A chemical peel is a procedure that uses the application of a chemical solution on your skin to achieve goals such as skin pigmentation correction and reduction of acne scars or wrinkles. Depending on the specific chemical used, peel procedures remove varying amounts of the top layers of your skin. Healing times for chemical peels also vary according to the chemical in use.
Chemical Peel Basics
Your doctor can apply a chemical peel to several areas of your body, including your face, legs, arms, hands or chest, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The specific chemical used for treatment will depend on the type of skin damage you have, as well as the amount of skin removal required to remove or reduce that damage. In some cases, your doctor may use a combination of different chemicals to achieve the desired effect. Substances commonly used for chemical peels include alpha hydroxy acids, trichloroacetic acid and a chemical solution called phenol.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid Peels
Alpha hydroxy acids are a group of chemicals that include fruit, glycolic and lactic acids, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital. Your doctor may recommend using an alpha hydroxy acid peel if you have sun-damaged skin, rough skin, acne, fine wrinkles or skin pigmentation problems. Peel formulas that contain these acids generally remove only minor amounts of your skin. Typically, light peels of this sort produce skin redness, followed by skin scaling that heals in anywhere from three to five days, the American Academy of Dermatology reports.
Trichloroacetic Acid Peels
Trichloroacetic acid, also called TCA, can be mixed in formulas of varying strengths, Brigham and Women's Hospital notes. Your doctor may recommend treatment with this substance to eliminate superficial blemishes in your skin, fix any pigmentation problems or smooth out skin that contains fine wrinkles on its surface. If you undergo a relatively strong TCA peel, the medium-depth removal of your skin can trigger significant swelling, as well as the formation of blisters. In some cases, these blisters will crack, crust over and heal within one to two weeks. In other cases, healing may take longer.
Phenol is a strong chemical solution that causes deep peeling of your skin, Brigham and Women's Hospital reports. Your doctor may recommend a phenol treatment if you have coarse wrinkles or precancerous skin growths; he may also recommend a phenol procedure if you have skin blotching caused by advancing age, sun exposure or the use of birth control pills. Because of the amount of skin removed during a phenol peel, your recovery from the procedure may be quite slow. In some cases, full healing of your skin may not occur for several months.
If your doctor recommends a TCA chemical peel, you may need to undergo more than one procedure to achieve the desired results, Brigham and Women's Hospital explains. If you undergo a phenol peel, your new skin may not be able to create normal levels of pigmentation. In some cases, your doctor may need to apply surgical tape to your affected skin while the chemical peel healing process takes place.