how does a chemical peel work

How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

Even though chemical peels are one of the most requested cosmetic dermatology treatments, we’re often asked, How does a chemical peel work? Learn more about the chemical peel process, what the treatment does, and more in this blog.

What is a Chemical Peel and What Does it Do?

A chemical peel is a popular cosmetic dermatology procedure performed to improve the appearance of your skin. During a chemical peel, a chemical solution that exfoliates your skin (and eventually causes it to peel off) is applied. Once the treated skin has peeled off, you’re left with new, regenerated skin that is often smoother, with a better color and tone.

There are three types of chemical peels, and though each has the goal of improving your skin’s appearance, they all slightly differ. 

  • Superficial Peel

During a superficial peel, also known as a lunchtime peel, a mild acid (such as Jessner’s solution) is used to penetrate the outer layer of skin. This peel gently exfoliates the skin to improve the appearance of mild skin discoloration, rough skin, and acne.

  • Medium Peel

During a medium peel, the outer and middle layers of the skin are treated with glycolic or trichloroacetic acid. In addition to smoothing rough skin, medium peels are used to improve age spots, freckles, moderate skin discoloration, and fine lines and wrinkles, as well as treat some precancerous skin growths.

  • Deep Peel

Deep peels use trichloroacetic acid or phenol to penetrate the middle layer of the skin. They can be used to remove moderate age spots, lines, freckles, and shallow scars. Though there is a dramatic improvement in skin appearance, a deep peel can only be performed once. Deep peels are not performed in our office.

How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

There are 4 common chemical peel benefits: reduced acne and acne scarring, reduced hyperpigmentation, a boost to your skincare products, and reduced signs of aging. Chemical peels work by exfoliating the top layer(s) of your skin. This allows your skin to grow back smoother, ultimately providing you with a smoother and more even complexion. But how does one process provide so many different benefits? Let’s find out.

Chemical peels can help reduce acne (and future acne) by unclogging your pores, breaking down clogged hair follicles, and killing bacteria. Acne scarring and hyperpigmentation are minimized by removing excess collagen through exfoliation. This exfoliation also allows your skincare products to better penetrate your skin, helping them provide better results. And while chemical peels help break down excess collagen, they also boost the production of new collagen and elastin, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Now that you know how chemical peels work, let’s learn more about the actual steps of a chemical peel.

What Are the Steps of a Chemical Peel?

  • Chemical Peel Prep

Before scheduling a chemical peel, your dermatologist will review your medical history and conduct a physical exam to ensure you’re a candidate for a chemical peel. During your appointment, you’ll also discuss your expectations and how many treatments are needed to reach your goals.

To prepare before the actual chemical peel, drink plenty of water and use a Retin-A type medicine nightly, but stop using Retin-A 48 hours before your peel is scheduled. The Retin-A is used to help increase the penetration of the peel. You’ll also want to avoid the sun as recommended by your dermatologist to avoid irregular pigmentation.

Approximately a week before your appointment, stop using electrolysis or depilatories to remove body hair. It’s also recommended to avoid dying your hair or other chemically-based hair treatment, as well as facial masks or scrubs, the week leading up to your chemical peel.

  • The Chemical Peel Process

To start the chemical peel process, your dermatologist will cleanse your skin with a special astringent that will help the chemical solution penetrate the layer(s) of your skin being treated. The peel solution is then evenly applied over your entire face. The solution may cause a mild stinging or burning sensation, which a fan can help alleviate.

Once the peeling solution has sat on your skin for the required length of time, cold compresses are applied. Once the compresses are removed and your skin is cleansed, sunscreen is applied. 

  • Chemical Peel Aftercare

The chemical peel aftercare required following your procedure differs based on the type of the peel performed. For superficial peels, allow up to seven days for your skin to heal. Your skin may be red and turn scaly initially, but this will fade. Apply lotion or cream, followed by sunscreen, daily until your skin has healed. Makeup can generally be worn the day after a superficial peel.

Your skin can take up to 14 days to heal following a medium peel. Your skin will be red and swollen following the procedure, with the swelling worsening over the first 48 hours. Blisters and crusting may occur but will fade as the skin heals. Soak the skin daily for the recommended time by your dermatologist and follow up with an ointment. Antiviral medication is taken for 10 to 14 days and it’s important to avoid all sun exposure until your skin heals. Makeup can be worn 5 to 7 days after your medium peel, and follow-up appointments will be necessary to monitor progress. 

How Long Does it Take for a Chemical Peel to Work?

You’ll begin to notice a difference in your skin while it’s still healing from the chemical peel. However, you may not notice a significant difference until your skin has fully healed. For the best results, chemical peels are performed in a series of 3-4 treatments spaced a month apart. Final results will depend on your skin type, the issue or skin condition the chemical peel is treating, and the strength of the chemical peel.

How Long Does a Chemical Peel Last? 

Because chemical peels help stimulate new collagen production, results can be long lasting. However, superficial chemical peels are often performed every six months for maintenance treatment, with medium peels being repeated less frequently. 

If you’re looking for chemical peels in Pittsburgh performed by experienced, board-certified dermatologists or want to know more about what chemical peels do, schedule an appointment or contact our team at 412-429-2570. You can also follow us on Facebook to see what’s new in the world of dermatology. 

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