Written by Anza Goodbar (last updated November 29, 2021)
Acne can be painful and embarrassing. Oftentimes over the counter remedies are not strong enough to battle the abundance of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands. Acne can appear on the face, neck, back or chest. Many factors can attribute to the onset of acne: genetics, oily skin, clothing softeners, tight clothing or excessive perspiring.
Dermatologists can treat acne with chemical peels by using, Alphahydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids like glycolic acid or salicylic acid with positive results. The acid is able to unclog the pores thus producing a more even skin texture with the appearance of smaller pores. Salicylic acid also acts as an anti-inflammatory so the irritation that often accompanies acne can be reduced.
Chemical peels work by applying a chemical solution to the skin. The treatment takes 10-15 minutes in the office. Over the course of the next several days following a peel the skin will blister and peel away revealing new skin. The exfoliation process reduces the signs of blemishes and scarring caused by acne. Along with an improved appearance of acne, the skin's texture and pigmentation will also become smoother and more even.
The best candidates for this type of chemical peel to treat acne are patients who have superficial acne or light scarring caused by acne. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not consider a chemical peel.
Patients who have severe acne or deep scars caused by acne may consider having a deeper peel with TCA or Phenol to improve the skin's condition. Healing time will increase to a couple of weeks to allow for the skin to totally peel and reveal the new skin.
Typical side effects after an AHA peel include: redness, drying or flaking. These side effects are normally temporary and do not prevent resuming daily activities immediately following treatment. A TCA peel goes deeper into the skin and therefore may also produce swelling and redness. The skin may produce a crust and scab over the treated area for 7-10 days. A mild pain reliever may be required to reduce discomfort. A Phenol scar peel may produce swelling to the point of the eyes temporarily swelling shut. A period of two weeks of at-home recovery is recommended after deep Phenol peels. TCA and Phenol peels may produce red skin that can last up to several months before it begins to fade to a pinkish tone.
Encouraging results have been realized though the use of chemical peels to treat acne and scaring as a result of acne. More than one treatment may be necessary with follow up treatments at home to maintain the effect. Long term effects of a peel include smoother texture, elimination of scars and blemishes, and more regular skin pigmentation. Sun block with a high SPF factor will be necessary after a peel to prevent skin discoloration.
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