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What Is A Chemical Peel?


While Botox® and dermal fillers can erase lines and wrinkles, one of the keys to looking younger lies in how healthy our skin looks. Chemical peeling is one of the oldest beauty secrets in the book. Chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution to the surface of the skin to produce the careful removal of its outer layers. The amount of skin removed will depend on the type of chemical used, the strength of this product and how long it is left on the skin.

Chemical peels come in different strengths ranging from superficial peels, which have minimal downtime and can be done in your lunch hour, to deep peels which can give dramatic results but which involve a longer recovery time and more serious side effects. You will usually require a course of treatments with superficial peels but they can also be a great way to give your skin a boost before a special occasion. Most aesthetic clinics and beauty salons offer chemical peels but beware that if you are visiting a beauty therapist they are only able to do superficial peels with a PH level of more than 2.5. For stronger peels you will need to visit a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, cosmetic doctor or nurse. Although they are most commonly used on the face, chemical peels can also rejuvenate the skin on the back of the hands and the décolleté, which can give away your age as much as your face.

Am I a Candidate? – Chemical peels can be used on most areas of the body, but the most common use is to improve the appearance of discoloured or sun damaged skin on the face, décolleté and the backs of the hands. While superficial peels are best for brightening the complexion and smoothing fine lines, you will require a deeper peel to even out the skin tone or reduce the appearance of deeper lines and wrinkles. Chemical peels cannot reduce pore size or tighten sagging skin.

Before Chemical Peeling – There are several chemical peel options, so at your first consultation it is important to explain what you expect from the treatment and how you would like to look afterwards. An experienced cosmetic surgeon, doctor or nurse should then be able to identify the right peel to treat your problem areas.

During Chemical Peel Treatment

  • Superficial peels are a quick and easy procedure using glycolic acid. The face is cleansed to allow the glycolic acid to be absorbed into the skin, the peel is then quickly painted onto the area to be treated and is left for 2-10 minutes before being washed off. This mild peel generally needs to be repeated weekly for 4-6 weeks to obtain a good result, which can then be maintained with monthly peels.
  • For medium-depth peels, the skin is thoroughly cleansed, then an even layer of the peeling agent is applied to the treatment area, which gradually dries over several minutes. A fan is sometimes used to help cool the face, then once the peel has set, cool pads soaked in a salt water solution are used to remove the peel. This type of peel may be repeated monthly until the desired effect is achieved.
  • Deep peels usually use phenol – a strong chemical that produces dramatic results. A local anaesthetic block may be used prior to a phenol peel to ‘freeze’ the face and ensure you do not experience any pain during treatment. Again, the skin is cleansed and phenol is applied to the area to be treated then the peel gets to work for up to 30 minutes before being carefully removed. Just one phenol peel treatment can produce dramatic improvements to the skin with results lasting several years.

Recovery – In general, most patients can return to normal activities immediately after a superficial peel procedure. For medium depth peels, you may take a week or so to recover depending on how well you heal, your age (older skin tends to heal less quickly) and any post-treatment complications. Recovery from deep peels can take several weeks.

Benefits – Mild or superficial chemical peels can quickly and easily remove some of the dead outer layers of the skin resulting in improved skin tone and a reduction in the appearance of very fine lines. More aggressive medium-depth and deep peels require some healing time, but can reduce the appearance of deeper lines and wrinkles, along with scarring or sun damage.

Side Effects of Chemical Peels – The depth of chemical peel relates directly to the pain experienced and number of side effects. While superficial peels have few risks and side effects, such as a mild stinging sensation and some slight redness to the skin post-peel, medium and deep peels tend to create some swelling and redness post-treatment. If you opt for a deeper peel, expect to feel some stinging during the peel and some severe redness for up to six weeks afterwards. For medium peels, the skin will peel over a 5-6 day period, and may begin to itch during this healing phase. For deep peels, it may be up to 14 days before the skin has fully peeled. Hyperpigmentation is a common side effect of chemical peels, so it is recommended to use sunscreen with a high protection factor whenever you go outside post-peel.

Types of Chemical Peel – There are three main types of chemical peel: superficial peels which usually contain some form of hydroxy acid to remove the top layer of dead skin cells. A superficial peel is akin to exfoliating the skin to give you a nice healthy glow. Medium depth peels involve the use of stronger peeling solutions such as TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) which achieves a controlled and even peel to remove more layers of the skin. Finally, there are deep peels which usually use phenol or stronger concentrations of TCA to remove more layers of skin for the treatment of very noticeable discolouration or deeper wrinkles. Find out more about the types of chemical peels.

Cost – The cost of a chemical peel will vary depending on the type of peel you are having. This can be anywhere from £50 for a superficial peel to £2,000 for a deeper peel.

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