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Frequently Asked Questions about Chemical Peels

As dermatologists, we’re constantly answering questions from patients whose only knowledge about cosmetic skin treatments like Botox® injections and laser procedures comes from popular culture and movies. While we’re thrilled that media is exposing patients to the fact that they have many options for addressing their cosmetic concerns, the information portrayed is often oversimplified, misconstrued, or exaggerated. To help you separate fact from fiction, our providers at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA) are here to answer a few common Hollywood-inspired questions about one of our most popular and versatile procedures: chemical peels.

Frequently Asked Questions about Chemical PeelsI had always thought of chemical peels as an anti-aging treatment, but I’ve recently heard of people in their 20s getting them—what can chemical peels actually treat?

While they can do wonders for wrinkles, peels are actually far more versatile than most people realize. The basic action of a chemical peel is to cause the body to reproduce the top layers of skin, activating the healing process and exfoliating away the current, usually sun-damaged skin. That means that a peel can essentially improve any issues that exist in that surface skin—fine lines, wrinkles, age spots, scars, melasma, rough skin, a dull or uneven complexion, and even active acne in some cases. It all depends on the specific formula used and the depth of your treatment.

I try to stick with natural foods and cosmetics, so that word “chemical” scares me a bit. Exactly what kinds of “chemicals” are we talking about?

Peels use different types of medical acids and acids derived from sugars like lactic and glycolic acid to impact your skin to varying degrees. For example, light peels often use alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) or another mild formula, while medium peels typically use glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and deeper peels usually use TCA or phenol. The specific type(s) of acid used in your chemical peel will depend on the aesthetic issues you want to target, and our providers can recommend the ideal peel for you.

What should I expect when I go in for my chemical peel appointment? What does the chemical peel process actually look like?

The first step is to clear away any products, oil, or debris on your skin, so one of our licensed medical aestheticians or other experienced and licensed medical professionals will begin by cleansing your skin. They will then brush on the solution (which will be matched to your specific aesthetic goals), and give it a specified amount of time to work, depending on the depth of peel you’re looking for. When the desired depth is reached, your provider will remove the solution and will typically apply cool compresses, soothing cream, or both. The entire process is rather brief, often lasting just 30 minutes to an hour, or even less for some lighter peels.

How much “peeling” are we talking about? Am I going to have to hide at home?

For anyone who’s picturing Mrs. Doubtfire taking that mask off, you can relax—the actual peeling is often milder than patients expect. While medium and deeper chemical peels will typically remind you of the peeling your skin undergoes after a hefty sunburn, lighter peels actually create a much more subtle exfoliation, resulting in little visible peeling. However, you will need to avoid sun exposure for several weeks and you may need some recovery time at home depending on the depth of your peel, so before your procedure, your provider will discuss the specific details of the treatment depth they would recommend for you.

I’ve seen some “home chemical peels” in ads and at the drug store. What’s the deal? Is this really something I can just do at home?

There are a select few home chemical peels that can be both safe and worth your time, like Baby Foot™, a chemical peel for the feet, although you’ll need to purchase this from a medical facility like our medical spa Skin Medics™ because it’s a medical-grade product. But for the most part, in order for a peel to be safe enough for home use, it will be incredibly mild and you can expect little or no visible improvement. When in doubt (especially for anything regarding your health and safety), have an experienced professional do the job instead.

Not only do patients sometimes underestimate the power and versatility of chemical peels, but they actually underestimate the number of cosmetic treatments that are truly available to them. So many patients live with aesthetic concerns that add stress and self-consciousness to their lives on a daily basis when there is a rather simple solution that they simply aren’t aware of. To discuss your cosmetic issues and the options available to help you, schedule a consultation at Dermatology Associates of Atlanta. Or, for skin care tips, special offers, and more, follow DAA on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.