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Chemical Peel Side Effects

Updated on June 8, 2010

Chemical peels can be effective in removing blemishes and wrinkles and toning uneven skin pigmentation. Chemical facial peels remove the top layer of facial skin and bring healthier skin cells to the surface. In addition to its cosmetic benefits, chemical peeling can also remove pre-cancerous skin growths and lessen the appearance of facial scars.

Chemical facial peels are made up of phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alphahydroxy acids (AHAs). Each patient is given a different amount of each depending upon his or her individual needs. Each chemical produces a different type of chemical peel. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are the mildest and can remove fine wrinkling, areas of dry skin, uneven coloration and mild to moderate acne. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) causes a deeper peel than AHA and is used to smooth wrinkles, blemishes, and pigment issues. The strongest of all chemical facial peels has high concentrations of phenol. These peels correct deep facial wrinkles, areas of skin damaged by sun exposure, or pre-cancerous growths.

Although chemical peels can have many benefits, they can also produce many side effects that you should consider. Stinging and redness are common with AHA, TCA, and phenol chemical peels. Skin may crust in areas in response to having chemicals applied to it. Phenol chemical peels, which are the most likely to produce side effects, often cause this type of skin crusting.

Skin may also flake or peel in response to the chemicals. Patients should not peel skin off prematurely, as exposing the skin underneath before it is ready may result in scarring or infection. Doctors can prescribe lotion or moisturizer to help reduce flaking and pain.

Among the more serious effects of chemical peels is discoloration of the skin. Treated skin may appear darker than other skin around it after the peel (a condition known as hyperpigmentation). Alternatively, skin may appear lighter (hypopigmentation), although this condition is usually temporary. 

Most patients of chemical facial peels are usually advised not to expose the skin to the sun for several months following treatment. Deep chemical peels can also eliminate your skin’s ability to tan, and therefore patients receiving these peels must protect their skin from the sun permanently. The cost of chemical peels varies, but generally ranges from $600 to $900 for mild to moderate peels, and up to $6,000 for deep chemical facial peels.

All chemical facial peels require recovery after treatment. Some chemical peels such as TCA peels require a moderate amount of recovery time, while phenol chemical peels can require several months of recovery during which treated facial skin should not be exposed to the sun.

Consult your doctor before beginning any chemical peel treatment. 

Image Credit: Pink Sherbet, Flickr


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