While the practice of resurfacing the skin with chemical peels has its origins in the 19th century, early versions of the procedure were recorded in antiquity. None other than Cleopatra herself was said to have indulged in this marvelous treatment. The Egyptian Queen was believed to have bathed in sour milk, and the lactic acid found in the milk gave her a rejuvenating peel.

Chemical peels remain popular because of their ability to restore the appearance of skin on the face, neck, and hands. In 2015, more than 600,000 chemical peels were performed on patients, up nearly 25% from the previous year, according to a report by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

But what exactly are chemical peels and how would you benefit from these treatments?

Chemical Peels Explained

During the procedure, different solutions with varying strengths are applied directly to the skin. These treat the outer layers of the dermis, triggering excessive peeling and eventually revealing a fresh new layer of skin. The regenerated skin is typically smoother and less wrinkled than the older layer of skin.

Depending on the type of peel selected, chemical peels can be used to:

  • Reduce fine lines around the mouth and under the eyes
  • Reduce the appearance of mild scarring
  • Treat certain types of acne and acne scarring
  • Treat wrinkles caused by aging and exposure to UV rays
  • Reduce age spots, freckles, and dark patches resulting from melasma
  • Improve the appearance and texture of the skin
  • Reduce the appearance of pre-cancerous growths

Types of Chemical Peels

Chemical peel treatments vary based on the patient’s skin condition and expectations. The three main types of chemical peels are light, medium, and deep.

Light Peel

Also referred to as the superficial or lunchtime peel, this type of chemical peel utilizes alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), lactic acids, or glycolic acid in lower concentrations to target the outer layer of the skin and induce gentle exfoliation. The light peel offers near-immediate results and is usually performed as an outpatient procedure for the treatment of minor skin issues. These include dryness, minor wrinkling, and uneven skin tone. It’s also the ideal chemical peel for hyperpigmentation resulting from acne blemishes and scars.

Medium Peel

In most cases, a medium peel involves the use of lower concentrations of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) in combination with other compounds such as glycolic acid. This medium depth peel can effectively treat surface wrinkles, external blemishes, and skin pigmentation issues. The medium peel is also the preferred choice for patients with darker skin as it is less likely to result in an uneven skin tone.

Since this peel targets the deeper layers of the skin, the patient may experience a stinging sensation on the areas where the chemical solution was applied. Before applying the solution, your dermatologic surgeon may apply a topical anesthetic to numb the area and lessen your discomfort.

Deep Peel

This more intensive peel is capable of delivering more dramatic results due to the strength of the solution. A deep chemical peel involves the use of phenol acid, which is capable of penetrating even deeper into the skin to remove damaged skin cells. This peel is ideal for removing moderate lines, age spots, shallow scars, freckles, as well as pre-cancerous growths.

Being the strongest type of chemical peel, this procedure typically takes much longer and the patient may need to be sedated while the solution is being applied.

Regardless of your chosen chemical peel, it may be necessary to undergo additional treatments to achieve the desired results.

Ideal Candidates for Chemical Peels

Typically, fair-skinned and light-haired patients are better suited to this type of procedure. Patients with darker skin may also get desirable results, but this will depend on the type of skin issue being treated.

Chemical peels cannot effectively address sagging or bulging skin or more severe wrinkles. Such skin issues are more effectively corrected by cosmetic surgical procedures such as laser skin resurfacing, brow and forehead lifts, and eyelid lifts. You’ll need to consult your dermatologic surgeon to identify the procedures that will best address your concerns.

Recovering from a Chemical Peel

As with most cosmetic skincare procedures, a chemical peel is an outpatient procedure with minimal downtime. Following the treatment, patients will be required to follow strict aftercare measures. These include avoiding sun exposure, applying sunscreen, and taking prescribed pain relievers to alleviate any discomfort.

The common side effects to be expected after a chemical peel include redness, swelling, and a stinging sensation. Skin crusting may also occur during the first few days after the procedure.

Patients who’ve undergone light chemical peels will usually be able to return to their normal daily activities on the same day. For medium chemical peels, it will typically take three to seven days before patients can resume their daily activities and two weeks before they fully recover. As for deep peels, patients will need to wait seven to 10 days before resuming their daily activities and wait at least a month for a complete recovery.

Your physician should personally monitor and assess your skin’s healing progress for the next couple of weeks or months. Hence, you should expect regularly scheduled follow-up appointments throughout your recovery period.