Chemical Peels: Are They Right for You?

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The name can sound a bit intimidating, but chemical peels are actually a very safe, fast and affordable procedure. There is some recovery time, which varies person to person. However, the majority of patients are back to their activities of daily living within the same week (and some just a few hours later!).

Chemical peels are designed to improve the appearance of skin by applying a chemical solution to the skin (usually the face, neck, and/or chest). The treatment makes the skin blister, peel away, and reveal new skin below the surface. This new skin is often tauter, smoother and “dewier” than the old skin. Skin sloughs off naturally, and chemical peels basically speed up the process in one fell swoop. As such, chemical peels don’t offer a lasting effect.

Are You a Candidate?

Not everybody is a great candidate for chemical peels. They’re most often used to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, particularly around the mouth and eyes. Chemical peels can also help with sun damage, mild scars, and certain types of acne—or, more specifically, scars from acne. You might use them to minimize the appearance of freckles, melisma from pregnancy, or age spots. The treatments also improve the texture of the skin and allow for makeup to be more smoothly applied.

It’s important to wear sunscreen daily regardless, but it’s especially vital for those who recently underwent chemical peels. The treatment makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight. Everybody is different, but the patients who experience the best results from chemical peels are usually fair skinned with light hair. However, those with darker skin might also enjoy great results. It depends on the person, the problem being treated, and of course the quality of the professional administering the chemical peel.

What it Doesn’t Treat

Chemical peels are designed to treat skin sagging, deep wrinkles or bulges in the skin. Instead, you might need to talk to your dermatologist about alternatives such as laser resurfacing, cosmetic surgery or fillers (such as collagen). Those who tent to scar easily or get recurring cold sores should discuss this with their doctor. These patients might not be the best candidates for chemical peels, but there may be other treatments that work for them.

There are a few drugs and topical ointments to avoid before a chemical peel. That can include Retin-A or any product with glycolic acid. In some cases, a doctor might prescribe antiviral prescriptions or antibiotics to take the week of the chemical peel. Chemical peels can go to various depths of the skin, and your doctor will use the information you provide, as well as pre-screeners, to determine peel depth. Some deeper peels might require you to have a loved one take you home from your appointment.

Chemical peels take place in surgery centers or doctor’s offices. It’s always an outpatient procedure, which starts with a gentle cleansing of the area to be treated. Next, the chemical peel is applied, and might be made up of trichloroacetic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, carbolic acid or salicylic acid. First, it’s applied as a “control would” to make sure your body doesn’t have an adverse reaction.

It’s normal to feel a burning sensation during the process. It might be uncomfortable, but shouldn’t be painful. This feeling only lasts up to ten minutes before turning into a sting. A cool compress can help, and in some cases an over the counter pain medication might be recommended. Following the procedure, the most common reaction is likened to a sunburn. The skin will peel, much like a sunburn, and there may be redness and a scaly appearance. Most patients report feeling back to normal in three to seven days.

Some patients opt for milder peels every four weeks to achieve and maintain their preferred look.

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