Chemical Peel

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What are risks, side effects, and dangers of chemical peels?

The risks, side effects, and complications of chemical peels include scarring, infection, reactivation of herpes simplex infections, and a substantial contrast in coloration of the treated skin. All patients will have a recuperation period, the length of which depends upon the depth of the peel. Deep peels can result in substantial periods of healing on the order of weeks. Deep peels generally require extensive local anesthesia, conscious sedation, and occasionally general anesthesia, which carries its own risks.

How are chemical peels performed?

Superficial peels rarely require anesthesia but are accompanied by a burning sensation when the solution is applied. This can be relieved by the application of cool compresses and fan-aided evaporation. Deeper peels often require extensive local anesthesia, systemic sedation, and rarely, general anesthesia. The peeling process begins with the application of a defatting solvent (acetone or alcohol) which is wiped uniformly over the area to be treated. The peeling solution is then applied for the appropriate time period and then halted by the application of a neutralizing solution. Bandages are applied to the treated area, and the patient is sent home to convalesce.

How does one prepare for a chemical peel?

Often it is suggested to pretreat patients with tretinoin cream for a period of time prior to the peel. People who get cold sores (herpes simplex infections) should start on antiviral medications like acyclovir (Zovirax) one week prior to treatment and continue taking these for two weeks after therapy to prevent reactivation of cold sores. All patients should be encouraged to use high SPF sunscreens prior to and after peeling. Those with darker skin may also require pretreatment with hydroquinone preparations.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/20/2015

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