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Risks of Chemical Peels

Updated on June 8, 2010

Getting a chemical facial peel can be an effective way to remove blemishes and wrinkles and tone uneven skin. Chemical facial peels lessen the appearance of acne and other skin problems by removing the top layer of skin and bringing healthier skin cells to the surface. Chemical peeling can also be helpful in removing pre-cancerous skin growths and lessening the appearance of facial scars.

Most chemical peels are made up of phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alphahydroxy acids (AHAs). The specific formula used depends upon the needs of the patient. Each of the three chemicals produces a different type of peel. Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are the mildest and are used to remove fine wrinkling, areas of dry skin, uneven coloration and acne. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) produces a chemical facial peel of moderate depth that is used to smooth wrinkles, blemishes, and pigment issues. Phenol chemical facial peels are the deepest and strongest chemical facial peels. These peels correct deep facial wrinkles, areas of skin damaged by sun exposure, or pre-cancerous growths.

Before deciding to seek treatment, you should be aware of the risks of chemical peels. Your skin will look different before and after a chemical peel, but some changes can be negative. Risks of chemical peels vary by type. AHA chemical peels carry the lowest risks, since they are not very deep and only burn off the outer layer of skin. However, risks of AHA chemical peels include redness and flaking. These can be treated with medication prescribed by a doctor and the skin usually should not be exposed to the sun for 3 days or more following treatment.

TCA chemical peels can produce the same redness and flaking as AHA chemical peels, but put patients at greater risks because they are deeper chemical facial peels. In addition they can cause swelling and discoloration of the skin due to sunburn. Usually this discoloration caused by the chemical peel is only temporary. Areas that appear red or swollen following a chemical peel should be treated by a doctor, as these can turn into scars if left untreated.

Phenol chemical peels are the deepest of all chemical peels and therefore have the greatest risk of serious side effects. Phenol peels can cause scarring or permanently discolor skin. Swelling can become so severe that it interferes with eyesight. Finally, phenol peels may be dangerous because they affect the heartbeat of patients with heart problems, so be sure to check with your doctor.

Image Credit: sunshinecity, Flickr

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