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Do Chemical Peels Really Work?

Updated on June 27, 2010

Chemical peeling uses a chemical solution to remove damaged outer layers of facial skin. Many people choose to have a chemical peel as a way to get more youthful looking skin without going through the trouble and expense of cosmetic surgery. While a chemical facial peel cannot produce the results of a facelift or other surgeries which reduce the signs of age, it can give patients smoother-looking skin.

So how do chemical peels work? Chemical peels are made up of three chemicals: phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alphahydroxy acids (AHAs). The particular amount of each used depends on the needs of each individual patient. The chemical solution is applied to the face (or occasionally in more diluted forms to the neck, arms, legs, or chest) to “peel off” the outer skin cells and expose the more healthy skin cells below. This often makes skin softer and allows it to absorb moisture more easily for a fresher look. Peeling off the outer layer of skin also removes blackheads and clogged pores that can make skin look dull.

Each of the three chemicals produces a different strength of chemical facial peel. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are the mildest of the peel formulas and are used for light peels which remove fine wrinkling, areas of dry skin, uneven coloration and acne. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) produces a moderate-depth chemical facial peel that smooths wrinkles, removes blemishes, and corrects uneven pigmentation. Phenol chemical facial peels are the deepest and strongest chemical facial peels and are used to treat deep facial wrinkles, areas of skin damaged by exposure to the sun, or pre-cancerous growths.

While chemical peels do come with potential side effects (mostly redness, swelling, or irritation in affected areas), they are effective at providing patients with smoother facial skin and fewer facial blemishes and wrinkles. Besides its cosmetic benefits, chemical facial peels can also remove pre-cancerous skin growths, lessen the appearance of facial scars and help to control acne. Some insurance companies will cover the costs of a chemical facial peel.

While the deepest chemical peels are usually administered in a doctor’s office, milder chemical peels are administered at spas or even at home. Patients often see the positive results of a chemical facial peel soon after treatment. All chemical facial peels require recovery after treatment, which may vary from a few days to a few months. While a chemical peel offers many benefits, patients should consult their doctors carefully before getting any type of chemical peel to decide if it is the right treatment for them.

Image Credit: Victor Bezrukof, Flickr


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  • JPPhilips profile image

    JPPhilips 4 years ago from SC Piedmont Area

    Great hub. I have done several chemical peels at home and treat my sisters to them when we get together. Thanks for sharing.

  • diydiva profile image

    Kay Mitchell 6 years ago from California

    I am asking for a set of peels for my birthday! Can't wait. I'm young, but I have given my skin a beating and have a lot of acne scarring. :(

  • skinspagirl profile image

    Christal Petrak 6 years ago from Signal Hill, California

    WARNING!!! DO NOT DO ANY CHEMICAL PEELS AT HOME! Seek out an EXPERIENCED professional. You could permanently scar your skin.

  • msorensson profile image

    msorensson 7 years ago

    I would not recommend the use of phenol or TCA..they are quite harsh and one has to be out of the all costs.

    Thank you for the lovely hub.