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A chemical peel is a cosmetic procedure that removes the top layer of skin, resulting in a smoother and less wrinkled appearance. Dermatologists apply a chemical solution to the patient’s skin that causes the top layer to separate and peel off. Some chemical peels are combined with laser techniques, known as a laser chemical peel, to enhance the rejuvenation results on the skin.
Patients considering a laser chemical peel procedure are often seeking to reduce the look of fine lines in the face, particularly around the eyes and mouth. These areas are known to develop frown lines and crow’s feet. Laser chemical peels also can help treat acne and scarring, as well as reduce skin discoloration caused by the sun and aging.
The process for a laser chemical peel begins with a medical consultation where a dermatologist will help the patient determine if the procedure is the correct course of action. If it is, the dermatologist may instruct the patient to suspend taking certain medications prior to the procedure. Also, a routine of conditioning the skin with creams may be prescribed prior to the treatment.
A laser chemical peel procedure, usually performed in a dermatologist’s office, begins with cleansing the skin to remove any excess oils. Depending on the patient’s problem areas, the dermatologist may apply one or more chemical solutions to the face, neck, chest, hands, arms, or legs. The chemicals used may be glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, or phenol acid. Most often, a carbon dioxide laser is used and passed over the area, emitting a beam of light that vaporizes the top layer of damaged skin. Topical anesthetic may be applied for lighter peels while local anesthetic may be given for deeper peels.
Light chemical peels are the most gentle and help restore a youthful appearance to the skin by reducing fine wrinkles, dry patches, and uneven skin. These are most often performed with glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid. Medium chemical peels, which use trichloroacetic acid, treat blemishes, surface wrinkles, and pigmentation issues. Deep peels work on coarse wrinkles and on skin that has undergone more severe aging or sun exposure. Phenol acid is used for deep peels.
Many patients experience a hot sensation on their skin followed by stinging after the procedure. This is similar to the sensation of a sunburn. Light peels cause redness and skin scaling for three to five days after the procedure. Medium peels may cause patients to experience swelling and blisters over a period of 14 days. Deep peels may result in more pain, post-procedure medication, and even more recovery time.
The risks of a laser chemical peel include temporary or permanent change in the color of the patient’s skin. Taking birth control pills, becoming pregnant, or having a family history of skin discoloration may increase this risk. Also, redness and scarring may occur for extended periods of time after the procedure.