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What is an Acne Peel?

Anna T.
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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An acne peel is a procedure, typically performed by a dermatologist, involving the application of chemicals to the outer layer of the skin for the improvement of acne. In some cases, these peels may also be beneficial for acne scarring, depending on how deep it is. An acne peel might additionally help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and skin pigmentation problems. Dermatologists use different types of chemicals for acne peels, including AHA, BHA, and TCA. Phenol is another very strong chemical that may be used for some acne peels.

To perform an acne peel, a dermatologist usually applies the specific chemical chosen for the procedure to a patient's face. The chemical is left on for a varying length of time, depending on its strength and the severity of the patient's acne. Most of the time, these procedures are outpatient. The recovery time of the patient depends on the strength of the chemical used and how long it was left on the face. Milder chemicals might take a week or less to recover from, while stronger chemicals could take several months. Additionally, the price of an acne peel tends to be more when the stronger chemicals are used.

AHA stands for alpha hydroxy acid. In most cases, acne peels that utilize AHA are the least expensive, because this particular chemical is not as strong as some others that are often used. AHA can usually improve existing acne and other surface blemishes that do not extend past the outer layer of the skin. It usually isn't very effective for treating very deep wrinkles or acne scarring. Most people who have this type of chemical peel will notice an improvement within a few months, but it may be necessary to have it done more than once before the desired results are achieved.

BHA is another type of chemical regularly used for acne peels. It stands for beta hydroxy acid, and it is a little stronger than alpha hydroxy acid. This type of chemical can help a lot with skin pigmentation problems and most wrinkling. Recovery time tends to take a little longer than when AHA is used, but the results are usually better. TCA, which stands for tricholoracetic acid, is a much stronger type of acne peel that is occasionally used for the treatment of severe acne scarring. TCA procedures tend to be much more expensive and require more recovery time, possibly up to a few months.

The strongest type of acne peel that dermatologists administer are phenol peels. These penetrate deeply into the surface of the skin and can help a great deal with severe acne scarring and very deep wrinkles. Unlike with other types of acne peels, phenol peels are not typically done more than once. The chemical is strong enough that in many cases patients must be sedated prior to the procedure. Additionally, it might take up to six months for a person to fully recover from a phenol peel.

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Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGEEK. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.

Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Feb 23, 2014

@turquoise-- I think that the best acne peel depends on the type of acne and how bad the scars are. The deeper the scars, the stronger the peel needs to be to get rid of them.

I personally find all of the chemical peels for acne done at the dermatologist's office too strong. I prefer even milder at home peels such as with salicylic acid or glycolic acid.

By bear78 — On Feb 23, 2014

@turquoise-- I'm not a doctor and I think that you're better off asking a dermatologist about this.

I don't have ice pick scars, I have regular acne scars and blemishes. So my opinion and advice might not be helpful to you. I've done some research however and have decided to get a mild peel such as AHA for my acne scars. I've seen some after pictures of strong chemical peels and people's skin just look awful afterward. It takes a very long time for skin to heal as well. Some people feel that it's worth it but if I see my skin in that situation, I think I will cry.

If a mild peel doesn't work too well the first time, I can go for more peels as necessary to get the desired result. But if I have a very strong peel done and if there are complications, I will feel awful.

By turquoise — On Feb 22, 2014

Which type of acne peel is best for ice pick acne scars?

Anna T.

Anna T.

Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to WiseGEEK. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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