Potential Risks and Complications of a Chemical Peel

In a chemical peel, a dermatological surgeon applies a chemical solution to your skin, and lets it soak. There are different kinds of chemical peels; they vary in terms of the strength of the chemicals used and the depth to which the chemicals penetrate your skin. The deeper the chemical peel penetrates, the higher the risk involved. Here's what you should know about the risks of chemical peels.

Types of Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are used to destroy the surface of your skin so that new, smoother, younger looking skin can grow in its place. Chemical peels can be mild, moderate or deep; mild and moderate peels are used to treat fine lines and wrinkles, acne scarring and similar conditions, while deep chemical peels are a surgical procedure reserved for the most severe cases of scarring and disfigurement.

Risks of Mild and Moderate Chemical Peels

Mild or superficial peels are the gentlest and mostly commonly performed type of chemical peel. They use a gentle acid, usually glycolic acid, to remove the surface of your skin and improve the look of fine lines and wrinkles and minor blemishes. They're done on an outpatient basis, and they don't require any anesthesia because the discomfort associated with them is so mild. Your skin will heal very quickly after a mild chemical peel, usually in less than five days, and you probably won't experience any difficulty in returning to your normal routine right away; risks of mild chemical peels involve mild irritation and reddening of the skin and increased chance of sunburn.

Moderate or medium peels are also done on an outpatient basis, but you'll need to recover at home for as long as a week because the peel causes a second degree burn on the affected area. Medium peels don't heal completely for at least two weeks following the procedure, but after the first week has passed your skin should be sufficiently healed to allow you to use make up to cover the wounds. Your skin will blister, turn brown, crust and flake off during the healing process, but this is normal. Medium chemical peels carry a risk of pain and increased chance of sunburn.

If you receive a mild or medium peel you should stay out of the sun altogether for the first 24 hours, then wear sunscreen on the area every single day until the peeling stops. Keep your skin moisturized or it could crack, bleed and scar. Other risks include:

  • Permanent color changes to the treated area
  • Allergic reaction to the chemicals
  • Infection

Risks of Deep Chemical Peels

Deep chemical peels use harsh acids, usually phenol, to produce a deep second degree burn. You'll need to be placed under general anesthesia for this procedure, and it may take between two weeks and several months for your skin to heal afterward. You'll need pain relievers, steroids, antivirals and antibiotics afterward.

In addition to the risks discussed above, deep chemical peels carry serious risks including liver, kidney and heart failure. Deep peels are only done on the face, and they're only used to treat severe skin damage, pigment changes, lesions and skin tumors. You can only have one deep peel.

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