Chemical peeling is a technique used to improve the appearance of the skin
which is typically performed on the face, neck or hands. In this treatment,
a chemical solution is applied to the skin that causes it to "blister" and
eventually peel off. The new, regenerated skin is usually smoother and less
wrinkled than the old skin. The new skin is also temporarily more sensitive
to the sun.
Dermatologic surgeons have used various peeling agents for the last 50 years
and are experts in performing multiple types of chemical peels. A thorough
evaluation by your dermatologic surgeon is imperative before embarking upon
a chemical peel.
WHAT CAN A CHEMICAL PEEL DO?
Chemical peeling is often used to treat fine lines under the eyes and around
the mouth. Wrinkles caused by sun damage, aging and hereditary factors can
often be reduced or even eliminated with this procedure. However, sags,
bulges, and more severe wrinkles do not respond well to peeling and may
require other kinds of cosmetic surgical procedures such as a face lift,
eye lift or
soft tissue filler.
Mild scarring and certain types of acne can also be treated with chemical
peels. In addition, pigmentation of the skin in the form of sun spots, age
spots, liver spots, freckles, splotching due to taking birth control pills,
and skin that is dull in texture and color may be improved with chemical
Chemical peeling may be combined with
soft tissue fillers to achieve cost-effective skin rejuvenation customized
to the needs of the individual patient. Areas of sun-damaged, precancerous
keratoses or scaling patches may improve after chemical peeling. Following
treatment, new lesions or patches are less likely to appear. Generally, fair
skinned and light haired patients are ideal candidates for chemical peels.
Darker skin types may also experience good results, depending upon the type
of skin problem encountered.
HOW ARE CHEMICAL PEELS PERFORMED?
Prior to surgery, instructions may include the elimination of certain drugs
and the preparation of the skin with topical pre-conditioning medications.
The patient may be advised to clean the area with an antiseptic soap the day
A chemical peel can be performed in a doctor's office or in a surgery center
as an out-patient procedure. At the time of treatment, the skin is
thoroughly cleansed with an agent that removes excess oils, and the eyes and
hair are protected. One or more chemical solutions - an alpha hydroxy acid,
such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or lactic acid; trichloroacetic acid
(TCA); or carbolic acid (phenol) - are used. Dermatologic surgeons are well
qualified to select the proper peeling agent based upon the type of skin
damage present. During a chemical peel, the physician applies the solution
to small areas on the skin. These applications produce a controlled wound,
enabling new, refreshed skin to appear. Most patients experience a warm to
somewhat hot sensation which lasts about five to ten minutes, followed by a
stinging sensation. A deeper peel may require pain medication during or
after the procedure.
WHAT SHOULD BE EXPECTED AFTER TREATMENT?
Depending upon the type of peel, a reaction similar to a sunburn occurs
following a chemical peel. Superficial peeling usually involves redness,
followed by scaling that ends within three to seven days. Medium-depth and
deep peeling may result in swelling and the presence of water blisters that
may break, crust, turn brown, and peel off over a period of seven to 14
days. Some peels may require bandages to be placed on part or all of the
skin that is treated. Bandages are usually removed in several days and may
improve the effectiveness of the treatment. It is important to avoid
overexposure to the sun after a chemical peel since the new skin is fragile
and more susceptible to complications. The dermatologic surgeon will
prescribe the proper follow-up care to reduce the tendency to develop
abnormal skin color after peeling.
FOR MORE INFORMATION AND REFERRALS
For more information on skin conditions and treatments, along with a list
of ASDS members in your state, please visit the
Find a Dermatologic Surgeon section of our Web site.
back to Fact Sheets list