What is a Chemical Peel?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Chemical peels, also known as chemexfoliation or derma-peeling, are ways to improve the look of your skin. While this type of procedure is normally done on the face, it can be used on the neck or hands as well. It is considered a minimally invasive procedure used to help improve appearance. Some of the main uses for chemical peels are:

    In addition, some sun damage, such as pre-cancerous keratoses can improve after chemical peels and may be less likely to return after this type of treatment.

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    What Happens During a Chemical Peel?


    Chemical peels are normally completed in your doctor's office or in an outpatient treatment center and takes approximately 30 minutes to one hour for the entire treatment. Penn Medicine lists the steps for a chemical peel:

    • An aesthetician will examine your skin and determine the right process for your skin type
    • Your skin will be thoroughly washed to remove any excess oils
    • Dermaplaning is completed to remove the top 8 to 10 layers of dead skin cells
    • A chemical peeling agent is applied to your skin and remains there for between 30 seconds and 2 minutes
    • The aesthetician cleans out your pores and applies a calming mask
    • Sunblock and moisturizer are applied to your skin

    These procedures are those outlines by Penn Medicine. You should talk with your doctor about the exact procedure he uses.


    Before the Chemical Peel


    Your doctor will provide instructions to help you prepare for the chemical peel. Because some medications can interfere with the effectiveness of the chemical peel or cause complications, it is important to let your doctor know of all medications you are taking, including supplements, over-the-counter medications and vitamins. Your doctor may have you stop some medications for a period of time before the procedure. You may also need to use topical lotions or medications, such as Retin-A, Renova or glycolic acid to help prepare your skin.


    After the Chemical Peel


    Once a chemical peel is completed, you may experience symptoms similar to a sunburn. You may have peeling, redness and your skin may feel scaly for several days. Deep chemical peels can sometimes cause swelling or water blisters.  In some cases, bandages are applied to the area being peeled and should be kept in place for several days.


    The new skin which appears after a chemical peel can be more sensitive to sunlight so it is important to take extra care to avoid overexposure to the sun and to use sun screen every day.


    Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medication for you to take after the procedure, depending on how deep the peel is. If you are prescribed this type of medication, it is important to take it as directed.


    Mild chemical peels can be repeated every month for several months until you have achieved the look you want.


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    Possible Complications


    There is a few risks from chemical peels that you should be aware of:


    Skin discoloration - some people may experience temporary or permanent skin discoloration. Those taking birth control pills, who are pregnant or have a history of brownish discoloration on the face may be at risk of skin discoloration.


    Scarring - there is a low risk of scarring from chemical peels and often, if scarring does occur, it can be effectively treated.


    Cold sores - for those with a history of cold sores or herpes, chemical peels can cause a reactivation. You should notify your doctor if you have herpes or are prone to cold sores.




    "Chemical Peel," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, PennMedicine


    "Chemical Peels Information," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery


    "Chemical Peels: What You Need to Know," Date Unknown, John Barrymore, DiscoveryHealth


Published On: February 17, 2012