Chemical peel uses a chemical solution to improve and smooth the texture of the facial skin by removing its damaged outer layers. It is helpful for those individuals with facial blemishes, wrinkles, and uneven skin pigmentation. Phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are used for this purpose. The precise formula used may be adjusted to meet each patient’s needs. A Chemical peel is most commonly performed for cosmetic reasons — to enhance your appearance and your self-confidence. A chemical peel may also remove pre-cancerous skin growths, soften acne facial scars and even control acne. In certain cases, health insurance may cover the peel procedure. Be sure to check your policy and contact your insurance company before the procedure is performed.
Are Chemical Peels for You?
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic, lactic, or fruit acids are the mildest of the peel formulas and produce light peels. These types of peels can provide smoother, brighter-looking skin for people who can’t spare the time to recover from a phenol or TCA peel. AHA peels may be used to treat fine wrinkling, areas of dryness, uneven pigmentation and acne. Various concentrations of an AHA may be applied weekly or at longer intervals to obtain the best result. Your doctor will make this decision during your consultation and as the treatment proceeds. An alpha hydroxy acid, such as glycolic acid, can also be mixed with a facial wash or cream in lesser concentrations as part of a daily skin-care regimen to improve the skin’s texture.
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) can be used in many concentrations, but it is most commonly used for medium-depth peeling. Fine surface wrinkles, superficial blemishes, and pigment problems are commonly treated with TCA. The results of TCA peel are usually less dramatic than and not as long-lasting as those of a phenol peel. In fact, more than one TCA peel may be needed to achieve the desired result. The recovery from a TCA peel is usually shorter than with a phenol peel.
Phenol is the strongest of the chemical solutions and produces a deep peel. It is used mainly to treat patients with coarse facial wrinkles, areas of blotchy or damaged skin caused by sun exposure, or pre-cancerous growths. Since phenol sometimes lightens the treated areas, your skin pigmentation may be a determining factor as to whether or not this is an appropriate treatment for you. Phenol is primarily used on the face; scarring may result if it’s applied to the neck or other body areas.
Understanding the Treatment
AHA peels/treatments: Your doctor will apply the AHA solution to your cleansed facial skin, a process that usually takes no more than 10 minutes. No “after-peel” ointment or covering is required. Depending on the strength of the peel, periodic treatments may be necessary until the desired effects are achieved.
Phenol and TCA peels: Typically, the skin is first thoroughly cleansed. Then, the surgeon will carefully apply the phenol or TCA solution. You may feel a stinging sensation as the peel solution is applied, but this feeling will quickly pass. A full-face TCA peel usually takes no more than 15 minutes. Two or more TCA peels may be needed to obtain the desired result, and those may be spaced out over several months. Mild TCA peels may be repeated as often as every month.
What to Expect After the Treatment
After an AHA peel, it is common to experience some temporary flaking or scaling, redness, and dryness of the skin. However, these conditions will disappear as the skin adjusts to treatment. After a phenol or TCA peel, your doctor may prescribe a mild pain medication to relieve any tingling or throbbing you may feel. If the tape was used to cover your face, it will be removed after a day or two. A crust or scab will form on the treated area. To help your face heal properly, it is essential that you follow your doctor’s specific post-operative instructions. A TCA peel may also cause significant swelling, depending on the strength of the peel used.
With an AHA peel, the temporary redness, flaking, and dryness that you experience will not prevent you from working or engaging in your normal activities. A fresher and improved skin texture will result with continued AHA treatments. Remember, protecting your skin from the sun is also important following these mild acid peels. Ask your doctor to recommend a sunblock with adequate UVA and UVB protection and use it every day.
With a phenol peel, new skin will begin to form in about seven to ten days. Your face will be very red at first, gradually fading to a pinkish color over the following weeks to months. During this time, it is especially important that you use a sunblock or blotchy, irregular skin coloring may result. After healing, the skin is lighter in color, tighter, smoother, and younger looking.
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The New You
Improvements from AHA peels may be very subtle at first. You may detect a healthier glow to your skin. With continued treatments, you will notice a general improvement in the texture of your skin. A personal consultation with your plastic surgeon is the best way to gain information about your particular complaint, and about potential treatment options to address the same.