A chemical peel is a procedure performed to improve the appearance of the facial skin. It can effectively smooth the skin’s texture, erase wrinkles, and improve the appearance of scars. The chemical used in this procedure, most often alpha-hydroxy acid, causes the outer layers of the skin to blister and peel, resulting in smoother skin.
Chemical peels can be administered by a physician or a cosmetologist. The number of treatments needed varies, but improvement is generally seen after 1 to 3 applications. To maintain the effect, the treatments must be performed on a continuing basis every 3 to 6 months. As physicians can use a product with a higher alpha-hydroxy concentration, the effects last longer. A chemical peel performed by a physician may last 2 to 5 years.
The gentlest form of treatment is the superficial peel, which does not require the administration of an anesthetic and is performed on an outpatient basis. It only removes the surface layer of the skin. The skin turns pink afterwards, and minimal peeling results. Alpha-hydroxy or salicylic acid is usually used for this treatment.
A medium depth peel affects the epidermis and the superficial part of the dermis. It causes a second degree burn. In 2 to 3 days, the wounded skin will become crusty and flaky and then peel. The wound created by the peel takes 5 to 7 days to heal enough that makeup can be used. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is often used to produce a medium-depth peel. Medium depth peels are usually performed on an outpatient basis.
Only a physician can perform a deep chemical peel as there is a significant risk of complication. Impressive results can be achieved in the treatment of severe actinic keratosis, sun damage, pronounced changes in pigmentation, and moderate to severe wrinkling. Deep peels can produce very good improvements in the appearance of scars. The effects of a deep chemical peel are long lasting.
Although alpha-hydroxy acid peels are considered safe when performed by a qualified person, there are possible adverse reactions to the procedure. Minor reactions include redness, irritation, flaking, and dryness of the treated area. Most side effects will not interfere with normal daily functioning. The skin may exhibit a brown discoloration after an alpha-hydroxy acid peel. When this side effect occurs, it is usually the result of sun exposure after the peel. This discoloration is usually temporary, but in some cases, may be permanent. Persistent redness of the treated area may result from an alpha-hydroxy acid chemical peel.
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