A chemical peel is a treatment to improve the look of the skin.
A chemical is applied to the skin and allowed to soak in. Over the next 1 to 14 days, depending on how deep the chemical soaks into the skin, the skin peels off. This process destroys parts of the skin in a controlled way so that new skin can grow in its place. The chemicals used are sometimes called exfoliating or wounding agents.
There are different types of chemical peels, based on how deep the chemical soaks in and what type of chemical is used. Things that may affect the depth of a peel include the strength of the acid in the peeling agent, the number of coats that are applied, and the amount of time allowed before the acid is neutralized. Deeper peels give more dramatic results. But they also have higher risks, cause more pain, and have a longer healing time. There are three basic types of peels:
- Superficial peels are the mildest type of chemical peel. They can be used on all skin types. In most cases, they use liquid containing a mild (dilute) acid, most often glycolic acid. Dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) is sometimes used.
- Medium peels soak deeper into the skin than superficial peels do. They cause a burn of the skin. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is the main peeling agent used for medium peels. The peel may also be done in several steps using a different chemical liquid followed by TCA.
- Deep peels soak into several layers of skin and cause a burn. They are used only on the face. A chemical called phenol is usually used for a deep peel. Deep peels may not be used on darker skin types, because they tend to bleach the skin. Even in lighter-skinned people, phenol peels-or any type of deep resurfacing-may bleach the skin. A deep peel can be done only once in most cases.