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What to know before a chemical peel

What is a chemical peel? A chemical peel is a procedure that uses chemicals to exfoliate the skin. The most common type of chemical peel is called a trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel. Chemical peels are typically only performed on people with healthy, intact skin who have minimal sun damage or wrinkles and few fine lines. You should not go through a chemical peel if you have active acne or any other skin condition that requires treatment with medication. Additionally, you should not perform the procedure on yourself at home; it requires medical supervision.

What can happen during and after the procedure? Chemical peels can cause irritation, redness, flaking and swelling of your skin as well as crusting and scabbing, which may last up to three weeks after treatment. Your skin may also be temporarily discolored after treatment, though this will fade over time. The process itself takes about an hour to complete and usually costs between $300 and $600 per session; however, some physicians offer reduced rates for multiple sessions at once so that patients can get started right away on their path towards clearer skin

You may find it hard to access the right information on the internet, so we are here to help you in the following article, providing the best and updated information on What to know before a chemical peel, chemical peel at home for hyperpigmentation. Read on to learn more. We at cosmeticsurgerytips have all the information that you need about at home chemical peel vs professional. Read on to learn more.

What to know before a chemical peel

A chemical peel is a procedure in which a chemical solution is applied to the skin to remove the top layers. The skin that grows back is smoother. With a light or medium peel, you may need to undergo the procedure more than once to get the desired results.

Chemical peels are used to treat wrinkles, discolored skin and scars — usually on the face. They can be done alone or combined with other cosmetic procedures. And they can be done at different depths, from light to deep. Deeper chemical peels offer more-dramatic results but also take longer to recover from.

Why it’s done

A chemical peel is a skin-resurfacing procedure. Depending on the issues you’re addressing with the procedure, you’ll choose a chemical peel in one of three depths:

  • Light chemical peel. A light (superficial) chemical peel removes the outer layer of skin (epidermis). It’s used to treat fine wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone and dryness. You might have a light peel every two to five weeks.
  • Medium chemical peel. A medium chemical peel removes skin cells from the epidermis and from portions of the upper part of your middle layer of skin (dermis). It’s used to treat wrinkles, acne scars and uneven skin tone. You might need to repeat the procedure to achieve or maintain the desired result.
  • Deep chemical peel. A deep chemical peel removes skin cells even deeper. Your doctor might recommend one for deeper wrinkles, scars or precancerous growths. You won’t need repeat procedures to get the full effect.

Chemical peels can’t remove deep scars or wrinkles or tighten sagging skin.

Risks

A chemical peel can cause various side effects, including:

  • Redness, scabbing and swelling. Normal healing from a chemical peel involves redness of the treated skin. After a medium or deep chemical peel, redness might last for a few months.
  • Scarring. Rarely, a chemical peel can cause scarring — typically on the lower part of the face. Antibiotics and steroid medications can be used to soften the appearance of these scars.
  • Changes in skin color. A chemical peel can cause treated skin to become darker than normal (hyperpigmentation) or lighter than normal (hypopigmentation). Hyperpigmentation is more common after superficial peels, while hypopigmentation is more common after a deep peel. These problems are more common in people with brown or black skin and can sometimes be permanent.
  • Infection. A chemical peel can lead to a bacterial, fungal or viral infection, such as a flare-up of the herpes virus — the virus that causes cold sores.
  • Heart, kidney or liver damage. A deep chemical peel uses carbolic acid (phenol), which can damage heart muscle and cause the heart to beat irregularly. Phenol can also harm the kidneys and liver. To limit exposure to phenol, a deep chemical peel is done a portion at a time, in 10- to 20-minute intervals.

A chemical peel isn’t for everyone. Your doctor might caution against a chemical peel or certain types of chemical peels if you:

  • Have taken the oral acne medication isotretinoin (Myorisan, Claravis, others) in the past six months
  • Have a personal or family history of ridged areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue (keloids)
  • Are pregnant
  • Have frequent or severe outbreaks of cold sores

How you prepare

Choose a doctor with knowledge of the skin and procedure — a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon. Results can be variable and depend on the expertise of the person doing the peel. Improperly done, a chemical peel can result in complications, including infection and permanent scars.

