Chemical peels remove damaged outer layers of skin on the face to smooth texture, reduce scarring, and remove blemishes to produce healthy, glowing skin. There are three types of chemical peels, ranging from mild to strong – alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), trichloroacetic 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. They may be covered by insurance if they are performed for medical rather than cosmetic reasons.
Types of Chemical Peels
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. Patients may choose AHAs if they do not want the lengthy recovery time of a phenol or TCA peel. Occasionally AHAs, Retin-A (a prescription medication containing Vitamin A) or hydroquinone (a bleach solution) are used to thin the skin and even its tone as a pre-treatment for TCA peels.
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 are often less impressive and do 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.
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.