As we age, dead skin cells do not slough off as easily as when we are younger, causing the skin to appear dull. Light, medium and deep chemical peels are a popular nonsurgical cosmetic procedure used to peel away the skin’s top layer to improve sun-damaged, unevenly pigmented and wrinkled skin. Improving the evenness of color and texture in your skin creates a youthful look and restores a healthy, luminous and radiant appearance.
Are you a good candidate for a chemical peel?
The following are some common reasons why you may want to consider a chemical peel:
- You have sun-damaged skin
- You have significant facial wrinkling
- Your skin color is uneven with blotchiness, sunspots and brown spots
- You have scars that have made the surface of your skin uneven
Other characteristics of your skin, such as its thickness and texture, may influence whether you are a good candidate for chemical peels.
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
How is a chemical peel procedure performed?
Peels involve the application of a chemical solution to your entire face or just to certain regions, such as the crow’s feet area around your eyes or the vertical wrinkles around your mouth. Chemical peels can also improve skin conditions on the neck, décolletage, arms, back, shoulders and legs.
The chemical solution is applied onto the skin being treated using a cotton pad, swab, or brush (avoiding your brows, eyes and lips). During peel application, you may experience a slight tingling (light to medium peels) or a burning sensation (deep peels). These sensations are usually minimal for light and medium peels but can be more severe for deep peels.
The different types of chemical peels vary according to their specific ingredients and their strength. The depth of their peeling action may also be determined by factors such as how long they remain on the skin and how they are applied onto the skin.
No covering or after-peel ointment is necessary after a light or medium peel and you can expect little to no downtime. However, after a deep peel, a thick coating of petroleum jelly or other protective ointment is layered over the face, covering the protective crust that develops rapidly over the area. This stays in place for one to two days. In some cases, dressings, tape or a bandage may be applied (this is particularly effective in cases of severe wrinkling). A deep peel requires a longer recuperation period.
Chemical peels exfoliate dead cells and can improve texture, acne, sun damage and congested pores. Deeper peels can address wrinkles and uneven skin tone.
What are my options?
Your options will depend on the treatment depth you require and your professional will recommend an approach based upon your aesthetic goals. The amount of time you can allow for recovery may be an important factor to consider when selecting a particular chemical peel or determining the extent of treatment.
Light to Medium Peels
Glycolic (AHA) peel
Generally, the most superficial peels are those using alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), such as glycolic, lactic or fruit acid. AHA peels can reduce the effects of aging and sun damage including fine wrinkling and brown spots. Sometimes a single treatment with an AHA peel will give your skin a fresher, healthier appearance and a radiant glow. No anesthesia is needed and you will only feel a tingling or mild stinging sensation when the solution is applied. Immediately after the procedure, you generally will be able to wear makeup and you can drive yourself home or back to work. Various concentrations of an AHA may be applied weekly or at longer intervals to further improve the texture of your skin. Your professional Esthetician will recommend a maintenance program using professional quality products that you can apply at home on a regular basis.
Trichloracetic (TCA) acid peel
A TCA peel is a stronger, medium depth peel. TCA peels are often used for the treatment of wrinkles, skin pigment changes and blemishes. Many patients can benefit from having TCA applied not only on the face but also on the neck and other parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun. For spot peeling of limited areas such as around the mouth or eyes, TCA formulas are often preferred because they have a reduced bleaching effect compared to solutions containing phenol, another popular peeling agent. We have found TCA to be effective in treating darker-skinned patients. Milder TCA peels can be repeated frequently in order to achieve cumulative effects or TCA can be used to achieve a medium or even a deep peel, depending on the acid concentration and manner of application.
A phenol peel is a deep peel that is sometimes recommended for treating severe wrinkles (from fine lines to deep creases), sun damage, uneven skin tone and texture and may be used in the treatment of precancerous skin conditions. Phenol is particularly useful for minimizing the vertical lines that often form around the mouth as a result of aging. Deep peels take longer to perform and can leave a visible effect on the skin and limited from sun exposure. There is a burning sensation, but it is relieved somewhat because the solution also acts as an anesthetic. Phenol often has a significant bleaching effect and you may need to wear makeup in order for the treated portions of your skin to more closely match the skin color of the surrounding areas. Phenol cannot be used on your neck or other parts of your body.
Your initial consultation appointment
During your initial consultation, you will have the opportunity to discuss your cosmetic goals. Your Esthetician will evaluate you as a candidate for a chemical peel and clarify what it can do for you. Understanding your goals and medical condition, both alternative and additional treatments may be considered.
You should come to the consultation prepared to discuss your complete medical history. This will include information about:
- Previous surgeries
- Past and present medical conditions
- Allergies and current medications
Additionally, it is important to tell your Esthetician if you have ever had x-ray treatments of your facial skin, such as those used in the treatment of acne or if you have had a chemical peeling procedure. Current or past use of Accutane (isotretinoin), as well as Retin-A (tretinoin) and other topical skin preparations, must be reported.
How do I prepare for a chemical peel procedure?
Depending on the depth of your chemical peel treatment, you may be placed on a pretreatment program during which you will use professional skin care products for a few weeks.
2 weeks in advance of your procedure:
- Stop using any Retinoid products.
- Avoid taking aspirin, certain anti-inflammatory drugs, and some herbal medications that can cause increased bleeding.
- Regardless of the type of treatment to be performed, hydration is very important before and after surgery for safe recovery.
Following all chemical peel treatments, it is important to avoid direct or indirect sun exposure until all the redness or pinkness of your skin has subsided. Even after that, it is advisable to protect your skin by regular use of sunblock and, whenever possible, a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses when outdoors.