Many of us are searching for instant gratification in the form of luminous, healthy skin.
A chemical peel could answer your prayers.
They can treat various skin conditions that boost that ‘lit from within’ glow.
And if the Google gods are to be believed, it’s minimal risk for big payoffs.
A safely performed peel administered by a professional can make your complexion look fabulous.
But when dispensed in the wrong hands, beware.
The complications that can arise when you put something as corrosive as lye on your face can have disastrous consequences.
Even when performed correctly, chemical peels aren’t quick and easy makeovers.
Many experience burn spots after chemical peel treatment.
If you’ve had a chemical peel and are worried about burns or scarring, this article is for you.
You can connect the dots and arm yourself with the knowledge to repair your skin.
Chemical Peels Should be taken Seriously
You are essentially causing an inflammatory response with acid, which can lead to problems.
Not only that, but after the treatment, you often apply active products on your skin that can penetrate at a depth where they should not go – certainly not on compromised skin which can lead to infections and irreparable damage.
Not everyone’s skin is ideal for peels. It all depends on your skin’s characteristics which we discuss below.
Bottom line: If your skin is impaired, it requires a super-healthy skin response, and if your skin is stressed, you are almost certainly at risk of damage.
We recommend you only use a high molecular weight hyaluronic acid on your skin in the first few days of the treatment to ensure your skin repairs and heals correctly. Otherwise, you may risk a granulosum infection, which can have long-term devastating consequences.
Lately, we have received many emails from readers who have experienced chemical peel burns or damaged skin due to poorly-performed peels.
Little do consumers know that professional-grade chemical peels can sometimes do more harm than good.
Mid to high-strength chemical peel treatments should only be carried out in a medical setting by an appropriately trained professional such as a qualified aesthetician, nurse, or doctor.
Peter from Canada wrote: I purchased a chemical peel online; I’d had a few facials in the past and was pretty confident it was something I could perform on myself at home. I wanted to treat some marks left behind by hormonal spots which wouldn’t fade. Upon application, the product started to sting almost immediately. My skin was burning; the pain was so unbearable I started panicking, and I quickly rinsed it off, but my skin remained red and blotchy for days afterwards. The area around my eyes was also super sensitive, and I couldn’t apply anything to my skin. It really hurt.
Di from Malta wrote: I had a VI PEEL chemical six months ago, and it has completely ruined my skin. A week after the peel, my skin texture started deteriorating rapidly. I am 35 years old, and my skin now resembles someone who looks more like 60. My whole face is filled with lines, and my inner cheeks have pores that have stretched, and I had no pores before this chemical peel; My skin now has a very shiny texture, but not in a good way. It’s raised and bumpy in some areas and almost looks like tiny pimples in between my pores. My face texture is thick and leathery and resembles someone with severe sun damage. I have lost my youthful skin and am at wit’s end; please help.
Jasmine from New Zealand wrote: Samantha, I want my experience to be a warning to all of those considering having a chemical peel. I had a facial with chemical peel at 12% TCA performed on me around two months ago to remove some minor scarring. But now, my skin has been destroyed. It’s constantly inflamed, very red crepe with small red spots all over it and lots of thin horizontal lines and the scars are worse. It has completely affected my mental health, and I am constantly reduced to tears. I did everything by the book and am at a loss. Can you help? I hope this is a lesson to anyone considering having a chemical peel.
Suzy from Australia wrote: Pre peel, my skin was generally smooth with a few shallow soft rolling scars on my cheek because I suffered from acne breakouts as a child. Post peel, I now have massive pores, Horrible orange peel texture, and it made my existing scars DEEPER?
Everything looks so uneven now and destroyed. The peel gave me broken capillaries all over my cheeks, I can’t go outside for 5 minutes without my whole face turning red, and it’s as though everything irritates it. Before a pimple would heal with a red mark, yet it now ‘heals with a dent or shallow indentation left behind, regardless of how tiny the pimple is. So not only am I suffering the scars from the peel itself, any small breakouts I get since continues to make matters worse. In your experience, has anyone ever had this after a peel and later recovered? I wouldn’t be so devastated if I didn’t think it was permanent; I would love it if you could shed some light on this for me, please.
