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Would you see a doctor to get your face injured on purpose? If your instinctive answer is "no" (as indeed it should be!), think again: that's essentially exactly what chemical peels are all about. Using abrasive substances, these peels create controlled damage on the skin that allow old skin cells to literally "peel" off, so that they can be replaced by new and better-looking skin.
If all of that sounds unpleasant, that's because it can be. There are plenty of reasons to submit to a chemical peel, however. Are you dealing with acne, acne scars, fine lines, age spots, sun damage, darker patches of skin, or has your skin just been looking a little worse for wear? Chemical peels may well send your skin problems packing.
Types Of Chemical Peel
Chemical peels essentially come in three different categories: superficial, medium, and deep. The effect of a particular peel is determined by the strength of the acid used, how it is applied, and how long it remains on the skin as well as by the ingredients found within it. A very wide range of ingredients is used in chemical peels today, and we can't cover them all. However, here's a brief overview.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, and malic acid are used for superficial peels. These superficial chemical peels are suitable for people who would like to refresh their overall look. They can treat mild brown spots, slightly reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and improve mild sun damage. Though AHA is now present in numerous cosmetics that will allow consumers to maintain a milder version of the effects attained by chemical peels at home, AHA peels achieve a more radical effect more quickly. A series of AHA peels will allow you to achieve more striking results than a single peel. In any case, such peels are designed to leave you looking more refreshed.
Though you can go home right away after getting a light peel and will usually be able to wear makeup again immediately, keep in mind that it still takes around a week for your skin to fully heal. You need to be diligent about using sunscreen along with the moisturizer recommended by your practitioner.
Trichloracetic acid (TCA) peels are already much more potent. They can target wrinkles as well as sun damage, minor scars left over from acne, chickenpox, or small injuries, and pigmentation changes of the skin including even melasma. Certain types of acne can also improve with the use of medium-strength TCA peels. As with AHA peels, TCA peels may be done in a series, in this case usually of two or three, to provide cumulative improvement.
Medium-strength TCA peels come with a "downtime", during which your skin processes what just happened to it, that lasts around a week. You will carefully have to follow your surgeon's instructions and may want to take some time off work due to the fact that you'll look like you've just experienced a severe sunburn. (Yes, your skin will be very sensitive to the sun, and you'll have to wear sunscreen and avoid retinoids for the duration of time advised.)
Deep peels using phenol, also called carbolic acid, are serious business: you can't have a phenol peel more than once. You may consider talking about a phenol peel if your skin is severely sun damaged, you have deeper wrinkles, you suffer from more severe pigmentation challenges, or even if you have certain precancerous skin conditions.
Such peels may take up to 21 days to heal, and will certainly require you to take it easy, so plan on taking time off work. Going in the sun simply isn't an option after a deep peel. Though other peels can cause some discomfort, deeper peels will require anesthesia as well as the use of post-procedure analgesics at home. You may also take antiviral medications to protect your injured skin from infection while it is healing. Deep peels are, essentially, a kind of "surgery". Though they can achieve truly amazing results, they aren't to be taken lightly at all.