Chemical Peels 101

What You Need to Know

A quick guide to everything you should explore if you’re considering this popular skin rejuvenation therapy. 

1. Why Get a Peel

Chemical peels have become an almost ubiquitous form of skin therapy, likely because they’re effective and minimally invasive. They’re used to remove dead skin cells from your facial tissue to create healthier looking skin. Peels can improve tone and texture, as well as treat acne, sun damage, congested pores, wrinkles, and even mild scarring and precancerous tissue.

2. Peels are Serious Business

This is a medical procedure that involves applying acid to your face to slough away dead skin cells. It is important to understand the intensity of the procedure and prepare accordingly. There are three different peel depths. Light peels remove only the outermost layer of skin (epidermis) and can be used to treat fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tones, and dryness. A medium peel removes cells from the outermost layer as well as the top of the middle layer (dermis). It usually treats the same things as a light peel as well as acne scars. A deep peel is a much more intensive procedure. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, “you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the look and feel of the treated areas.”

3. Peel Prep

Always consult your health care professional first. Be sure to talk about your expectations and medical history. You might even want to have them examine the areas you wish to treat. In some cases your doctor may have you take an antiviral medication, avoid certain cosmetics and hair removals, and use specific lotions or creams to help prep your skin. Keep in mind that this is an abrasive procedure, so you’ll need to stop your at-home exfoliation as early in advance as your doctor tells you. If you know you’ll be sedated for a medium or deep peel, you’ll want to line up a ride home. 

4. What to Expect

Your clinician will likely clean your face and protect your eyes and hair. Light to medium peels will be applied with sterile cotton. In all three depths, the skin will turn white as it is ready to be removed. You may feel stinging, burning, or mild discomfort during the treatment. For the light and medium peels, your clinician will apply a neutralizing agent to remove the chemical solution.

A deep peel will be administered by a physician or dermatologist. Your doctor may numb your skin with a local anesthetic. You will have the option to preempt with a painkiller also. During the procedure your clinician will keep you on intravenous fluids and monitor your heart rate. 

The phenol used in deep peels can affect your heart, liver, and kidneys so the peeling agent will only be applied in 15 to 20-minute increments at a time. A deep peel will remove skin cells down to the lower layer of the dermis – effectively resurfacing your skin. Your doctor will wrap your face in a water-tight bandage and send you home with post-op care instructions.

5. Post-Peel

The results of a peel are not permanent. Still, you don’t want to risk injuring your skin by repeating them too often. Light peels can be repeated as often as once a week for six weeks because your skin only requires four to seven days to recover. The recovery process for a medium peel is a bit longer. Swelling and redness will follow the procedure and eventually a crust will form over the treated tissue. Within five to seven days, the affected areas should begin forming new skin, but the redness can last for months. When recovering from a deep peel, you will experience extreme redness and swelling – your eyes may even swell shut. With all peels, it is important to follow your doctor’s post-procedure instructions and avoid unprotected
sun exposure.   

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