Elizabeth from Australia wrote: I had a deep peel, and when I came around, I was groggy from the pain and medication. After 48 hours, the tape came off, and I had a thick scab over my entire face; this was normal but hadn’t been clearly explained to me, so understandably, I was extremely alarmed, and by this time, I realised I hadn’t thought this procedure through very clearly beforehand. My face was burned, red, and so swollen that I could hardly open my eyes, and I couldn’t open my mouth to talk, my skin formed a thick crust, and when the dressing came off, I could not recognise myself. Finally, after three months, the swelling has gone down, but I am experiencing terrible skin, which has scared me. I have included the chemical peel before and after photos. its really disturbing.
This natural and frightening side effect is not unusual; in a survey of 588 plastic surgeons, 21% reported that phenol scarred significantly, especially around the mouth and chin.
Furthermore, it was found that trichloroacetic acid in substantial concentrations is even more likely to leave scars than a phenol peel.
Understanding the Chemical Peel Treatment
These treatments are acid solutions with a much lower pH than your skin’s natural pH, usually around pH 5.0 (4.5 – 5.5).
Chemical peeling accelerates exfoliation induced by caustic agents; when applied to your skin, they can dissolve the “desmosome connections” – adhesive cell junctions that hold the build-up of dead skin on your face.
Depending on the depth of the peel, within 2-5 days of having a chemical peel, this dead skin dries and begins peeling off your face. It is called a “peel” because it causes controlled damage to your skin.
The release of cytokines and inflammatory mediators results in the thickening of your epidermis, which boosts collagen deposition and reorganises structural elements in your skin, giving your skin volume and bounce.
The result is an improved clinical appearance of your skin, fewer lines, decreased pigmentary dyschromia, reduced scarring, and a brighter, more youthful appearance.
This inflammation is a big concern when fixing certain skin conditions, especially when considering performing them at home.
For example, pigmentation runs very deep into your skin and the dermis. Acne also runs quite deep, and different acids and layers penetrate to varying depths into your skin.
This is why it is essential to understand where your skin conditions are sitting within the skin layers when choosing an acid, something your skin care specialist can advise you on.
The article “Chemical Peels 101” is a complete guide if you want to learn more.
Here is an indication of the depth of the peels:
If you have mild hyperpigmentation, you can use hydroxy acids, from superficial peels like glycolic, mandelic, and salicylic to very superficial, like lactic, which is very hydrating.
However, suppose you have dermal melasma that has been problematic and unyielding.
In that case, you must use a multi-layered peel and most likely combine it with other modalities, such as melanin inhibitors, to reach the depths where it lies. C+ complex is an excellent example of a melanin inhibitor.
A medium-depth chemical peel is best for stubborn pigmentation problems and may include TCA at 13%, 20% and 30% at multiple layers.
Deep peels may contain TCA 50% or higher and intense phenol peels.
Complications that can arise
In our clinic, we have seen several troubling conditions as a result of chemical peels performed, including:
Allergic reactions and recurrent inflammation
Permanent textural changes: This is a common problem in our client’s skin, including lines of demarcation.
Scarring: Persistent erythema that continues for more than four weeks after a peel indicates early scarring – you should see a dermatologist and ensure you are treated with potent topical corticosteroids to prevent scarring and infection.
Pigmentary changes: Postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and even hyperpigmentation can be persistent and often difficult to treat.
Bacterial infections: These include staphylococcus, streptococcus, and pseudomonas.
Viral infections include herpes simplex and fungal infections like candida.
Toxicity: Although rare, these reactions can occur with resorcinol, salicylic acid, and phenol peels.
This is an interesting article on complications of medium depth and deep peels.
It’s a serious procedure and not for everyone.
As a general rule, most reasonably healthy people can have chemical peels.
