Chemical peels: new skin for old?

chemical-peelsChemical peels seem to offer an appealing vision – a way of reversing the damage you and the environment may have inflicted on your once dewy complexion.

Great to think that beneath the pucker lines and sun damage our baby soft skin is waiting to make a comeback.  All we have to do is get rid of the old stuff on top.

Of course we are not so stupid – but behind the attraction of a facial peel isn’t there something of this fantasy?

On average people who get a chemical peel tend to say they are satisfied with the results (59% quoted on one reliable source).  But still this isn’t something to rush into – peeling off the top layer of your skin will hurt and has consequences which you may not be able to control.

Facial chemical peels are not all the same – they come in different strengths and use different chemicals depending on the level of skin aging and what you want to achieve.

What is a chemical peel?

Facial peels rejuvenate skin by stimulating dermal repair and regrowth. All facial peels aim to take off dead or damaged skin tissue and stimulate the natural healing response in the body producing smoother and firmer skin. The process is widely called skin resurfacing because that’s exactly what it does – produce a new skin surface.

A chemical peel is a type of facial peel which uses chemicals of various strengths to burn off the surface of the skin. There are other methods including laser peels and dermabrasion where the skin is manually removed using special machines. The chemical used – an acid typically – is contained in a gel formulation which is applied to your face and allowed to work on the skin for a specified time under strictly controlled conditions.

Peels of this sort are used to treat quite a wide range of skin problems but typically used for sun damage, fine to deep lines and wrinkles, acne scarring and other skin blemishes.  Whilst a peel isn’t the first choice for lifting and tightening skin – one of the of  benefits is the increase in collagen production which can give just this result.

One peel may be enough to produce the desired effect but sometimes a repeat of the chemical peel is needed.

Types of chemical peel

The lowest level peel uses Alphahydroxy Acids or AHA’s, glycolic, lactic or fruit acids. This is the mildest of the peel formulas useful for improving skin texture, assisting with acne issues and helping to correct localised pigmentation problems like age spots.

These acids are commonly found in anti aging skin care  to give an exfoliating effect and improve cell turnover.  A mild chemical peel will use these types of acids in gel formulation usually at much greater strengths than found in skin creams.

If you have finer lines and wrinkles then you may be offered a medium facial peel based on Trichloroacetic Acids or TCA’s. TCA’s are the most commonly used facial peel for skin rejuvenation but they also work on correcting minor pigment issues, and less prominent skin blemishes.

A phenol based facial peel will only be used for deep or coarse wrinkles and for severely sun damaged skin. Phenol facial peels may also be used for pre-cancerous skin. Results from phenol peels are most dramatic and long lasting. This level of peel brings about permanent changes to the skin will occur which will probably include skin lightening and intense sensitivity to sunlight.

Light to medium peels are the ones most commonly offered and phenol peels are quite rare. But you need to talk to a qualified aesthetic plastic surgeon to make sure the peel chosen is right for you and works best for your skin type.

Nowadays the exact formula of a chemical peel can be adjusted by your doctor to make sure the treatment matches your skin type and your skin problem. A skilled doctor  can also apply the peeling agent of different strengths to restricted areas of the skin – for instance to treat deep “smokers lines” around the mouth or rejuvenate the eye area.  Less powerful formulations can be used on the cheeks or forehead if the skin is in better condition there.

Most skin types are suitable for a facial peel but you need to take more care if you have sensitive skin or have a darker complexion because of the risk of odd results.  Everyone is unique and the best results come from finding a doctor who specializes in chemical peels.

Proper skin preparation may boost your results

Many doctors now get patients to prepare in advance of a chemical peel by applying specially formulated creams for up to four weeks ahead of the treatment.  Depending on the type of peel you are having you may be asked to apply a high strength retinol cream or an AHA cream to your skin to enhance the end result.

For blotchy skin or pigmentation issues like age spots, you may be asked to apply a bleaching agent to lighten the skin pigmentation before the peel works at a deeper level.

A deep peel is not a pain free procedure

In terms of pain it may not be  not as painful as face lift surgery but applying a high strength chemical solution to your face is not a comfortable procedure to go through. If you have a low pain threshold ask about anesthetics and if you get nervous find out whether sedatives are offered.

If you get a peel under anesthetic then it’s the after effects that may cause you the greatest discomfort.  Skin will feel tender and painful to the touch and you can expect swelling, dryness, flakiness, scaling, peeling and scabbing. The chemical used will have destroyed the top layer of your skin which will die back and fall off exposing the new younger looking skin underneath – in effect the “peel” you paid for.

How your own skin reacts will depend on the depth and strength of the peel and the state of your skin. Ask to look at photos of treatments from past patients – or talk to someone who has had the same process from the same doctor.

Build in some down time

AHAs are the simplest of the chemical peels and can be done over a lunch hour, since there is no need for extended recovery time. TCAs may require a little more rest and recouperation at home and phenols will require the most extended recovery time which will probably include time off work. for up to four weeks.

Take care in the sun after a facial peel

Any of the three strengths of chemical peels will mean your skin is much more sensitve to the sun.

For TCA and phenol facial peels you will be advised to avoid sun exposure completely for a period of time. Phenol peels rob the skin of its ability to make pigment and this will be a permanent change. As a result, your skin will be highly susceptible to sun damage for the rest of your life with the need to wear high SPF at all times.

Find out about possible side effects before you commit

You may be concerned about chemical peel side effects. The deeper the peel, the higher the risk of side effects. Even though TCA is a lighter peel than a phenol peel, unintended color changes can occur in your skin.

Phenol can cause uneven pigment changes. There are gentler phenol peels available if the risk of this is a concern. Phenol peels can also pose a special risk for anyone with a history of heart disease and it is important that you tell your cosmetic surgeon of any such problems before treatment is started.

Generally though a chemical peel should not be dangerous provided you use a competent aesthetically trained and board certified plastic surgeon with a lot of experience of similar procedures.  This is most important with the deepest peels – would you let anyone else cover your face with dangerous chemicals?

Protect your investment for the future

The positive effects of a skin peel will vary from person to person but how long they last depends largely on how you treat your skin afterwards. Sun exposure is a non starter but you also need to take extra care with your anti aging skin care, cut down on alcohol, cut out smoking, eat a good diet and take aerobic exercise to flood your capillaries with oxygen.

That way you’ll get  the best possible and most long lasting results from your chemical peel and get the most bang for your bucks longer term!

About Eileen

I am the publisher of Simply Anti Aging and a web author researching and writing on all aspects of anti aging. I'd love you to connect with me on

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