Cosmetic Surgery Tips

How Does A TCA Chemical Peel Work

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are a type of chemical peel applied to the skin to smooth the surface and remove the top layer of dead skin. It uses acids to remove damaged skin cells to exfoliate the skin.

A TCA peel is one of many types of chemical peel and is a cosmetic procedure.

Various practitioners can apply chemical peels in an outpatient procedure. These include dermatologists, physicians, physician assistants, and nurses. Chemical peels may help:

  • minimize blemishes
  • reduce the appearance of wrinkles
  • even skin color
  • help with removal of precancerous growths
  • soften acne scars
  • help prevent and control acne

TCA peels are typically medium-depth. This means they remove the top layer of skin and only a small amount of the underlying layer.

TCA peels are available in medium to high concentrations. Stronger formulas create a deep peel, which removes more of the underlying layer of skin.

Which peel will work best for a person can vary. A person should talk with their practitioner about the best peel for them.

This post explains what is a TCA face peel and how painful is a TCA peel.

How Does A TCA Chemical Peel Work

  • TCA peels are cosmetic treatments that use trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to improve your skin’s appearance.
  • The peels come in a variety of strengths or concentrations of acid.
  • A TCA peel works by removing dead skin cells and stimulating new skin cell growth.
  • People use TCA peels to try to get younger looking skin, and to treat certain skin conditions, like melasma and acne scarring.


  • Nearly 130,000 chemical peels were performed by dermatologists in 2018, many using TCA.
  • The TCA peel application process sometimes causes temporary side effects such as burning and discomfort.
  • After a chemical peel, you may experience redness and skin sensitivity. In rare cases, there is a risk of scarring and infection from a TCA peel.
  • Finding a licensed and certified health practitioner to perform the TCA peel will lower your risks of negative side effects.


  • The peel itself typically takes about 30 minutes to apply.
  • You can resume your regular activities after the peel has been applied, but protecting your skin from the sun is essential as you heal.
  • This procedure is available through dermatologists trained in the procedure.


  • TCA peel results vary according to the results you expect and the reason you’re using the peels.
  • Studies show that peels containing TCA have been found to be effective for the treatment of acne and melasma,

What is a TCA peel?

A TCA peel is a noninvasive skin treatment used to treat skin discolorations, scarring, and wrinkles. These peels get their name from trichloroacetic acid (TCA), which is used to clear away dead skin cells to reveal the newer and smoother skin layers below.

TCA peels are part of the group of skin treatments called chemical peels, which are used to exfoliate your skin by using different strengths and combinations of nontoxic acid ingredients.

What Is A Tca Face Peel

A trichloroacetic acid peel, or TCA peel, is a type of cosmetic chemical peel performed to treat a wide range of skin problems, such as visible signs of aging, sun damage, acne scarring, and hyperpigmentation.

Who is a good candidate for TCA peels?

Chemical peels can be superficial, medium, or deep strength. TCA peels are considered medium strength, meaning they should only be applied by a certified skin care professional. The ideal candidate for a TCA peel:

  • is not breastfeeding or pregnant
  • does not have a skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea
  • does not have a job that requires them to be outside
  • has no history of keloids or poor wound healing
  • will be counseled by the doctor beforehand about realistic expectations of the results

People who have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Zenatane, Amnesteem, Claravis) should avoid chemical peels for a period of time after completing treatment.

How much does a TCA peel cost?

The cost of a TCA peel is determined by the size of the application area as well as the expected results. In 2018 a chemical peel application cost an average of $693, according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Keep in mind that the cost of a TCA peel won’t always be limited to the treatment itself.

After a TCA peel, it’s recommended you use additional moisturizing products to protect your face while it heals and rehydrate your skin.

These skin care products can get expensive, and the quality of the products you purchase can impact the overall result of your chemical peel as well as how long the results last.

If you work in an office setting or spend most of your time indoors, you probably won’t need to take time off from work after a TCA peel. Immediately after the peel is applied, your skin will appear extremely red and irritated.

Like other chemical peels, TCA peels are considered an elective procedure. That means that they are not covered by health insurance.

TCA Peel Before and After

A TCA peel dissolves cells in the top layer of your skin (epidermis). As the skin that’s been affected by TCA application peels off, new cell growth is encouraged underneath.

Once that top layer of skin has peeled off, a layer of brand-new skin cells becomes visible. Often, the new layer of skin is smoother and less affected by “imperfections” such as wrinkles and acne scarring.

Procedure for a TCA peel

The TCA peel treatment itself will probably take around 30 minutes. You will be instructed to lie down as the dermatologist applies the TCA solution to your skin.

Most people feel a burning sensation for the first few minutes of the procedure, followed by a stinging pain as the acid exfoliates and clears away the top layers of your skin.

The procedure is done in a single session. It may be recommended that you prepare your skin with certain products prior to a TCA peel to achieve better results.

If you are looking to achieve a certain result, multiple sessions may be required. It’s advised that you wait several months between chemical peels to allow your skin to fully heal.

You may be sedated during the TCA peel, according to what you and your dermatologist decide.

