What Happens To Your Skin During A Chemical Peel?

It might sound like a scary proposition that you feel might leave you looking like a cousin to Freddie Krueger, but chemical peels are a trusted cosmetic procedure that dermatologists can use to treat wrinkles, skin discoloration, and scars. Research shows the procedure, in some form or another, has actually been around for a few thousand years (via Wiley Online Library). In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if we found out Cleopatra has had a chemical peel or two, because ancient Egyptians used sour milk (lactic acid) to improve their skin. Chemical peels these days are so popular, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says around 1.4 million of the treatments were given in 2017 (via HuffPost).

Depending on your condition, a peel can be light, medium, or deep, but all three are meant to do the same thing — they use acid to wear away the top layers of skin, making your skin tone look more even, and making fine lines and wrinkles look less obvious in the process. Because the top layers of your skin are removed, you can also expect your skin texture and tone to improve. Even in the case of a light peel, you might expect your wrinkles to disappear after repeated treatments (via Mayo Clinic).

What can you expect when you get a chemical peel?

When we talk about chemical peels, we usually refer to the light peels, which take place in a dermatologist's office. The doctor will use a brush or cotton ball to apply the chemical solution which may either contain glycolic or salicylic acid. You can expect to feel your skin tingle a bit before the chemical is neutralized and removed, and you can expect your skin to heal between one to seven days.

Medium peels are applied the same way, except that you may feel stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes. Your doctor might also give you OTC pain relief medication and ask you for a follow-up visit to ensure the healing is going well. The treated areas may take up to two weeks to heal, but the redness that accompanies a medium peel can last for several months. A deep peel can only be done once and you will need to get on IV fluids throughout the procedure. Carbolic acid is used, and you can expect severe redness and swelling, and new skin may be visible in about two weeks.