Learn about your options and what to expect with this skin-resurfacing procedure that removes layers of your skin with a chemical solution.
A chemical peel is a procedure in which a chemical solution is applied to the skin to remove the top layers. The skin that grows back is smoother. With a light or medium peel, you may need to undergo the procedure more than once to get the desired results.
Chemical peels are used to treat wrinkles, discolored skin and scars — usually on the face. They can be done alone or combined with other cosmetic procedures. And they can be done at different depths, from light to deep. Deeper chemical peels offer more-dramatic results but also take longer to recover from.
A chemical peel is a skin-resurfacing procedure. Depending on the issues you're addressing with the procedure, you'll choose a chemical peel in one of three depths:
Chemical peels can't remove deep scars or wrinkles or tighten sagging skin.
A chemical peel can cause various side effects, including:
A chemical peel isn't for everyone. Your doctor might caution against a chemical peel or certain types of chemical peels if you:
Choose a doctor with knowledge of the skin and procedure — a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon. Results can be variable and depend on the expertise of the person doing the peel. Improperly done, a chemical peel can result in complications, including infection and permanent scars.
Before you have a chemical peel, your doctor will likely:
Before your peel, you might also need to:
A chemical peel is usually done at an office or in an outpatient surgical facility. Before the procedure, your doctor will clean your face, protect your hair, and cover your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape or goggles.
Pain relief isn't typically needed for a light chemical peel. If you're having a medium peel, you might receive a sedative and painkiller. For a deep peel, you might have a sedative, something to numb the treatment area and fluids delivered through a vein.
During a light chemical peel:
During a medium chemical peel:
During a deep chemical peel:
After a chemical peel of any depth, your skin will be red, tight, irritated or swollen. Follow your doctor's directions for sun protection, cleansing, moisturizing and applying protective ointments to your skin. And avoid picking, rubbing or scratching your skin. It may take several months before your skin color returns to normal and you can see the full results of the peel.
After a light chemical peel, treated skin will be red, dry and mildly irritated — although these effects might be less noticeable with each repeat treatment. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the skin. You can usually wear makeup the next day if you wish.
Treated areas take about one to seven days to heal after a light chemical peel. New skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than normal.
After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen. You'll feel stinging. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area and prevent dryness. After five to seven days, you can use cosmetics to cover any redness.
Use ice packs for comfort. Over-the-counter pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), may help reduce any discomfort. You'll likely schedule a checkup soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.
As swelling decreases, treated skin will begin to form a crust and might darken or develop brown blotches. Treated areas take about seven to 14 days to heal after a medium chemical peel, but redness might last for months.
After a deep chemical peel, you'll experience severe redness and swelling. You'll also feel burning and throbbing, and the swelling may even make your eyelids swell shut.
Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing to treated skin. He or she might also prescribe painkillers. You'll need to soak the treated skin and apply ointment several times a day for about two weeks.
Treated areas will develop new skin within about two weeks after a deep chemical peel, although redness might last for months. Treated skin might become darker or lighter than normal or lose the ability to tan.
You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing from a chemical peel. You'll likely need several follow-up visits soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.
Once new skin completely covers the treated area in about two weeks, you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness. Use sunscreen every day.
A light chemical peel improves skin texture and tone and lessens the appearance of fine wrinkles. The results are subtle but increase with repeated treatments. If you have a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be noticeably smoother. After a deep chemical peel, you'll see a dramatic improvement in the look and feel of treated areas. Results may not be permanent. Over time, age and new sun damage can lead to new lines and skin color changes.
With all peels, the new skin is temporarily more sensitive to the sun. Talk with your doctor about how long to protect your skin from the sun.