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 alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) are used for this purpose. The precise formula used may be adjusted to meet each patient’s needs.
Deciding if chemical peel is right for you Chemical peel is most commonly performed for cosmetic reasons — to enhance your appearance and your self confidence. Chemical peel may also remove pre-cancerous skin growths, soften acne facial scars and even control acne.
Alphahydroxy 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.
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.
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.
Peel Formulas at a Glance
Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs)
- Smooths rough, dry skin
- Improves texture of sun-damaged skin
- Aids in control of acne
- Can be mixed with bleaching agent to correct pigment problems
- Can be used as TCA pre-treatment
- A series of peels may be needed
- As with most peel treatments, sunblock use is recommended
Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
- Smooths out fine surface wrinkles
- Removes superficial blemishes
- Corrects pigment problems
- Can be used on neck or other body areas
- May require pre-treatment with Retin-A or AHA creams
- Treatment takes only 10-15 minutes
- Preferred for darker-skinned patients
- Peel depth can be adjusted
- Repeat treatment may be needed to maintain results
- Sunblock must be used for several months
- Healing is usually quick, much quicker than with a phenol peel
- Corrects blotches caused by: sun exposure, birth-control pills, aging
- Smooths out coarse wrinkles
- Removes pre-cancerous growths
- Used on the face only
- Not recommended for dark-skinned individuals
- Procedure may pose risk for patients with heart problems
- Full-face treatment may take one hour or more
- Recovery may be slow – Complete healing may take several months
- May permanently remove facial freckles
- Sun protection, including sunblock, must always be used
- Results are dramatic and long-lasting
- Permanent skin lightening and lines of demarcation may occur
Planning for a Chemical Peel
During your initial consultation, it is important that you discuss your expectations with your plastic surgeon. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions or express any concerns that you may have.
Sometimes Retin A – a prescription medication derived from Vitamin A – is used to pre-treat the skin. This thins out the skin’s surface layer, allowing the TCA solution to penetrate more deeply and evenly. If your skin won’t tolerate Retin-A pre-treatment, an AHA cream may be used instead. Hydroquinone, a bleaching agent, is sometimes used in conjunction with Retin-A or AHA pre-treatment, especially if you have blotchy skin areas or pigmentation problems. You may have to spend a month or more in the pre-treatment phase before the doctor will schedule your actual peel.
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.
After Your Peel
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 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.
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.
The results of a TCA peel are usually not as long-lasting as those of phenol peel. However, your skin will be noticeably smoother and fresher-looking.
If you’re planning a phenol peel, you can expect dramatic improvement in the surface of your skin – fewer fine wrinkles, fewer blemishes and more even-toned skin. Your results will be long-lasting, although not immune to the effects of aging and sun exposure.