A chemical peel is the use of a chemical solution that burns off damaged skin cells on the face. The purpose of a chemical peel is to rejuvenate your skin, giving it a more youthful appearance. There are various types of chemical peels that differ based on skin penetration depth. There are superficial peels, such as those made of alpha hydroxy acids, or AHA, medium depth penetration peels consisting of trichloroacetic acid, or TCA, and deep penetration peels, or phenol peels. Swelling is a common side effect of peels, particularly medium and deep penetration peels. Follow post-care instructions and see your doctor if you feel your swelling is excessive.
There are over-the-counter peels that you can buy yourself and do at home, but they have minimally effective AHA concentrations of 10 percent or below, according to the Patient's Guide to Chemical Peels. Doctors can use AHA products that have concentrations between 30 and 70 percent. A doctor must also administer TCA and phenol peels, though phenol peels are not used often because of the risk of scarring and toxicity. Doctors monitor chemical peels closely for side effects, such as swelling.
Swelling after a chemical peel is normal and might even be quite extreme. Swelling after an AHA peel is minimal if present at all because it is so superficial. Swelling after a TCA peel is more intense and continues to worsen for 48 hours after the procedure. Blisters might form on your skin then break open, further intensifying swelling, though this side effect is normal. Swelling is most intense after a phenol peel and might even cause your eyes to swell shut. In both types of peels, swelling should resolve in a few days. If you are worried that your swelling is worse than it should be, consult your doctor.
Following the appropriate aftercare instructions helps to minimize your swelling and enhance healing and recovery. After a TCA or phenol peel, soak your face daily, several times daily for phenol peels. After soaking, apply ointment according to your doctor's instructions. To help reduce your facial swelling, elevate your head while lying. Don't put a cold compress or ice on your face without first talking with your doctor as the skin is vulnerable and sensitive. Avoid the sun if you are experiencing swelling so it doesn't further irritate or damage your skin.
Complications are rare if the procedure is done by a doctor. Complications that might cause swelling include blocked pores or a bacterial infection. Each of these conditions requires medical treatment. If you have an infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic.