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What is a Chemical Peel?

Updated on June 8, 2010

A chemical facial peel removes damaged outer layers of facial skin using a chemical solution. During this process, facial skin is smoothed and improved. Many people with facial blemishes, 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 amounts of each depend upon the specific needs of each patient. While a chemical facial peel is not a substitute for a facelift or other surgeries which reduce the signs of age, it can be very helpful in giving patients smoother-looking skin.

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.

Each of the three chemicals produces a different depth of chemical facial peel. 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. AHA can also be mixed with facial cream or face wash for daily use. Chemical peel side effects vary depending upon the formula. AHA peels may cause stinging, irritation, and crusting of the skin, but these side effects will subside with time.

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) produces a medium-depth chemical facial peel that is used to smooth wrinkles, blemishes, and pigment issues. TCA peels are not as deep as phenol peels and requires a shorter recovery period. Several TCA peels may be needed to treat some issues. The TCA chemical peel side effects could cause changes in the color of the skin, and patients are advised not to expose the skin to the sun for several months following treatment.

Phenol chemical facial peels are the deepest and strongest chemical facial peels. These peels are recommended for patients with 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.

Image Credit: Randy Son of Robert, Flickr


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  • GmaGoldie profile image

    Kelly Kline Burnett 7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

    As 50 quickly approaches, this is a critical topic. Thank you! Off to read more great hubs from you on this topic!