In a chemical peel, a chemical solution is applied to the skin and allowed to soak in. Over the next 1 to 14 days, depending on how deeply the chemical penetrated the skin, the skin peels off. This procedure destroys parts of the skin in a controlled way so that new skin can grow in its place. The chemicals used are sometimes called exfoliating or wounding agents.
The types of chemical peels differ based on how deeply the chemical penetrates and what type of chemical solution is used. Things that may affect the depth of a peel include the acid concentration in the peeling agent, the number of coats that are applied, and the amount of time allowed before the acid is neutralized. Deeper peels result in more dramatic effects as well as higher risks, increased pain, and longer healing time. There are three basic types of peels:
Superficial peels are the mildest type ofchemical peel and can be used on all skin types.
Superficial peels usually use liquid containing a mild (dilute) acid, most often glycolic acid.
Medium peels penetrate the skin more deeply than superficial peels and cause a second-degree burn of the skin. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is the main peeling agent used for medium peels, though the peel may also be done in several steps using a different chemical solution followed by TCA.
Deep peels penetrate several layers of skin and cause a second-degree burn of the skin. They are used only on the face. A chemical called phenol is usually used for a deep peel. Deep peels may not be used on darker skin types, because they tend to bleach the skin (hypopigmentation). Even in lighter-skinned people, phenol peels—or any type of deep resurfacing—may bleach the skin. A deep peel can be done only once in most cases.
Chemical peels can be done on the face, neck, or hands. They can be used to:
- Reduce fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth
- Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage and aging
- Improve the appearance of mild scars
- Treat certain types of acne
- Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches (melasma) due to pregnancy or taking birth control pills
- Areas of sun damage may improve after chemical peeling.
- Improve the look and feel of the skin
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