peels are effective because they cause the skin to grow new tissue rich in collagen and elastin. There are three basic types of peels available based on the level of burn needed to achieve desired results.

  1. Superficial Peel: Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are used to treat rough dry skin and improve texture. AHAs can be combined with bleaching agents to even out skin pigmentations. The entire process should take no more than 10 minutes. More than one peel may be required to achieve the desired result.
  2. Medium Peel: Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is used to remove fine lines and superficial blemishes. Most TCA peels can take place in 15 minutes for a total face peel. This chemical causes a light burning sensation, but should pass quickly. Two or more treatments may be required to achieve desired results.
  3. Deep Peel: Carbolic Acid (Phenol) is used to treat coarse wrinkles, blotchy skin due to sun damage, use of birth control pills, aging or pre-cancerous growths. Phenol is a strong acid that should only be used on the face as it can cause scarring on the neck and throat. A full phenol peel can take up to two hours. If it is limited to a particular regions like an upper lip it could take only 15 minutes. Due to the level of burn created by a phenol peel, the doctor will coat the face with petroleum jelly or waterproof adhesive tape. A single treatment normally delivers the desired result.

Most chemical peels are done on an out patient basis. A sedative may be administered to relax the patient. Pain medication may be requested prior to a deep peel; most physicians will prescribe pain medication for after the peel to reduce stinging and throbbing sensations.

It is important to follow aftercare directions when healing from a chemical burn. It is imperative to limit time in the sun, and only expose skin that is protected by a high SPF sun blocker. Sun's rays cause damaging effects to the skin and can reduce any benefit the peel may be produced.

What to expect after a peel:

  • AHA Peel: An AHA peel is like a minor sunburn. The skin usually turns red, dries out and flakes off. The shedding of dead skin should pass within five days. The patient should be able to resume normal activities right away.
  • TCA Peel: A scabby crust will form over the treated area and there could be minor swelling. Swelling can last for up to a week. New skin should start to form and enough healing should allow returning to normal routines in 7 – 10 days.
  • Phenol Peel: The patient should expect significant swelling. Eyes may swell shut. Talking is restricted and most patients are put on a liquid diet for several days. New skin should start forming in 10 days. It may take two to three weeks to resume normal activities. Make up should not be worn during this time.

Author Bio

Anza Goodbar

Anza is a single mother of four who makes her home in Colorado. She enjoys writing, hiking and is an avid football and hockey fan. She is the owner of a virtual business services company; writing is just one of the many services her company offers. ...


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