It is important to note that there are some health conditions and skin characteristics that can make a chemical peel less effective and increase the risk of side effects:
- if you have an aspirin allergy
- if you suffer from any autoimmune diseases
- if you have diabetes, your skin will be thin
- if you have had any prior chemical peel sensitivities
- women who are actively trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding
- if you have undergone any recent facial surgical procedures
- if you spend a lot of time outdoors and have direct sun exposure
- if you have had any current radioactive or chemotherapy treatments
- if you suffer from seborrheic dermatitis, collagen disease, atopic, eczema, or rosacea
- if you have warts, an active Herpes lesion, or a history of keloidal scarring
- if you have any broken skin, have recently waxed, or have recently used a depilatory cream like Nair
- if you have a naturally darker skin tone, you may be at an increased risk for pigmentation concerns related to peels
- if you have poorly managed chronic skin conditions, you should avoid chemical peel treatment
- If you are on or have in the last six months received acne treatment like Accutane, it can increase your risk of scarring.
Dangers of a Chemical Peel
Inflammation, scabbing and swelling: Normal healing from a chemical peel on face, especially a deep chemical peel, means your skin will be inflamed after treatment which can last a few months.
Changes in skin colour: A chemical peel, known as hyperpigmentation, can cause treated skin to become darker than usual. In some cases, it may also cause your skin to go lighter than usual (referred to as hyperpigmentation), which is more common after a deep peel.
Infection: A chemical peel can lead to a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, such as a flare-up of the herpes virus — the virus that can cause cold sores. The compromised state of your skin’s barrier function after a chemical peel may contribute to the spread of infection to the area.
Heart, kidney or liver damage: In extreme cases, deep chemical peels that traditionally use phenol can damage the heart muscle and cause your heart to beat irregularly. Phenol peels can harm the kidneys and liver. They have usually carried out a portion at a time to limit exposure to the peel in 10 to 20-minute intervals.
Increased risk for pigmentation: The primary risk factor for pigmentation problems is high in moderate to highly-pigmented skin types (skin phototypes III to VI ).
Increased risk for poor wound healing: Caution is necessary for medium-depth or deep chemical peeling if you have medical conditions that inhibit normal wound healing after the procedure. Contraindications include other factors that may also impede recovery. These include Accutane®, Retin-A®, medications within the last six months that could exfoliate or thin your skin, a history of radiation therapy in the treated area, or certain medications like systemic glucocorticoids or other medications diseases that impair wound healing (such as diabetes).
Increased risk for hypertrophic or keloidal scarring: Those with a history of keloidal or hypertrophic scarring may risk such scars following a peel. We consider a history of keloidal scarring on the face a contraindication for those having a chemical peel treatment.
Pre-existing skin disease: Relative contraindications include active inflammatory skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, acne vulgaris in the treatment area and skin disorders including flat warts, lichen planus, psoriasis, and vitiligo.
Professional Versus at Home
When skincare specialists perform your peel, they will perform a pre and post-consultation to ensure everything is thoroughly sterilised to prevent infection.
During treatment, they will constantly monitor your skin for any unusual rashes, swelling, erythema, frosting, and other tell-tale signs that the acid may need to be neutralised or that the chemical peel could be progressing too deeply.
They will also provide you with the correct home care, which should be about keeping everything to a minimum and not applying anything topical which could harm your skin.
Instead, opt for a product like our H₂O hydrating complex, which contains high molecular weight hyaluronic acid.
When you are in the privacy of your own home, you do not have the luxury of having a professional ensuring that you do not damage your skin.
A chemical peel at home of good quality is usually buffered with slightly higher pH levels to give you extra time and safety.
This does not necessarily mean that “buffered peels” with slightly higher pH levels are not decisive; remember that chemical peels are based on unnatural pH levels and can harm your skin if you are not careful.
To conclude. The naked truth
As you can see, a chemical peel should not be taken lightly.
It is used to treat many skin conditions, including; pigmentation, photo ageing, superficial scarring, premature ageing and more.
Before embarking upon a chemical peel, do your research well because there are so many reasons why you should NOT have a chemical peel, including; Infections, inflammation, redness, scarring, and pigmentation.
There are various depths of peels, superficial and medium-depth, which are the safest.
Your skin care specialist will select the type and depth according to the pathology of your skin condition.
You will be given a thorough consultation and advice on pre-treatment procedures to prime your skin.
They will also give you supportive medical therapy and complete postoperative home care.
This must be considered to guarantee a safe and satisfactory outcome and keep your skin health intact.