Chemical Peels

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At UT Southwestern Medical Center, our dermatologists and plastic surgeons are skilled in advanced therapies to improve skin appearance. We offer multiple options for chemical peels, based on the latest research, to help our patients look their best.

Latest in Chemical Peels for Skin Care

A chemical peel is a cosmetic procedure that can improve the appearance of skin on the face, neck, and hands. A chemical solution applied to the skin causes it to peel off. The new skin that regenerates is smoother, less wrinkled, and often more even in color.

Our dermatologists and plastic surgeons are experts in determining which type of chemical peels work best for each patient. As one of the premier cosmetic surgery clinics and research centers in the country, UT Southwestern leads the way in discovering new applications for chemical peels to attain a natural look.

Our surgeons and dermatologists have completed extensive training in plastic surgery and dermatology, respectively, after completing their medical residencies. Both types of physicians have earned board certifications from the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Dermatology.

Reasons to Consider a Chemical Peel

Patients can have a chemical peel on the face, neck, chest, hands, arms, or legs. Chemical peels can improve the appearance of:

  • Age or “liver” spots, freckles, or dark patches of skin
  • Certain types of acne
  • Actinic keratoses
  • Fine lines
  • Minor scarring
  • Uneven skin tone or texture
  • Wrinkles

Chemical peels:

  • Cannot improve loose or sagging skin
  • Do not remove deep scars
  • Cannot change pore size, but could make pore size less noticeable

Options for Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are effective options for many patients, but they’re not for everyone. Our skilled dermatologists and plastic surgeons can determine if the results will be successful based on a patient’s skin type, gender, ethnicity, and other factors, as well as their goals.  

After an evaluation, our specialists recommend safe, effective options to meet each patient’s goals. For some patients, combining treatments produces the most natural, refreshed look. Our goal is simply to achieve the best results for each patient.

At UT Southwestern, our skin care specialists offer chemical peels that include:

  • Light (superficial): A light chemical peel uses alpha hydroxy acid or other mild acids to gently exfoliate the outer layer of skin. Patients can have a light peel as often as every two to five weeks. They often require one to two days of peeling.
  • Medium: This peel uses trichloroacetic or glycolic acid to reach the middle layer of skin to remove damaged cells. To maintain results, patients can repeat a medium peel after three to nine months. Many patients peel over three to five days. 
  • Deep: Using carbolic acid (phenol) or trichloroacetic acid, a deep peel fully penetrates the middle layer to remove damaged skin. Patients can have a deep chemical peel only once a year on a particular area. Most patients require five to seven days to complete the peeling process. 

What to Expect

Preparation

Before a chemical peel, patients should inform the dermatologist or plastic surgeon if they have any history of keloids, recurring cold sores, or unusual scarring tendencies. The specialist works with each patient to decide on the depth of peel, based on their skin concerns and treatment goals. Patients often require pretreatment with certain products prior to their peel. 

Our specialists will tell patients whether they need to:

  • Stop taking certain medications before the procedure
  • Use special lotions before the procedure to prepare the skin
  • Have someone drive them home after the peel

Procedure

We perform chemical peels in our offices for our patients’ convenience. The procedure is slightly different depending on the type of peel.

Light chemical peel:

  • The specialist applies a chemical solution that might contain glycolic or salicylic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
  • Patients might feel mild stinging while the chemical solution is on the skin.
  • The specialist then applies a neutralizing solution or wash to remove the chemical solution.

Medium chemical peel:

  • The specialist applies a chemical solution containing trichloroacetic acid, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
  • After a few minutes, the specialist applies cool compresses to soothe treated skin. No neutralizing solution is needed.
  • Patients might feel stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes.

Deep chemical peel:

  • Patients receive intravenous (IV) sedation or an oral analgesic, and their heart rate will be closely monitored.
  • The specialist applies phenol or trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to the skin, which begins to turn white or gray.

To limit exposure to phenol, the specialist will do the procedure in 15-minute portions.

Recovery

Each patient’s recovery time and the effects experienced vary depending on the depth of the peel.

Light chemical peel:

  • The skin will be dry, red, and mildly irritated.
  • Treated areas can take one to two days to peel, and new skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than before treatment.
  • Results include improved skin texture and tone and reduced appearance of fine lines.

Medium chemical peel:

  • The skin will be red, tight, and swollen, and patients will feel stinging. Over-the-counter pain relievers help reduce discomfort.
  • Treated skin typically forms crusts and brown patches, then peels off over several days.
  • Treated areas take about three to five days to heal, and redness might last for several weeks.
  • Noticeably smoother skin is the main result.

Deep chemical peel:

  • The skin will be severely swollen and red, and patients will feel burning.
  • Patients typically need dressings, ointment, and prescription pain relievers during the first two weeks.
  • New skin begins to develop within two weeks, but cysts or white spots might occur for several weeks. Redness might last several months.
  • Treated areas show a dramatic improvement in skin texture and appearance.

Our specialists provide each patient with instructions for skin care during recovery and afterward to maintain results. The main recommendation is to avoid sun exposure and wear sunscreen.

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