What you can expect
Before the procedure
A chemical peel is usually done at an office or in an outpatient surgical facility. Before the procedure, your doctor will clean your face, protect your hair, and cover your eyes with ointment, gauze, tape or goggles.
Pain relief isn't typically needed for a light chemical peel. If you're having a medium peel, you might receive a sedative and painkiller. For a deep peel, you might have a sedative, something to numb the treatment area and fluids delivered through a vein.
During the procedure
During a light chemical peel:
- Your doctor will use a brush, cotton ball, gauze or sponge to apply a chemical solution typically containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
- You might feel mild stinging while the chemical solution is on your skin.
- Your doctor will apply a neutralizing solution or wash to remove the chemical solution from the treated skin.
During a medium chemical peel:
- Your doctor will use a cotton-tipped applicator or gauze to apply a chemical solution containing trichloroacetic acid, sometimes in combination with glycolic acid. The treated skin will begin to whiten.
- After a few minutes, your doctor will apply cool compresses to soothe treated skin. You might also be given a hand-held fan to cool your skin. No neutralizing solution is needed, however.
- You might feel stinging and burning for up to 20 minutes.
During a deep chemical peel:
- You'll be given intravenous (IV) fluids, and your heart rate will be closely monitored.
- Your doctor will use a cotton-tipped applicator to apply carbolic acid (phenol) to your skin. Treated skin will begin to turn white or gray.
- To limit your exposure to phenol, your doctor will do the procedure in portions at about 15-minute intervals. A full-facial procedure might take about 90 minutes.
After the procedure
After a chemical peel of any depth, your skin will be red, tight, irritated or swollen. Follow your doctor's directions for sun protection, cleansing, moisturizing and applying protective ointments to your skin. And avoid picking, rubbing or scratching your skin. It may take several months before your skin color returns to normal and you can see the full results of the peel.
After a light chemical peel, treated skin will be red, dry and mildly irritated — although these effects might be less noticeable with each repeat treatment. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the skin. You can usually wear makeup the next day if you wish.
Treated areas take about one to seven days to heal after a light chemical peel. New skin might temporarily be lighter or darker than normal.
After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen. You'll feel stinging. Your doctor might apply a protective ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to soothe the area and prevent dryness. After five to seven days, you can use cosmetics to cover any redness.
Use ice packs for comfort. Over-the-counter pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, others), may help reduce any discomfort. You'll likely schedule a checkup soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.
As swelling decreases, treated skin will begin to form a crust and might darken or develop brown blotches. Treated areas take about seven to 14 days to heal after a medium chemical peel, but redness might last for months.
After a deep chemical peel, you'll experience severe redness and swelling. You'll also feel burning and throbbing, and the swelling may even make your eyelids swell shut.
Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing to treated skin. He or she might also prescribe painkillers. You'll need to soak the treated skin and apply ointment several times a day for about two weeks.
Treated areas will develop new skin within about two weeks after a deep chemical peel, although redness might last for months. Treated skin might become darker or lighter than normal or lose the ability to tan.
You might prefer to remain at home while you're healing from a chemical peel. You'll likely need several follow-up visits soon after your treatment so that your doctor can monitor your healing.
Once new skin completely covers the treated area in about two weeks, you can use cosmetics to conceal any redness. Use sunscreen every day.