Chemical peels are a process whereby the outer layer of skin is removed by a controlled chemical injury to improve the appearance of skin.
There are three types of chemical peels: “light,” “medium,” and “deep,” each referring to the depth of skin that the peel penetrates. Light peels are considered to be quite safe. At worst, they can lead to a tingling sensation and temporary redness. In some cases, temporary skin darkening is also possible.Medium and deep peels can cause skin discoloration. This is particularly true for those with darker skin tones, who may experience permanent skin lightening.
While some light peels can be done safely at home, working with a professional will typically yield better results. Dermatologists are the best equipped professionals to perform medium and deeper peels, which can be dangerous if performed incorrectly.
1. Review your medical history with your doctor
You’ll need to be prepared to answer a series of questions about any current or past medical conditions, namely regarding your heart, liver, or kidneys.
You’ll also need to tell your doctor about any medications you’re currently taking, or were taking until recently, especially anything that might make your skin sensitive to the sun. Be sure to also let your doctor know about any past cosmetic procedures you have undergone.
Lastly, if you’re using a retinoid cream it’s important to tell your doctor, because this can increase some chemical peels’ ability to soak into the skin.
2. Discuss your expectations with your provider
This should include your motivations for the procedure, your expectations for the outcome, and any potential risks involved in your treatment.
It’s important that you understand exactly how many treatments you will need, how long it will take for you to fully heal, and what kind of results you can and can expect.
3. Have a physical exam performed, even before trying an at-home peel
Certain traits, like the tone and thickness of your skin, can have an impact on your results. Your physician will be able to advise you on the best products to use.
4. Tell your provider if you have a history of herpes (cold sores) around the mouth
You will most likely be asked to take an antiviral medication before and after treatment. This can help prevent a viral infection, and is just one of the reasons it is so critical to discuss your medical history with your doctor beforehand.
5. If you decide on a light peel, you might be asked to use a glycolic acid lotion
Using a lotion for two weeks before your procedure will allow you to determine if you’re sensitive to glycolic acid before the actual peel. It will also prepare your skin and ensure that it peels evenly.
6. Try using a retinoid cream before a light or medium depth peel
This can help shorten the treatment time and speed up the recovery process.
7. Certain products can help prevent the skin from darkening unevenly
Depending on your skin tone, your doctor might recommend that you start using a bleaching agent along with a retinoid cream before and after your treatment.
8. Make sure you’re always protected when exposed to the sun
You’ll need to use sunscreen and perhaps a wide brimmed hat for at least 4 weeks before your treatment.This helps prevent uneven or irregular pigmentation in the treated areas.
Be sure to discuss appropriate sun protection with your doctor.
9. Avoid certain cosmetic treatments and hair removal products a week prior to your procedure
Specifically, avoid bleach and facial scrubs (unless otherwise directed by your doctor), and refrain from waxing or using hair removal creams or lotions, such as Nair.
10. If you’re going to be sedated for the peel, have someone take you home afterwards
Many medium and deep peels use some form of sedation, and it is unlikely you will be able to drive afterwards because of the lasting effects of the anesthesia administered.
Protip: While deeper peels offer more drastic results, they use harsher peeling agents, which increase both recovery time and the potential risk involved. Read: After The Chemical Peel: 10 Recovery Tips
- Nikalji, N., Godse, K., Sakhiya, J., Patil, S., & Nadkarni, N. (2012). Complications of medium depth and deep chemical peels. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 5(4), 254-60. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560165