Before you have a chemical peel, your doctor will likely:

  • Review your medical history. Be prepared to answer questions about current and past medical conditions and any medications you are taking or have taken recently, as well as any cosmetic procedures you’ve had.
  • Do a physical exam. Your doctor will inspect your skin and the area to be treated to determine what type of peel you might benefit from most and how your physical features — for example, the tone and thickness of your skin — might affect your results.
  • Discuss your expectations. Talk with your doctor about your motivations, expectations and potential risks. Make sure you understand how many treatments you might need, how long it’ll take to heal and what your results might be.

Before your peel, you might also need to:

  • Take antiviral medication. Your doctor might prescribe an antiviral medication before and after treatment to help prevent a viral infection.
  • Use a retinoid cream. Your doctor might recommend using a retinoid cream, such as tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A) for a few weeks before treatment to help with healing.
  • Use a bleaching agent. Your doctor might recommend using a bleaching agent (hydroquinone), a retinoid cream, or both before or after the procedure to reduce the risk of side effects.
  • Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Too much sun exposure before the procedure can cause permanent irregular pigmentation in treated areas. Discuss sun protection and acceptable sun exposure with your doctor.
  • Avoid certain cosmetic treatments and certain types of hair removal. About a week before the peel, stop using hair removal techniques such as electrolysis or depilatories. Also, avoid hair dying treatments, permanent-wave or hair-straightening treatments, facial masks, or facial scrubs in the week before your peel. Don’t shave the areas that will be treated beginning 24 hours before your peel.
  • Arrange for a ride home. If you’ll be sedated during the procedure, arrange for a ride home.

What you can expect

Before the procedure

A chemical peel is usually done at an office or in an outpatient surgical facility. Before the procedure, your doctor will clean your face, protect your hair, and cover your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape or goggles.

Pain relief isn’t typically needed for a light chemical peel. If you’re having a medium peel, you might receive a sedative and painkiller. For a deep peel, you might have a sedative, something to numb the treatment area and fluids delivered through a vein.

During the procedure

During a light chemical peel:

  • Your doctor will use a brush, cotton ball, gauze or sponge to apply a chemical solution typically containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
  • You might feel mild stinging while the chemical solution is on your skin.
  • Your doctor will apply a neutralizing solution or wash to remove the chemical solution from the treated skin.

During a medium chemical peel:

  • Your doctor will use a cotton-tipped applicator or gauze to apply a chemical solution containing trichloroacetic acid, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
  • After a few minutes, your doctor will apply cool compresses to soothe treated skin. You might also be given a hand-held fan to cool your skin. No neutralizing solution is needed, however.
  • You might feel stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes.

During a deep chemical peel:

  • You’ll be given intravenous (IV) fluids, and your heart rate will be closely monitored.
  • Your doctor will use a cotton-tipped applicator to apply carbolic acid (phenol) to your skin. Treated skin will begin to turn white or gray.
  • To limit your exposure to phenol, your doctor will do the procedure in portions at about 15-minute intervals. A full-facial procedure might take about 90 minutes.

After the procedure

After a chemical peel of any depth, your skin will be red, tight, irritated or swollen. Follow your doctor’s directions for sun protection, cleansing, moisturizing and applying protective ointments to your skin. And avoid picking, rubbing or scratching your skin. It may take several months before your skin color returns to normal and you can see the full results of the peel.

After a light chemical peel, treated skin will be red, dry and mildly irritated — although these effects might be less noticeable with each repeat treatment. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the skin. You can usually wear makeup the next day if you wish.

Treated areas take about one to seven days to heal after a light chemical peel. New skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than normal.

After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen. You’ll feel stinging. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area and prevent dryness. After five to seven days, you can use cosmetics to cover any redness.

Use ice packs for comfort. Over-the-counter pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), may help reduce any discomfort. You’ll likely schedule a checkup soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.

As swelling decreases, treated skin will begin to form a crust and might darken or develop brown blotches. Treated areas take about seven to 14 days to heal after a medium chemical peel, but redness might last for months.

After a deep chemical peel, you’ll experience severe redness and swelling. You’ll also feel burning and throbbing, and the swelling may even make your eyelids swell shut.

Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing to treated skin. He or she might also prescribe painkillers. You’ll need to soak the treated skin and apply ointment several times a day for about two weeks.

