A chemical peel is a skin-resurfacing procedure in which a chemical solution is applied to skin to peel away the top layers. The skin that grows back after a chemical peel is smoother and younger looking.
Chemical peels are used to treat wrinkles, skin discoloration and scars — typically on the face. A chemical peel can be done alone or in combination with other cosmetic procedures.
Chemical peels can be done at different depths — light, medium or deep — depending on your desired results. Each type of chemical peel uses a different chemical solution. Deeper chemical peels produce more-dramatic results, but also involve longer recovery times.
Why it's done
A chemical peel can be used to treat various skin problems. Depending on the issues you're addressing with the procedure, you'll choose a chemical peel in one of three depths:
A chemical peel can't eliminate deep scars or reduce the size of pores.
A chemical peel can cause various side effects, including:
A chemical peel isn't for everyone. Your doctor might caution against a chemical peel or certain types of chemical peels if you:
How you prepare
Before you have a chemical peel, your doctor will likely:
If you decide to proceed with the chemical peel, you might also need to:
What you can expect
A chemical peel is typically done in an office-based procedure room or outpatient surgical facility. Before the procedure, your doctor will clean your face and might cover your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape or goggles. He or she might also protect your hair.
Pain relief isn't typically needed for a light chemical peel.
If you're having a medium chemical peel, you might have the option of taking a sedative and a painkiller.
If you're having a deep chemical peel, your doctor will likely numb your skin with a local anesthetic and give you a sedative or use regional anesthesia — which numbs a certain part of your body.
During the procedure
During a medium chemical peel:
During a deep chemical peel:
After the procedure
After a light chemical peel, treated skin will be red, dry and mildly irritated — although these effects might be less noticeable with each repeat treatment. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area. In some cases, a crust might form over treated skin as it begins to heal.
Treated areas develop new skin about three to seven days after a light chemical peel. New skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than normal.
After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red, tight and swollen. You'll feel stinging. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area. Use ice packs for comfort and sleep in a semi-reclined position to reduce swelling.
You'll likely schedule a checkup 24 hours after treatment and another checkup two to three days after treatment so that your doctor can monitor healing.
As swelling decreases, treated skin will begin to form a crust and might darken or develop brown blotches. Treated areas develop new skin about five to seven days after a medium chemical peel, but redness might last for months.
After a deep chemical peel, you'll experience severe redness and swelling. You'll also feel burning and throbbing, and your eyelids might swell shut. Your doctor will apply a watertight dressing containing zinc oxide to treated skin. He or she might also prescribe painkillers. Sleep in a semi-reclined position to reduce swelling.
You'll likely schedule a checkup 24 or 48 hours after treatment so that your doctor can remove the dressing and clear away any yellowish liquid oozing from treated skin.
Treated areas will develop new skin within about two weeks after a deep chemical peel, although cysts or white spots might appear for several weeks and redness might last for months. Treated skin might become darker or lighter than normal or lose the ability to tan.
You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing from a chemical peel. Once new skin completely covers the treated area, you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness.
A light chemical peel can improve skin texture and tone, as well as decrease the appearance of fine wrinkles. The results will be subtle at first, but will increase with repeated treatments. After a light chemical peel, avoid sun exposure until new skin completely covers the treated area.
If you have a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be noticeably smoother after the procedure. Your doctor might recommend avoiding sun exposure for several months.
After a deep chemical peel, you'll see a dramatic improvement in the look and feel of treated areas. You'll need to protect your skin from the sun permanently to prevent changes in skin color.
Keep in mind that chemical peel results might not be permanent. As you age you'll continue to acquire lines by squinting and smiling. New sun damage can also reverse your results and cause changes in your skin color.
Last Updated: 2012-05-30
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