Chemical Peels for Acne

Chemical peels for acne are a popular and effective option that can drastically improve your acne along with the overall appearance of your skin. Chemical peels work by removing the surface layers of the skin in order to expose the fresh and unaffected layers below.

The practitioner, typically an esthetician or dermatologist, applies the selected chemical peel solution to your face.

Chemical peels for acne

Then, depending on the depth of the peel, you may feel heat, stinging or some pain for a few minutes.

The process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the peel.

Afterwards, skin begins to redden, flake and peel off — similar to a sunburn. Your skin reacts as if it's been wounded or injured and then begins the healing process. This leaves behind a new, smoother layer of skin, with improved texture, clarity, and tone.

Just like all other skin cosmetic procedures, you will need to consult a qualified cosmetic surgeon to evaluate your acne condition and other factors to determine which chemical peel would work best for you.

3 Categories Of Chemical Peels for Acne:

1. Mild Chemical Peel

Alphahydroxy acids (AHAs) or Betahydroxy acids (BHAs) are used in mild chemical peels. AHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic, citric, malic, or tartaric acids work on the surface layers of skin to improve fine lines, dry skin, mild acne, and uneven pigmentation or sun-damage.

BHAs, such as salicylic acid, are also often used in chemical peels for acne. They serve to exfoliate the skin while also killing acne-causing bacteria.

Light chemical peels are ideal for patients who want a shorter recovery period. AHA and BHA peels do not generally require a lot of downtime, but it's normal for patients to experience mild redness, irritation, and possible crusting.

And lighter chemical peels usually require that treatments be repeated every six weeks or so to achieve the desired results.

2. Medium Chemical Peel

The main ingredient in medium chemical peels is usually Trichloroacetic acid (TCA).

TCA chemical peels work on deeper skin levels to deliver a tightening and resurfacing effect and to reduce blemishes and brown spots. TCA peels can also enhance blood circulation in the skin and stimulate collagen production. Generally the skin is left looking fresher and more supple.

The strength or concentration of the TCA will determine how deep the peel works. Similar to the light chemical peel, repeat peeling sessions are often needed to achieve the desired results.

Depending on the depth of peeling, it can take 2 to 4 weeks for the skin to recover fully.

Patients who are going for TCA peel may require pre-treatment with Retin-A or AHA creams. After the treatment, the patient should stay away from sunlight in order to avoid sun damage, skin blotchiness, or hyperpigmentation.

This treatment is the preferred choice for darker-skinned patients over the Phenol peel.

3. Deep Chemical Peel

The strongest and most intense chemical peel you can get is called a Phenol peel. Phenol is a very strong, acidic solution that dissolves cells and reaches much deeper into the lower layers of the skin to produce deep peeling. Essentially phenol peels penetrate several layers of skin and cause a second-degree burn.

Deep chemical peels are typically reserved for severely aged skin with deep wrinkles, or for treatment of deep acne scarring.

With a deep chemical peel, a single treatment can produce significant and long-lasting results. However, the peel procedure takes longer (around 1 to 2 hours) and also requires a longer recovery time (usually up to 2 weeks of serious healing time is needed).

Phenol peels are NOT suitable for everyone. They are not recommended for patients who have dark skin and for those with heart problems. Phenol peels have a high risk for creating hyperpigmentation, heightened levels of sensitivity to sunlight, or cardiac problems.

The dermatologist or skin care specialist would be the best person to determine whether a phenol chemical peel is suitable for you.

Candidates for Chemical Peels for Acne:

The best candidates for acne chemical peels are those patients who have superficial acne or acne scars alone (yes, you can use a chemical peel for acne scars as well).

Patients who have severe and very active acne and those who are pregnant or lactating may not be good candidates for a pimple chemical peel procedure.

On the first chemical peel consultation, the dermatologist would analyze the extent and degree of the acne problem. After that, the dermatologist will recommend the most appropriate chemical peel based on your skin color and overall skin type (oily, dry, etc.)

What results can I expect?

Your results will depend on your skin condition and the depth of the peel. Generally, deeper peels at higher concentrations produce more dramatic results. However, this isn't necessarily the case when it comes to chemical peels for acne.

For example, peels with AHAs and salicylic acid are relatively mild, but can improve acne. Yet, TCA peels at higher concentrations produce little improvement for acne.

What do chemical peels cost?

Chemical peels can range from $150 to $6,000. The price depends on the chemicals used and whether anesthesia, medication or hospitalization is necessary (as with deeper peels). AHA peels (such as glycolic acid) are the least expensive, followed by TCA peels and then phenol peels. The average costs are around:

  • AHA peel: $190
  • TCA peel: $380
  • Phenol peel: $1,100

Who should avoid chemical peels?

Chemical peels aren't appropriate for:

  • Anyone with a heart condition
  • Pregnant or lactating women
  • People with eczema, lupus, psoriasis, rosacea or those who bruise easily
  • Patients with weakened immune systems
  • Individuals taking Accutane, other acne drugs or those who use Retin-A
  • People with very dry or sensitive skin
  • Anyone who's had herpes or cold sores in the past. Chemical peels can trigger outbreaks.

Chemical peels for acne can drastically improve a patient's acne condition and the overall appearance of their skin. However, they do come with potential risks and side effects, and may not be effective at treating all kinds of acne conditions.

Chemical peel procedures should only be undergone after proper consultation and evaluation of your acne conditions with a qualified dermatologist or skin specialist.

Depending on your budget and skin conditions, chemical peels for acne are sometimes combined with microdermabrasion, laser resurfacing, and/or dermal fillers to achieve the desired results.

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