FAQ’s – Chemical Peels
- What do chemical peels treat?
- Does insurance cover a chemical peel?
- What are the different types of chemical peels?
- What is an AHA peel?
- What is a TCA peel?
- What is a phenol peel?
- Where can chemical peels be performed?
- Is a peel painful?
- Will there be pain after the procedure?
- Does freshly treated skin need to be kept out of sunlight?
- What are the risks?
Chemical peels remove damaged outer layers of skin on the face to smooth texture, reduce scarring, and remove blemishes and pre-cancerous growths to produce healthy, glowing skin.
They may be covered by insurance if they are performed for medical rather than cosmetic reasons.
There are three types of chemical peels, ranging from mild to strong – alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), tricholoroacetic acid (TCA) and phenol – and formula strengths are tailored to each patient. Peels can be combined with other procedures such as facelifts for a younger look.
AHAs are the gentlest of the three types of chemical peel. They consist of a group of glycolic, lactic and fruit acids that smooth and brighten skin by treating fine wrinkles, dryness, uneven pigmentation and acne. AHAs are typically applied once a week, or may be mixed in a milder concentration with a cream or cleanser to be used daily. Treatment takes 10 minutes or less. Occasionally AHAs, Retin-A or hydroquinone are used to thin the skin and even its tone as a pre-treatment.
TCAs are commonly used for medium-depth peeling (though depth is adjustable) to treat fine surface wrinkles, superficial blemishes and pigment problems, sometimes in combination with AHAs. TCAs are the preferred chemical solution for darker-skinned patients and may be used on the neck and other areas of the body. Results may be not as great and not last as long as with phenol peels, and multiple treatments may be required, but treatments only last 10-15 minutes and recovery time is shorter. There is also less risk with TCA peels.
Phenol, the strongest chemical peel, treats deeper skin problems such as coarse facial wrinkles, pre-cancerous growths, and areas of blotchy or damaged skin caused by sun exposure, aging or birth-control pills. Because phenol can lighten skin where it is applied, the patient’s natural pigmentation is a factor in determining eligibility. Phenol is used only on the face, as it may cause scarring elsewhere. Full-facial treatment can last an hour or two and recovery can take a few months, with possible permanent skin lightening and removal of freckles.
Chemical peels may be performed in a plastic surgeon’s office, office-based facility or outpatient surgical center.
Anesthesia is not required because phenol and TCAs act as an anesthetic, while AHAs produces only a slight stinging. In an AHA peel, the skin is cleaned and the solution applied; there is no need for “after-peel” ointment or covering. During TCA and phenol peels, the skin is cleansed and solution is applied, which may cause a brief stinging sensation. Petroleum jelly or a waterproof adhesive tape may be put on the skin following a phenol treatment.
AHA peels can cause temporary stinging, redness, irritation and flaking or crusting. Phenol and TCA peels can result in tingling or throbbing, reddened skin, a crust or scab, and significant swelling which lasts about a week, depending on the strength of the peel used.
All peels require adequate sun protection for your new skin.
All three treatment types carry potential risks such as infection and scarring. In addition to the after-effects listed above, TCA peels may produce some unintended color changes in the skin, while phenol peels may reduce or eliminate the new skin’s ability to make pigment evenly or at all, thus causing a lighter or uneven skin tone that must be protected from sunlight.