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Chemical Skin Peels

Written By: Dr Kristie McNealy                                   Reviewed: 06 July 2010

Skin peels are cosmetic procedures used to make the surface of the skin look smoother, younger and more evenly pigmented. Moderate to deep chemical skin peels can remove pre-cancerous lesions so have medical benefits as well as purely cosmetic. Various lasers can be used to treat isolated dark spots, but if the overall quality of your skin is damaged a total facial skin peel may be a better option. Skin peels are also appropriate for younger patients who have reasonably tight skin but have surface scarring or pigment problems

During a skin peel a chemical solution is applied to cleansed skin, left on for a period of time and then netrualised. The most common skin peels are glycolic acid peels, beta hydroxy acid and Trichloracetic (TCA peels).

Is a skin peel right for me?

Most people can undergo a skin peel although people with darker skin are more at risk of complications (see below).  If your skin tends to develop brown discolouration following an injury such as a mild burn it may be worth doing a small test peel before undergoing a full peel.

Skin peels are not a substitute for a facelift and will not tighten sagging skin or address broken capillaries. Skin peeling is also not appropriate for people who continue to have excessive sun exposure.

What can a skin peel treat?

  • Fine lines and wrinkles can be reduced with a skin peel. Remember that a peel won’t get rid of deeper lines. Talk to your doctor about alternative treatments for example a facelift or dermal fillers.

  • Freckles, brown marks and uneven pigmentation may be removed or reduced.

  • Scaly patches and rough skin can be removed but may require more than one treatment.

  • Acne scars can be removed or reduced.

  • Sun damage responds very well to skin peeling.

What type of peel is right for me?

How deep a skin peel goes depends on a number of factors; which peels is used, the concentration, how long it is left on the skin and whether it is covered. Lighter peels will remove only a very shallow layer of skin and heal within a few days. Moderate to deep skin peels can take 10-14 days to heal. Which peel is right for you will depend on; your skin type, how damaged your skin is (from smoking, sun, wind, acne, age), how much improvement you would like and how much recovery time you are prepared to live with.

The deeper your peel the more recovery time you will need. The depth of the peel also affects the risk of side effects or potential complications. If you have dark skin it’s important to note that risks of problems after the peel are increased and it may be worth considering a number of lighter peels as opposed to one deep peel.

Various types of skin damage responds better to certain peels. For example acne scars tend to respond well to Jessner’s peel or betahydroxy acid peels. TCA peels and alphahydroxy acid peels work well with uneven pigmentation and sun damage.

Moderate to deep peeling with TCA peels works well with fine lines and wrinkles.

Who should perform a skin peel?

While some countries allow anyone to perform chemical skin peels, you'll get the safest and best results by finding a qualified cosmetic surgeon to perform your peel.

What are the possible complications?

While skin peels are generally considered a safe and effective treatment there is a small risk of complications that you should be aware of. As a general rule the deeper the peel the more risk of complications. Lighter peels are the safest and moderate peels require an experienced practitioner and good pre and post peel care.

While still very rare the most common problem with moderate to deep peels is scarring. Scarring may be caused by infection or by peeling off the skin before it is ready. Both of these are avoidable with proper care and attention.

If you suffer from regular cold sores be sure to tell your doctor or nurse. Cold sore following a peel may result in scarring. You will be given an anti viral to prevent this.

There is a small risk of discolouration, particularly in darker skinned people. Small dark patches (hyperpigmentation) may appear due to inflammation and the release of melanin. This is usually temporary but in rare cases may last up to two years. Hyperpigmentation is usually treated with a lightening agent.

Next: Types of Skin Peels


Related Treatments

  • Laser Resurfacing: Laser skin resurfacing uses a laser to remove the outer layers of skin.  As the wound created by the laser heals, the skin becomes smoother, firmer and less pigmented.

  • Dermal Fillers. Dermal fillers typically replace levels of collagen or hyaluronic acid in order to plump up the skin, ad volume and restore a more youthful appearance.

  • Collagen Injections: Collagen injections are used to remove crow’s feet, smile lines, nasolabial folds (under the nose) and frown lines.


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