Chemical peels can improve the skin's appearance. In this treatment, a chemical solution is applied to the skin, which makes it "blister" and eventually peel off. The new skin is usually smoother and less wrinkled than the old skin.
Chemical peels can be done on the face, neck, or hands. They can be used to:
- Reduce fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth
- Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage and aging
- Improve the appearance of mild scars
- Treat certain types of acne
- Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills
- Improve the look and feel of skin
Areas of sun damage may improve after chemical peeling.
After a chemical peel, skin is temporarily more sensitive to the sun, so wear sunscreen every day. It should say "broad-spectrum" on the label, meaning it protects against the sun's UVA and UVB rays. Limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Who Is a Good Candidate For a Chemical Peel?
Generally, fair-skinned and light-haired patients are better candidates for chemical peels. If you have darker skin, you may also have good results, depending upon the type of problem being treated. But you also may be more likely to have an uneven skin tone after the procedure.
Skin sags, bulges, and more severe wrinkles do not respond well to chemical peels. They may need other kinds of cosmetic surgical procedures, such as laser resurfacing, a facelift, brow lift, eyelid lift, or soft tissue filler (collagen or fat). A dermatologic surgeon can help determine the most appropriate type of treatment for you.
How Chemical Peels Are Done
You can get a chemical peel in a doctor's clinic or in a surgery center. It's an outpatient procedure, meaning there's no overnight stay.
The professional who does your peel will first clean your skin thoroughly. Then he or she will apply one or more chemical solutions -- such as glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or carbolic acid (phenol) -- to small areas of your skin. That creates a controlled wound, letting new skin take its place.
During a chemical peel, most people feel a burning sensation that lasts about five to ten minutes, followed by a stinging sensation. Putting cool compresses on the skin may ease that stinging. You may need pain medication during or after a deeper peel.
Some skin types are more likely to develop a temporary or permanent color change in the skin after a chemical peel. Taking birth control pills, subsequent pregnancy, or a family history of brownish discoloration on the face may make that more likely.
There is a low risk of scarring in certain areas of the face. Some people may be more likely to scar. If scarring does happen, it can usually be treated with good results.
For people with a history of herpes outbreaks, there is a small risk of reactivating cold sores. Your doctor can prescribe medication to prevent or treat that.