Treated areas will develop new skin within about two weeks after a deep chemical peel, although redness might last for months. Treated skin might become darker or lighter than normal or lose the ability to tan.

You might prefer to remain at home while you’re healing from a chemical peel. You’ll likely need several follow-up visits soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.

Once new skin completely covers the treated area in about two weeks, you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness. Use sunscreen every day.

Results

A light chemical peel improves skin texture and tone and lessens the appearance of fine wrinkles. The results are subtle but increase with repeated treatments. If you have a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be noticeably smoother. After a deep chemical peel, you’ll see a dramatic improvement in the look and feel of treated areas. Results may not be permanent. Over time, age and new sun damage can lead to new lines and skin color changes.

With all peels, the new skin is temporarily more sensitive to the sun. Talk with your doctor about how long to protect your skin from the sun.

Chemical peel at home for hyperpigmentation

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If you’ve ever been hesitant to reach for a chemical exfoliant to help fade unwanted hyperpigmentation, there’s a good reason. “In general, chemical peels are intentionally irritating and not essential to balanced skin, unless indicated otherwise by a board-certified dermatologist for things like acne vulgaris or melasma,” dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur tells Elite Daily, adding, “Self-directed treatment is rife with overdoing it.” When needed, the best at-home chemical peels for hyperpigmentation contain a lower concentration of chemical exfoliants to lessen the chance of irritation. “If you’ve ever experienced hyperpigmentation, as I have in my 20s from patches of melasma on my upper lip and face, you want to do anything bionic to remove it,” Dr. Marmur says of her own experience. “But slow and steady is the only way to conquer hyperpigmentation, so be patient,” she advises, while stressing the importance of checking in with your dermatologist before using any at-home chemical exfoliants.

In addition to taking things slow and consulting with a professional, Dr. Marmur advises that it’s best not to exceed a concentration of 5% of the active ingredient in question. “Mandelic acid and tranexamic acid tend to be slow and steady for hyperpigmentation treatment at home, along with proper sun protection and LED green light,” shares Dr. Marmur. She also adds that other AHAs and BHAs, like glycolic acid and salicylic acid, are popular when it comes to at-home chemical treatments for hyperpigmentation.

As for the delivery method, Dr. Marmur confirms that mechanical exfoliants, like scrubs, should be avoided because they can worsen hyperpigmentation. “Liquids and serums applied and massaged into the skin with your fingertips work much better than pads, which increase waste,” she adds. “Never brush, scrub, or rub chemical exfoliants on skin that’s prone to excess pigment because this will backfire and put you back at square one,” she stresses. “Baby your skin, protect it well, and let your derm help you in your journey against hyperpigmentation.”

Keep scrolling to shop five of the best at-home treatments for hyperpigmentation, from serums to cleansers to face masks.

1. Best Tranexamic Acid Serum For Hyperpigmentation

Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%

AMAZON

Naturium Tranexamic Topical Acid 5%

$20SEE ON AMAZON

Tranexamic acid is typically a well-tolerated ingredient when it comes to fading unwanted hyperpigmentation and preventing new dark spots from forming. Naturium’s Tranexamic Topical Acid 5% gives you a potent concentration of the active ingredient, while other effective brightening ingredients like kojic acid, licorice root extract, and niacinamide bolster the acid’s skin-evening effects. This combination makes it one of the best hyperpigmentation treatments you can buy for $20 — while plenty of hydrating ingredients like glycerin, panthenol, and hyaluronic acid prevent it from drying out your skin.

2. Best AHA Serum For Hyperpigmentation

Honest Beauty Resurfacing Serum

AMAZON

Honest Beauty Resurfacing Serum

$23SEE ON AMAZON

Honest Beauty’s Resurfacing Serum combines three AHAs to target unwanted hyperpigmentation: Glycolic, lactic, and citric acids. Additional ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe leaf juice all work to soothe and hydrate skin, while niacinamide offers double the skin care benefits by helping to treat hyperpigmentation and calm inflammation. At less than $25, it’s a great entry point into the world of chemical exfoliants. For best results, use it at night and don’t forget to apply sunscreen the next morning (as is the case with any AHA product).

