What is a Chemical Peel?
A chemical peel is a skin resurfacing treatment that involves the application of a fruit acid or a chemical acid, directly to the skin of the face, neck or décolletage. The ingredients of a skin peel provoke controlled wounding to the surface of the skin by advanced exfoliation. A layer of dead skin cells is removed and a subsequent healing and regeneration of the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, occurs. This restructuring and resurfacing effectively reduces wrinkles, sun damage, pigmentation irregularities and superficial acne scars. The formation of collagen fibres within the dermal layers of the skin is also stimulated during the healing process for a long-lasting rejuvenating boost.
What Type of Chemical Peel is For Me?
Depending on what you want to achieve with a skin peel, there are three main types: a superficial peel, a medium-depth peel and a deep chemical peel. The difference lies in the ingredients used and how deep they penetrate the skin. A deeper skin peel will provide more exfoliation but will have a longer recovery period than lighter peels.
Superficial Chemical Facial Peel
Superficial skin peels, such as fruit acid peels, are comparatively gentle as they only remove the very top layer of skin (the epidermis). They effectively remove skin impurities, unclog pores and lighten mild pigmentation spots with zero downtime.
Medium-Depth Chemical Peel
A medium-depth facial peel uses trichloroacetic acid (TCA) as the main ingredient and has a more intense peeling effect. They can successfully treat smaller wrinkles and reduce scarring and pigmentation. Patients with sensitive skin may not be suitable for a medium chemical peels and downtime of approximately one week should be considered.
Deep Chemical Peel
Deep chemical peeling is a complex semi-invasive form of treatment. Ingredients include phenol or more concentrated levels of trichloroacetic acid and they can have the greatest effect against scarring and deep lines and wrinkles. The results can last years but the procedure is complex, often requiring sedation, and the ingredients are much more aggressive. Dressings and bandages will be required after treatment with active wound care part of the recovery. Normal activities will be restricted for up to two weeks and full healing can take up to three months.
Chemical Peel to Treat Acne
Superficial and medium-depth chemical peels are popular acne treatments. By providing advanced exfoliation and resurfacing of the outermost layer of skin, peels can penetrate comedones and unclog and reduce pores as well as provide anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits. When combined with other anti-acne treatments, chemical peels can increase absorption and the efficiency of other topical acne treatments.
Risks and side effects
All chemical peels will have their own varying degree of risks and side effects. Superficial peels may leave you with dry, tight skin for a day or two whereas medium-depth peels can cause blistering and peeling for up to 3 days post-treatment. The full risks and sides effects will be discussed with you during your consultation with our expert dermatologist including:
- Redness and swelling – The normal healing process involves redness of the treated skin
- Blistering and peeling – This is common in medium-depth peels
- Scarring – Rarely, a chemical peel can cause scarring. This can be treated by our dermatologists with antibiotic and steroid creams
- Changes in skin colour – This occurs rarely, although more often in people with brown or black skin. The skin may become darker (hyperpigmented) or lighter (hypopigmented)
- Infection – As chemical peels remove the top layer of the skin, this leaves the skin vulnerable to infection. Creams are often given following the peel to prevent against this
- Heart, kidney or liver damage – The chemical used in deep peels is called phenol and can damage the heart, kidneys and liver tissues. It is essential that patients are assessed by a consultant prior to undergoing this treatment.
Chemical peels are not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women. In addition, if you have an acute herpes infection, recently sunburnt skin or a tendency for keloid scarring, you will also not be suitable for a skin peel.
What Happens During A Chemical Peel?
Before the procedure, your doctor will clean your face, protect your hair and cover your eyes. Pain relief is not usually required for a superficial chemical peel. For a medium-depth peel, you may receive some painkillers and a sedative. A deep peel is usually performed under sedation which is given through a cannula in the back of the hand and you are sleepy throughout. The doctor will then apply a chemical solution to the skin. You may feel a mild stinging while the chemical solution is on the skin. Depending upon the peel used, a neutralising solution may be applied or cool compresses.
What Is The After Care?
Following a chemical peel, you should ensure you wear SPF 50 to protect the skin. Your doctor will give you directions for cleansing, moisturising and applying ointments depending upon your skin type and your peel. Avoid touching or picking at your skin to prevent the risk of infection or scarring.