Chemical peel products are made up of different acid solutions that typically have skin exfoliating properties. These peels are applied to the face, neck, hands, and other body parts where improvement of the skin is desired. The acids in these products are meant to cause a controlled burn to the skin so that the outer layers of the skin peel away and reveal newer, fresher skin underneath. Chemical peel products can generally be classified into three groups based on the severity of the burns that they typically cause: superficial, medium, and deep peels.
Superficial peels are usually composed of alphahydroxy acids, such as glycolic, lactic, and fruit acids, although dry ice is sometimes used as a superficial peeling agent. These chemical peel products are the mildest kind and are generally suitable for all skin types. They are usually used to improve skin texture and may sometimes be mixed with a bleaching agent to even out pigmentation. Superficial peels are often sold for home use because they are so mild.
The process of getting a superficial peel done should generally last no more than ten minutes. Afterward, most people are immediately able to return to their normal activities. The skin may turn pink or red, much like a mild sunburn, but makeup can be used to cover it up. Peeling that occurs is usually minimal and should end within five days.
Medium peels penetrate deeper than superficial peels and generally cause second-degree burns. The acid most often used for medium peels is trichloroacetic acid (TCA). These peels may be used to treat fine lines and skin discolorations.
Most often, the time it takes for a medium peel to complete its job is 15 minutes or less. People who have medium peels sometimes find that they need to take a few days off of work to recover. The treated area may crust or scab, and there may be swelling. It is recommended that makeup not be used for five to seven days after treatment. Within ten days, peeling should be complete.
Deep peels are the harshest skin peels, typically penetrating several layers of skin and causing second-degree burns. The peeling agent in these chemical peel products is usually carbolic acid, or phenol. Deep peels are only recommended for lighter skin because they carry a high risk of hypopigmentation, or skin bleaching. Due to the severity of these peels, they are usually performed only on the face and in most cases, only once. Deep peels may be used to treat deep wrinkles, severe skin discolorations, and precancerous growths.
Patients who have deep peels used on them are often given sedatives and pain relievers prior to the procedure. General anesthesia may be used in some cases. Phenol is toxic to the body in large doses, so doctors typically monitor a patient’s heart rate and gives him or her intravenous (IV) fluids during the procedure. A 15 minute break should be taken after treating each area of the face to avoid toxic build up of phenol in the body. The entire process usually takes 60 to 90 minutes.
After a deep peel is applied, the face will generally be quite swollen. Many people take two weeks off from work to recover. Doctors usually prescribe pain medications and antibiotics to prevent infection during the healing time. Skin regrowth typically takes 10 to 14 days, and using makeup during this time is not advised. The skin may remain red for as long as two months.
People who have any type of chemical peel product applied should typically avoid sun exposure while their skin is peeling. Once peeling is complete, it is generally advised that people apply sunscreen every day and stay out of the sun as much as possible. New skin is at greater risk for sun damage and discoloration.
Risks associated with the use of chemical peel products include changes in skin color, scarring, allergic reaction to the chemicals applied, infection, and increased sensitivity to sunlight. Since phenol is toxic in large doses, phenol peels carry extra risks, including heart, liver, and kidney failure. Chemical peel products are not recommended for use by people who have recently used isotretinoin, have an active herpes infection on the area to be treated, have had recent facial surgery, or have impaired immune systems. These things can possibly interfere with skin healing.