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Chemical Peels: Do They Hurt?

Updated on June 27, 2010

More and more people are turning to chemical peels to help remove blemishes or wrinkles on the facial skin and to tone uneven skin pigmentation. Chemical facial peels work by removing the top layer of facial skin which allows healthier skin cells to come to the surface. Chemical peels can have other positive benefits, such as removing pre-cancerous skin growths and lessening the appearance of facial scars. 

Whether or not a chemical peel hurts a patient depends upon the patient and the strength or depth of the peel used. 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.

There are three primary types of chemical peels made up of these chemicals that vary in strength and treat different conditions on the skin. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are the mildest and can remove fine wrinkles, smooth areas of dry skin, correct uneven coloration, and clear up mild to moderate acne. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) causes a deeper peel than AHA and is used primarily to treat moderate 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.

Chemical peels can cause pain to patients who experience side effects. Since chemicals are being applied to the face, most patients will feel a burning sensation, whether slight or severe. Stinging and redness can also occur and are common side effects of all types of chemical peels. Skin may also crust in areas of the skin in response to having chemicals applied to it—particularly as a result of phenol chemical peels, which are the most likely to produce painful side effects. Skin may also flake or peel in response to the chemicals, and patients should not peel skin off, as doing so can result in pain or infection.

All chemical facial peels require recovery after treatment to minimize pain and long-term damage to affected skin. 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 the skin’s ability to tan, and therefore patients receiving these peels must protect their skin from the sun permanently. Sun exposure immediately following a chemical peel can cause pain from skin irritation.

Image Credit: ellie, Flickr


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  • Rusti Mccollum profile image

    Ruth McCollum 5 years ago from Lake Oswego, Oregon

    Great hub! I found it very interesting. Great Job!