What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is a treatment for precancerous skin lesions, during which your doctor will apply trichloroacetic acid (TCA) directly on the skin, which causes the top layer to come off.

What are the types of chemical peels?

There are three types of chemical peels 

Superficial peel

A superficial chemical peel will remove the top layer of skin.

Medium peel

A medium chemical peel will reach the middle layer of skin.

Deep peel

A deep chemical peel will penetrate deep into the middle layer of your skin.

Who is a candidate for a chemical peel?

Chemical peels are typically used to treat patients who have actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin condition that can lead to squamous cell carcinoma if not treated early.

Chemical peels are not appropriate for patients who have:

  • Warts on the face
  • History of skin discoloration
  • History of abnormal skin scarring
  • Used specific acne treatments - advise your doctor on all medication you have taken so he or she can determine if a chemical peel is right for you

Side effects of a chemical peel?

The most common side effects of a chemical peel include:

  • Your skin will appear red and stay that color for up to a month
  • Skin discoloration - your skin can darken or lighten

Other side effects of a chemical peel include:

  • Infection
  • Activation of herpes simplex virus, which could lead to a cold sore breakout
  • Slow healing

Benefits of a chemical peel?

There are a variety of advantages of a chemical peel over other more invasive skin procedures. A chemical peel can be performed in a doctor’s office under local anesthesia. There is less scarring associated with chemical peels, and it is less costly than alternative treatments.

What to expect during a chemical peel?

What to expect during a chemical peel will differ based on the type of chemical peel you need.  If you have actinic keratosis, your doctor will likely perform a medium chemical peel. You can have a medium chemical peel in your doctor’s clinic. You may be given a sedative and anti-inflammatory medications before the procedure. During the procedure, your doctor will apply trichloroacetic acid, Jessner’s solution or glycolic acid directly to the affected area. Once it has been in place a few minutes, long enough to seep down to the appropriate layer of skin, the acid will be removed. 

Recovery from a chemical peel?

Directly after the procedure, your care team will treat the treated area with lotion and a cold compress to aid healing. Your will be given detailed instructions on how to care for the treated area. Instructions include:

  • Avoid sun during recovery
  • Soak skin 
  • Apply ointment daily

The recovery period for a chemical peel can take as long as two weeks. During the healing, the skin may appear red and swollen. Some patients experience blistering.

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