3. Best BHA Exfoliant For Hyperpigmentation

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

AMAZON

Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

$32SEE ON AMAZON

Among the 40,000-plus five-star ratings on Amazon, you’ll find dozens of reviews that specifically mention how helpful Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is when it comes to treating hyperpigmentation. The tried-and-true formula uses a 2% concentration of salicylic acid to clear out congested pores and exfoliate dead skin cells, while green tea extract soothes and provides antioxidant protection. Because of salicylic acid’s pore-clearing benefits, this is a great choice if your primary skin concerns are hyperpigmentation and acne or blackheads.

Though it doesn’t have nearly as many Amazon reviews, the brand’s Discoloration Repair Serum, which features tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and bakuchiol extract, is another solid pick for treating hyperpigmentation.

4. Best Exfoliating Mask For Hyperpigmentation

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Full Strength Exfoliating Mask

AMAZON

Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Full Strength Exfoliating Mask

$49SEE ON AMAZON

If you like to use the occasional skin-pampering mask, Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Peel Full Strength Exfoliating Mask gives you a powerful chemical treatment in just 10 minutes. AHAs in the form of malic, glycolic, and lactic acids combine with the BHA salicylic acid to slough away dead skin cells and even out your skin. Bakuchiol and vitamin C give you more skin-brightening benefits, and aloe leaf juice, grape seed extract, and glycerin help with hydration. Though the mask is formulated with mostly naturally derived ingredients (many of which are organic), it still has the potential to cause irritation. Because of this, the brand suggests doing a patch test on your arm before putting the mask on your face.

5. Best Splurge

Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment

AMAZON

Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment

$85SEE ON AMAZON

This multi-purpose treatment can be used as a leave-on serum morning or night, or as a 15-minute mask that you rinse off if your skin is hyper-sensitive. Sunday Riley’s Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment is a cult favorite for its ability to improve the clarity and texture of your skin, while still being pretty gentle. In addition to the AHA lactic acid, licorice root extract works to brighten skin and fade unwanted hyperpigmentation, while soothing and hydrating ingredients like squalane, arnica, aloe leaf, and prickly pear keep the formula balanced. It offers both immediate and long-term benefits, and has a lightweight texture that layers under other products beautifully.

You May Also Like

Dermalogica Daily Glycolic Cleanser

AMAZON

Dermalogica Daily Glycolic Cleanser

$35SEE ON AMAZON

Though not exactly a peel, a cleanser with chemical exfoliants, like Dermalogica’s Daily Glycolic Cleanser, is a great place to start because the active ingredient gets rinsed right off (as opposed to treatments and serums that are left on and therefore pose a higher risk of irritation). This cleanser uses glycolic acid to exfoliate away dead skin cells, the buildup of which can contribute to hyperpigmentation. You’ll also find jojoba seed oil, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, calendula, and allantoin in here to help condition skin and calm any signs of irritation.

At home chemical peel vs professional

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Dullness. Dark spots. Acne scars. Fine lines and wrinkles. What do all of these skin concerns have in common? They can be treated with medical-grade chemical peels. Depending on your aesthetic goals and needs, chemical peels are available in an array of potencies and have the ability to resurface the skin for more even tone and texture. For those looking to achieve glow-inducing results at-home, less concentrated chemical exfoliators can slough away dead skin cells for a more radiant complexion. Here, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about in-office chemical peels and at-home chemical exfoliators.

What Is a Chemical Peel?

Professional chemical peels employ chemical solutions of varying strengths to target and remove the outer layers of the skin. “The benefits of a medical-grade chemical peel are endless,” says Lizette Ludwig, RN, an aesthetic nurse and injector in southern California. As she explains, they are a good option for anyone looking to address skin imperfections. “Chemical peels allow you to remove dead skin cells and address fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and uneven skin tone in a safe and effective way,” she shares.

Professional chemical peels can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Superficial chemical peels
  2. Medium chemical peels
  3. Deep chemical peels

These classifications are based on the potency of the peels and the ingredients used in the chemical solution. “Ingredients found in medical-grade peels usually include alpha hydroxy acids (lactic acid and glycolic acid), beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid), trichloroacetic acid (TCA), and phenol,” Ludwig says. Below is an overview of each:

SUPERFICIAL CHEMICAL PEELS

The lightest and gentlest of the group, superficial chemical peels remove the epidermis (i.e. top layer of the skin) and are generally tolerated by most skin tones. “These peels are usually made from alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids, but they can also include enzymes or other natural exfoliating ingredients,” Ludwig notes. Because they focus on the epidermis, superficial peels provide a slight improvement to the skin and usually require a series of treatments for best results. Some mild dryness and flaking are a part of the healing process and can last for three to five days.

