Chemical peels can improve the appearance of skin hyperpigmentation issues such as age spots, melasma and discolorations from acne scarring. The procedure, which uses a mixture of acids to exfoliate the uppermost layers of the skin, can be performed on the face, neck, chest and hands. Benefits from a chemical peel will vary depending on the level of aggressiveness administered.
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Chemical peels are delivered in three levels of potency: superficial, medium and deep. A superficial peel uses mild alpha or beta hydroxy acid to exfoliate the surface layer of the skin. This kind of peel can improve mild skin discoloration or blotchiness. Bleaching agents such as hydroquinone or kojic acid are sometimes incorporated into a superficial peel to further address excess pigmentation. A medium peel uses a stronger concentration of glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to reach the epidermis and the upper layer of the dermis. A medium peel can correct age spots, freckles and moderate discoloration. A deep peel uses phenol to penetrate the dermis, which allows it to address more significant discoloration issues.
A superficial or moderate peel can be performed in a dermatologist's office and does not require anesthesia. The treated area may feel warm for about five to 10 minutes, and you may experience some stinging. After the procedure, which lasts for about 30 minutes, the dermatologist applies a soothing lotion to calm the skin. Deep peels are frequently conducted in an outpatient surgical center. Patients are placed under general anesthesia while the doctor applies the chemical mixture to one small area at a time. Cold compresses are used to soothe the skin, and the treated area is bandaged with surgical dressing.
A superficial peel takes about one week to fully heal. The treated skin will be red for a few days, after which it will begin to flake and peel away. You will need to apply soothing lotion to the skin during the healing process. After a medium peel, the skin will be red and swollen for approximately 48 hours. After that, blisters may form and the skin may become crusty. It will slough off in about seven to 14 days. During this time, you will need to soak the area on a daily basis and take an antiviral medication. You must also stay out of the sun completely until the skin heals. The deep peel also requires a daily soaking along with ample applications of calming ointments and lotions. You must take an antiviral medication for up to two weeks and completely avoid the sun for up to six months.
Precautions and Side Effects
Although chemical peels are safe when administered by an experienced dermatologist, they do carry some risk of adverse effects, including infection, edema or scarring. Darker skin types can experience a temporary or permanent increase or loss of skin pigmentation. Some patients also experience skin redness that can last for several months. In order to avoid the skin discoloration issues and other unwanted effects that may arise after a chemical peel, it is important to follow your doctor's post-procedure instructions for caring for the treated area.
Frequency and Cost
In order to obtain optimal results from a superficial peel, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a series of three to five treatments, which generally range between $150 and $300 each. The medium peel is often repeated two or more times, spaced out over the course of several months. Medium peels can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per treatment. The deep peel can cost from $2,500 to over $5,000, and can only be administered once per lifetime.