Targeted areas for TCA peels

TCA peels are typically applied to your face. They can also be used to improve skin’s smoothness and tone on other areas of your body, such as:

  • back
  • chest area
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • upper arms

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects

There are some risks and side effects for the procedure. Common side effects include:

  • redness that lasts for several days or even weeks
  • herpes flare-up if you have the herpes simplex virus
  • changes in skin color

Rarely, a TCA peel can cause:

  • a bacterial or fungal infection
  • organ damage due to chemical exposure

People with darker complexions may beTrusted Source at a higher risk for hyperpigmentation after a chemical peel. Hyperpigmentation causes the layer of skin exposed by the chemical peel to appear darker or uneven.

Speak to your doctor about specific risks for your skin type before getting a chemical peel.

After your peel, if you experience excessive redness, swelling in your peel, oozing, blisters, or pus formation on your skin, contact your health provider immediately.

How Painful Is A TCA Peel

The amount of discomfort a patient feels is directly related to the type of peel being received. A light TCA Peel usually stings for a few minutes, while a deeper peel may cause a burning sensation throughout the entire procedure. In addition, skin treated with a deep peel may feel uncomfortable for a day or two after the procedure; however, this discomfort should not be painful.

What to Expect After a TCA Peel

After a TCA peel application, you may notice some changes right away. It could also take three or four days before you see the full effects develop.

After the initial redness fades from your skin, you’ll notice that your skin begins to feel tight. Throughout the next three days, the affected area will shed the skin that has been exposed to the TCA treatment. It’s normal for the peeling skin to come off in patches over the course of several days.

Avoid scratching your skin or peeling it off with your fingernails. After the skin comes off completely, the skin underneath may appear firmer, smoother, brighter, and more youthful.

During the period that your skin is peeling, make sure to wear sunscreen and protect your skin from sun each day. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to prevent stripping your skin of additional moisture.

You may plan another chemical peel in three to nine months if you like the result.

After your peel, continue applying sunscreen daily. Avoid excess exposure to UV light. You may also need to change your grooming habits: waxing and sugaring the hair where you have a TCA peel could injure your skin in the weeks afterward.

Preparing for a TCA peel

Prior to a TCA peel, you may need to switch up your skin care regimen.

Your health care provider may give you instructions to “prime” or prep the skin in the weeks prior to a TCA peel. Sunscreen and retinoic acid may be partTrusted Source of the skin priming process.

The Mayo Clinic suggests applying sunscreen daily for at least four weeks before any kind of chemical peel. This can help you achieve an even skin tone after the peel.

It’s recommended that you stop using any skin care products containing retinoids in the three days leading up to your TCA peel appointment. Retinol ingredients can thin the skin layer, making damage from chemical exposure more likely.

TCA Peel at Home

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel is a popular cosmetic treatment that can improve the appearance of skin by exfoliating the top layers and stimulating collagen production. While TCA peels are typically performed in a dermatologist’s office, some individuals may choose to do a TCA peel at home. It is important to understand the benefits and risks of performing a TCA peel at home before attempting this procedure.

Benefits of TCA Peel at Home
  • Cost-effective: Performing a TCA peel at home can be more affordable than visiting a dermatologist. Convenience: You can perform the peel at a time that is convenient for you, without having to schedule an appointment. Privacy: Some individuals may feel more comfortable performing a TCA peel in the privacy of their own home.
  • Risks of TCA Peel at Home
  • Improper application: Without proper training and experience, there is a risk of applying the TCA peel incorrectly, which can result in skin damage. Uneven results: Inexperienced individuals may not be able to achieve the same level of exfoliation and skin rejuvenation as a professional. Complications: There is a risk of complications such as scarring, infection, or hyperpigmentation if the TCA peel is not performed correctly.
  • How to Perform a TCA Peel at Home

    Before attempting a TCA peel at home, it is important to carefully read and follow the instructions provided with the peel kit. Here are some general steps to perform a TCA peel at home:

    1. Cleanse the skin thoroughly with a gentle cleanser. Apply a pre-peel solution to prepare the skin for the TCA peel. Apply the TCA peel solution evenly to the skin, avoiding sensitive areas such as the eyes and lips. Leave the peel on for the recommended amount of time, then neutralize with a neutralizing solution.Follow up with a post-peel moisturizer to hydrate and protect the skin.

    TCA Peel for Hyperpigmentation

    Dermatologists occasionally combine TCA with additional ingredients and acids to create various types of chemical peels.

    Jessner Peels and glycolic acid peels may give similar results to TCA peels. In one small study from 2010, glycolic acid peels and TCA peels (both combined with pre-peel preparation routines) were found to have similar results for women who were trying to improve symptoms of melasma.

    Some milder chemical peel options are available and can be performed at home. These at-home peels often contain lactic acid, glycolic acid, or citric acid.

    While these peels may not offer the same dramatic results as a chemical peel done by a dermatologist, they are a more affordable option and they carry a lower risk of side effects.

    How to Find a Provider

    If you’re interested in trying a TCA peel, schedule a consultation with a doctor who performs them. Results may vary according to your skin type, age, and other factors. Your provider should speak with you about realistic expectations for the procedure, as well as risk factors and potential side effects.

    The American Academy for Dermatologic Surgery offers a directory of dermatologists who have been trained in applying chemical peels to help you find a skilled and experienced practitioner.

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