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How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

Updated on June 8, 2010

Chemical peels are growing in popularity as a way to get youthful, healthier looking skin without going under the knife. A chemical facial peel removes damaged outer layers of facial skin using a chemical solution. During this process, the chemical solution makes facial skin smoothed and improved.

Many people with facial blemishes, scars, acne, wrinkes, and uneven skin pigmentation choose to have a chemical facial peel. The chemical solution used in chemical facial peels is made up of phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alphahydroxy acids (AHAs). The specific formula varies depending upon the needs of each patient.

Each of the three chemicals used in chemical peeling produces a different depth of chemical facial peel for different results. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are the mildest of the peel formulas and are used for light peels—primarily to remove fine wrinkling, areas of dry skin, uneven coloration and acne. AHA can be applied weekly or at longer periods as recommended by a doctor. Recovery times are generally very short, as this peel does not penetrate very deeply. AHA can also be mixed with facial cream or face wash for daily use.

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) produces a medium-depth chemical facial peel that is used to smooth wrinkles, blemishes, and pigment issues. Several TCA peels may be needed to treat some issues and results may not be permanent.

Phenol chemical facial peels are the deepest and strongest chemical facial peels. These peels are used to treat deep facial wrinkles, areas of skin damaged by exposure to the sun, or pre-cancerous growths. Phenol can sometimes lighten the treated area, so a patient’s skin pigmentation should be taken into consideration when prescribing a phenol peel. Phenol chemical facial peels should be used only on the face and can scar other areas of the body. Phenol peels often cause the facial skin to lose its ability to make pigment, so patients always have to protect their skin from the sun. Phenol chemical peels usually require a long recovery period in which the treated skin must be protected.

Chemical peels can do great things for the appearance of your skin, but you should be aware of the dangers of chemical peels. Your skin will be different before and after a chemical peel, but sometimes for the worse. Dangers of chemical peels vary depending upon which of the three types of chemical facial peel is done. AHA chemical peels are fast treatments that offer a fast recovery period, but are not very deep. The more significant chemical peel results of an AHA peel can include redness and flaking. The more intense the process, the more you risk an adverse result if you don’t follow the doctor’s orders carefully.

Image Credit: amrufm, Flickr


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