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Phenol Peel Treatment 101 in 2023

Phenol Peel: What's the deal with the peel?

Do you have deep facial wrinkles, skin damaged by the sun, or scars?

Then a phenol peel might be the treatment for you.

Once considered the godfather of peels, they’re the deepest peel you can have.

Whilst they offer wonderful results, they must be used cautiously.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the deal with the phenol peel.

Understanding Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are applied to your skin to loosen the bonds that bind the dead skin cells to your skin, encouraging cellular renewal to reveal new undamaged skin cells.

Many AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) peels and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) peels are mild, encourage gentle shedding of your skin cells and flush out debris from pores, and can even be performed at home.

But not all chemicals are created equal; you could go as far as to say they are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

They go way deeper than your skin’s superficial layer and are the deepest and most aggressive chemical peel that induces the shedding of the epidermis and the dermis, which houses all your blood vessels and nerve ending.

This is why they should never have the phenol peel as an at-home treatment.

We have written extensively about chemical peels; this article contains the 101 chemical peel guide.

What is a Phenol Peel?

Phenol or Benzenol is an organic molecule derived from petroleum derivatives known as carbolic or phenolic acids carbolic acid.

It is one of the strongest peels available, so strong, infact, that it is often administered under IV sedation.

Why? Because the pain would be pretty unbearable, even with a numbing cream.

And due to its corrosive nature, a full recovery may take many weeks or months.

What are the Benefits?

They are used in aesthetics because they penetrate deep into the skin — thus causing a controlled injury that, when healed, can produce dramatic results.

This type of skin resurfacing can treat signs of severe sun damage, discolouration, acne scars, blemishes, and precancerous growths.

They can also diminish deep wrinkles and lines, boosting collagen and elastin fibres.

Essentially renewal and rejuvenation take place in all layers of your skin, and you’ll be left with a smoother, clearer, younger-looking layer of skin.

One phenol peel treatment can produce long-lasting and dramatic results lasting up to 10 years.

How do I Prepare for a Phenol Peel?

Because phenol peel treatments are no walk in the park,  you must mitigate the risks beforehand.

A deep chemical peel usually involves some pre-treatment for up to eight weeks, especially if you have pigment disorders like melasma. This will prepare your skin and speed up the healing process.

Pre-treatment will involve a thorough consultation, and you will have to stop using actives at least six weeks beforehand; your specialist will advise you of all the pre-treatment requirements.

The Phenol Peel Procedure

  • at the beginning of each treatment, you will be given a comprehensive consultation and facial analysis
  • you will then be given a sedative to relax along with a local anaesthetic which will numb your face
  • your face is then thoroughly cleansed
  • during treatment, your specialist will apply liquid phenol to segments of your face, and then they will allow it to absorb
  • the solution is methodically brushed onto your skin and observed for its rate of change
  • multiple layers can be applied to problem areas, such as deep wrinkles or scars
  • the phenol solution will cause your skin to frost, making it turn white as it chemically exfoliates away impurities
  • once treatment is complete, the answer will be neutralised and removed from your skin
  • following treatment, a soothing ointment is applied to your face to keep the skin moisturised
  • your skin may be covered with a bandage
  • the treatment will usually last around one hour and should cause very little pain; generally, the intensity will match the requirements of your facial skin concerns.

Post Procedure

Phenol is a chemical that penetrates down to your dermis, where the nerve endings are, and any substance with that kind of power is bound to hurt.

While you will be offered sedatives or anaesthetics, the pain will still register at about a five or six on a scale of one to ten.

The pain usually occurs for the first six to eight hours, and cooling devices can relieve pain during this phase. After 24 hours, the pain should subside.

Although phenol peels are performed on an outpatient basis, we recommend staying over if given the opportunity because medical care and monitoring are essential.

The following day, your bandage will be removed. You should expect to see your face swollen, which is why you’re advised to rest for at least a week.

Although the swelling will disappear in about two weeks, your skin can remain red for up to three months.

Your practitioner will usually give you painkillers to keep you comfortable.

What to Expect from a Phenol Peel Treatment 

A phenol peel should only be administered by a board-certified dermatologist or plastic surgeon in a clinic-based setting.

Your vital signs are constantly monitored due to the potential effects that phenol can have on cardiac function in an overdose situation.

Deep peels require more downtime, and you must use an experienced practitioner to perform the chemical peel.

This is because the frosting level determines the penetration depth and can quickly cause adverse side effects, especially if not administered correctly.

Phenol Peel Risks

Whilst a phenol peel treatment produces beautiful results, there are potential side effects to be aware of:

  • scarring
  • sedation is used
  • Deep peels come with the risk of hypo-pigmentation
  • they can cause demarcation between the face and neck
  • they can only be performed by a dermatologist, doctor or plastic surgeon
  • the chemical used in a deep chemical peel is phenol which can lighten your skin that’s treated, referred to in the industry as post-inflammatory pigmentation
  • it is also important to note with this kind of peel; your new skin can lose its ability to tan normally
  • it is essential to have an experienced practitioner perform a phenol peel, as the depth of penetration is determined by the level of frosting and can quickly cause adverse side effects, especially if not administered correctly

The article on five things to expect before and after a chemical peel is worth a read.

When to Avoid a Phenol Peel?

  • If you have very dark skin,
  • if you have inflammatory rashes
  • if you have insulin-dependent diabetes
  • if you have heart conditions, in case of impaired cardiac, hepatic or renal function.

Phenol peels can have hazardous side effects; if you have a heart condition, for example, the absorption of phenol through your skin can result in nerve damage and a change in heart rhythms, which can be fatal.

During the consultation, they will take—a complete account of your medical history.

To conclude. The naked truth

Once upon a time, the only option for smoothing coarse wrinkles or acne scars.

But they have become less common today since ablative lasers such as CO2 and YAG arrived.

Whilst we don’t offer this treatment in our practice, we did want to write an in-depth article about it because we often get asked about phenol peel treatments.

And over the years, we have had many clients referred to us due to poorly-performed phenol peels.

As you can see, this treatment is not to be taken lightly; there is much to think about pre, during, and post-treatment and many conditions that can contraindicate it.

A phenol peel is only recommended if you have moderate to severe acne scarring, deep wrinkles, or dark spots from chronic UV exposure and are not a candidate for other treatments.

Before having a deep phenol peel, seeking medical advice and researching well is essential, so you can be safe knowing this is a suitable treatment.

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