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Chemical Peels

What are Chemical Peels and who is a candidate for the procedure?

A chemical peel is a cosmetic procedure which rejuvenates the surface of the skin and treats various skin conditions. It may also be used as an anti-aging treatment that diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and creates smoother, more radiant skin.

Chemical peels come in a variety of strengths, so physicians may customize the treatment to the patient's needs. Recovery time will depend on the depth of the peel, with deeper, more intense peels requiring a longer period of healing. In some cases, chemical peels may be used in conjunction with other types of treatments, such as skin resurfacing or dermal fillers for maximum benefit.

Chemical peels are generally performed on healthy patients who have realistic expectations. While chemical peels tend to work best on fair-skinned complexions, darker skin tones may also have success with chemical peels, depending on what the treatment is used for.

What benefits may be expected from Chemical Peels?

The benefits of any given chemical peel depend on the type of peel and its ingredients. These may include:

  • Diminished appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Diminished skin discolorations, age spots, freckles and pigmentation irregularities
  • Reduction of mild scarring
  • Reduction of some types of acne
  • Smoother skin surface

In some cases, chemical peels may be used to remove precancerous lesions on the skin. A physician may provide the best advice about the types of conditions that may be treated and the chemical peel that should be used.

What types of Chemical Peels are available?

There are three different types of chemical peels: mild peels, medium peels and deep peels. The chemical peel that is performed will be determined primarily by the type of condition the peel is being used to treat. Recovery will be longer for medium and deep peels than for mild treatments.

Mild Peels

Mild peels are generally performed using an alpha hydroxy acid like lactic, glycolic or fruit acids. These peels may be used to treat mild pigmentation irregularities, acne and fine lines. They will also give the skin a smoother, brighter look. Mild peels may be used much more frequently—weekly in some cases. Patients may also purchase skin care products containing alpha hydroxy acids to maintain the benefits of a mild peel. Recovery time is minimal and risks are few with this type of chemical peel.

Medium Peels

One of the most common ingredients used in a medium peel is trichloroacetic acid, or TCA. Medium-depth peels are used to treat deeper lines, blemishes and pigmentation issues. While these types of peels will provide a more dramatic result than the mild peels, they will also require a longer recovery time. However, they are not considered as permanent as the deep peels.

Deep Peels

Deep peels are most commonly done with phenol and are used to treat deeper wrinkles, skin damaged by sun exposure and precancerous growths. Phenol peels are generally restricted to the face and require the longest recovery period. This type of peel is usually not recommended for patients with darker skin tones or heart conditions since complications may arise.

How is a Chemical Peel application performed and what is the recovery like?

Chemical peels should always be applied a physician’s office or outpatient center by a medical professional who is experienced using them for the safest results. Lighter peels will not require any medication ahead of time, but deeper peels will usually begin with an anesthetic. Sedation is also offered for many peels.

Mild peels will take approximately ten minutes to complete, while medium and deep peels will take longer. The chemical solution is applied to the skin and allowed to remain for the prescribed period of time. Some patients report a mild stinging sensation when the solution is applied, but this usually passes within minutes. There may be a sensation of heat while the peel is working, which can be minimized with the use of fans during treatment.

After the peel is removed, bandages or a topical solution may be applied to aid in the healing process. It will be very important to avoid sun exposure after the peel since treated skin will be very vulnerable to damage that can affect the outcome of the procedure. Many physicians will prescribe follow up care that includes a topical solution to keep the skin protected during the healing process. Mild peels will usually feature some redness after the procedure. After a few days, the peeling process will begin, which can go on for three to seven days.

Medium peels will cause the skin to crust over within a few days and then flake away over a period of a week or two. Complete healing from a deep peel may take a few months, but the results are long lasting. Many patients require help for the first day or two after a deep peel, because the swelling is pronounced and sometimes the eyes will even swell shut temporarily. Some patients are also prescribed rest and a limited diet for a day or two following the procedure.

What risks may be associated with Chemical Peels?

In some cases, permanent skin color changes may occur. There is also a low chance of scarring after a chemical peel is applied to the skin. These risks may be minimized by choosing a physician who is experienced with chemical peels and who prescribes the appropriate chemical peel for the patient’s situation. Following all instructions before and after the procedure also lessens the risks involved.

How much do Chemical Peels cost?

The average cost for chemical peels varies widely, based on where the procedure is performed and the type of peel that will be used. Costs can range from $75 for a mild peel to $600 or more for a deep peel. In some cases, insurance may cover the cost of a chemical peel, especially if it is meant to treat a medical condition which interferes with patient health. Cosmetic procedures are usually not covered by insurance however, and some clinics may offer financing packages for patient.

Disclaimer: This information is intended only as an introduction to this procedure. This information should not be used to determine whether you will have the procedure performed nor does it guarantee results of your elective surgery. Further details regarding surgical standards and procedures should be discussed with your physician.

By Anti-Aging.org Staff
Updated: December 9, 2008

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