MEDIUM CHEMICAL PEELS

Falling in the middle of the scale, medium-depth chemical peels produce a more dramatic result in a single treatment than light peels. “Skin will be significantly smoother with an even tone and blemishes removed,” Ludwig says. This type of peel usually contains trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to penetrate the skin and remove layers below the epidermis. Peeling, redness, and swelling are all to be expected post-peel and can last three to 10 days.

DEEP CHEMICAL PEELS

Needless to say, deep chemical peels are the strongest and most invasive. They usually involve a potent formulation of TCA or phenol that can penetrate the deep layer of the dermis. As Ludwig shares, the depth allows them to produce “drastically smoother” and “youthful-looking” skin. “Deep peels can achieve amazing results for sun damage, scarring, and wrinkles,” she says. Due to their strength, however, deep peels can be painful and healing requires patience. Several weeks of downtime is needed, and full recovery could take weeks or months.

Professional Chemical Peel Treatments

Medical-grade chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution to the face and (possibly) neck. The chemical solution is either applied lightly or rubbed more vigorously onto the skin using a gauze pad. During the application, you may experience a slight tingling (superficial to medium peels) or burning (deep peels). “I like to give my clients a mini fan which helps the tingling or burning sensation,” Ludwig shares. With certain types of chemical peels, the solution may need to be ‘neutralized’ after the appropriate time has elapsed, though most chemicals neutralize on their own.

Regardless of what strength peel you choose, patients are usually sent home with post-care instructions. “Make sure to discuss with your provider how to care for your skin after the peel,” Ludwig says. Even for the lightest peel, you’ll likely need to make changes to your skincare routine for a few days pre- and post-treatment. If you’re planning on a medium or deep peel, antiviral medication may be prescribed beforehand.

CHEMICAL PEEL SAFETY

Professional chemical peels are meant to be performed in a doctor’s office or a medical spa by a licensed skincare professional. As we’ve reported, the DIY dermatology trend that’s fueled by social media and social distancing had led some to try medical-grade treatments (like TCA peels) at home with dangerous and damaging results. “Beware of chemical solutions sold online, as they are usually sold illegally and can cause permanent damage to your skin,” Ludwig warns. “Chemical peels should be applied by a licensed professional.”

Professional Chemical Peels vs. At-Home Chemical Exfoliators

The main difference between a superficial in-office peel and chemical exfoliators or treatments you can find at, say Sephora, is that at-home solutions do not provide the same chemical concentration as their professional counterparts. While similar active ingredients may be found in both versions, the potency is quite different. As Ludwig explains, at-home percentages of glycolic acid, for example, max out around 10 percent, while medical-grade glycolic acids (applied by a professional) can reach as high as 70 percent.

At-Home Chemical Exfoliators

If you’re dealing with mild cases of uneven skin tone and texture or wish to maintain your complexion in between in-office appointments, at-home chemical exfoliators and enzyme treatments can impart a subtle and sustained glow with regular use.

When it comes to choosing a treatment, Ludwig suggests reading the label closely. “I recommend looking for brightening ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C, and active enzymes such as pumpkin, papaya, and pineapple,” she explains. “Every ingredient serves a purpose, so do your homework when it comes to the ingredient list.”

CHEMICAL EXFOLIATOR SAFETY & RESULTS

While your skin likely won’t peel or flake the way it will after a professional treatment, irritation is possible with at-home exfoliating products. “Read all instructions carefully when it comes to at-home peels,” Ludwig cautions. “Most will ask you to wash it off after 10 to 15 minutes of application and gradually build up to leaving it on overnight.”

Another way to ensure your skin ends up radiant, not ruddy? “I recommend skipping out on ingredients like retinol and other active serums on days you choose to exfoliate at home,” Ludwig shares. She suggests exfoliating one to two times per week and alternating days with any actives already in your routine. “Less is more, in my opinion,” she says. “Over-exfoliating can disrupt our skin’s microbiome.”

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