A chemical peel (chemexfoliation or derma-peeling) is a non-invasive procedure used to improve the skin texture by using a chemical solution that causes the dead or old skin to slough off and eventually peel off. Although chemical peels are used mostly on the face, they can also be used to improve the skin on your neck and hands.

Indications for a chemical peel

  • Acne or acne scars
  • Age and liver spots
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Irregular skin pigmentation
  • Rough skin and scaly patches
  • Scars
  • Sun-damaged skin

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How does a chemical peel work?

Chemical peel solutions are carefully prepared and applied to the skin to improve the texture by removing damaged outer layers. There is a wide range of chemical peel available such as mandelic acid, alpha-hydroxy (glycolic) acids, trichloroacetic acid and phenol. Each one has a different purpose. The formula used will be adjusted to meet the clinical indications.

Light chemical peel

Subtle improvements at first, but that healthy glow will increase with more treatments. If you have uneven pigments, dryness, acne or fine wrinkles, a light chemical peel might be the right choice. This kind of chemical peel removes just the outer layer of skin (epidermis) in a light exfoliation and results in a healthier glow. Mandelic acid and glycolic acid are the choices for a light chemical peel. The procedure can be repeated weekly for up to six weeks to achieve the desired results.

Here’s how it works:

  • The face will be cleansed thoroughly before a chemical peel
  • The chemical solution is brushed onto your skin and left for up to several minutes depending upon the concentration used. You may feel some mild stinging sensation on the face
  • The chemical peel is then washed off and neutralised

Return once a month to maintain your vibrant new look.

Medium chemical peel

Your skin will be noticeably smoother and fresher-looking. Acne scars, deeper wrinkles and uneven skin colour can all be treated with a medium chemical peel. The chemicals used for this type of peel will remove skin cells from both the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the upper part of your middle layer of skin (dermis). Trichloroacetic acid is the choice of treatment, sometimes used in combination with glycolic acid.

Here’s how it works:

  • The face will be cleaned thoroughly
  • The chemical solution is brushed onto your skin and left for just a few minutes. You may feel some burning or stinging sensation
  • The treated area may turn a whitish grey colour
  • The chemicals are neutralised with cold saline compresses
  • Your skin may turn red or brown in the days just after the peel. It may take up to six weeks for your skin to look normal

You may repeat a medium chemical peel every 6 to 12 months to maintain your glowing new skin.

Special considerations, risks and recovery

Chemical peel procedures carry some risks and uncertainties. It’s usually a very safe procedure when performed by a qualified and experienced plastic surgeon. It happens infrequently, but you could develop an infection or scarring from chemical peels.

For people with certain skin types, there is a risk of developing a temporary or permanent colour change in the skin. Birth control pills, pregnancy or family history of brownish discolouration on the face may increase the possibility of developing abnormal pigmentation.

Patients who suffered from cold sores (herpes) in the past may have a small risk of reactivation of herpes. Please inform your plastic surgeon if you suffer from herpes before because an outbreak can be avoided after chemical peel by prescribed medications.

Inform your plastic surgeon if you have a history of keloids (scar tissue overgrowth) or any unusual scarring tendencies.

Other considerations for each type of peel include

Light chemical peel

You are likely to experience some redness, stinging sensation, skin crusting and irritation from a light chemical peel. After repeated treatments, these side effects will likely subside. Other risks include:

  • Hyperpigmentation. Your new skin may have too much pigment, which will turn to brown blotches in sunlight. Avoid this by always using a high-factor sunscreen.
  • Infection

Medium chemical peel

When trichloroacetic acid is used in a medium chemical peel, you’ll experience some redness, stinging sensation and skin crusting just like a light chemical peel. And although these chemicals won’t bleach your skin, you may see some colour changes. You’re advised to avoid the sun for several months to protect that fresh new layer of skin. Other risks include:

  • Hyperpigmentation (when too much pigment occurs, causing brown blotches) may result even if you use sunscreen.
  • Redness, which occurs in everyone after the peel, may last longer than a few months for some people.
  • Permanent scarring is another, infrequent, risk.

Ideal candidates for a chemical peel

You may return to work immediately after a light chemical peel but for some patients may take up to a couple of days or weeks after a medium chemical peel. At that point, your skin will be healed enough for you to wear makeup.

It is essential to understand that chemical peel does not treat the following conditions:

  • Treat deep facial lines
  • Tighten loose or sagging skin
  • Stimulate collagen production
  • Remove broken capillaries
  • Change pore size
  • Remove deep scars

You may not be the right candidate for chemical peeling if you have:

  • A history of skin scarring or keloid tendency
  • Abnormal pigmentation
  • Facial Warts
  • Red hair and pale, freckled skin (for Caucasians)
  • Used specific acne treatments within the last year

How much will a chemical peel cost?

Cost is always a consideration in elective procedures or treatment. The cost for a chemical peel may vary based on the expertise and qualifications of the person performing the treatment, type of chemical peel performed, time and effort the procedure or treatment requires.