What is a chemical peel?
A skin peel (chemical peel) is a treatment for the skin, usually the face, intended to reduce fine lines and wrinkles caused, for example, by ageing, sun exposure and smoking. The objective is to create a fresher, smoother, more youthful appearance. The technique can also be helpful for problems such as acne scarring.
For many patients chemical peels are a viable alternative to laser resurfacing or older techniques such as dermabrasion. Peels can usually be carried out on an outpatient basis, without the need for admission to hospital.
What kind of people request this procedure?
- Middle aged and older people who are unhappy with their facial appearance because of fine lines and wrinkles
- People of all ages with facial scarring caused by acne
- Younger men and women who suffer from premature lines, blotchy discolouration and wrinkles caused by sun exposure, smoking or hereditary factors
- Peels may also be used after a facelift or eyelid surgery as an additional refinement
What is involved in a chemical peel?
This treatment uses a chemical substance (usually an acid) to remove the surface layer of damaged skin in a controlled fashion. As the skin heals, the new surface is left smoother and tighter.
The whole face can be treated, or selected areas. A patient undergoing a peel will usually have a numbing (local anaesthetic) cream applied for half an hour or so before treatment. Occasionally local anaesthetic injections may be recommended.
The skin is de-greased and the peeling chemical is painted on to the areas to be treated using cotton buds. The whole treatment is usually complete in ten to thirty minutes, depending on the area involved. A mild stinging sensation is usually felt during the peel; most patients find this tolerable.
At the end of treatment, soft paraffin ointment is put on the treated skin to soothe it and protect it.
What happens afterwards?
There is usually some weeping and crusting of the skin for a few days, rather like bad sunburn, and we recommend that the paraffin ointment supplied is used until this has stopped. The skin can feel sore during this stage, and there may be some swelling at first. Once the crusts have all separated a simple moisturiser can be used.
After a peel the treated skin tends to be pink for several weeks. This can be concealed using good-quality makeup. The skin gradually regains its natural colour, but until it has done so it is easily damaged by exposure to the sun or sunbeds, and must be protected with a high factor sun block.
Some patients require more than one peel to achieve the desired result. An interval of about two months or more is recommended between treatments.
Are there any risks?
Patients who have had a chemical peel rarely experience significant problems. However, on occasion the skin may continue to weep or crust for more than the usual few days, and this can be inconvenient.
Unusually, infection can occur in the treated skin. This is treated with antiseptic cream or antibiotics. Scarring may result from a severe infection or as a result of picking the crusts that develop in the first few days after treatment.
Abnormal or irregular pigmentation can occur. This is usually the result of exposing the skin to the sun before it has recovered fully from the peel.