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Chemical peel treatments

Chemical peels, also known as chemexfoliation or derma-peeling, use a chemical on the face that makes the skin peel off allowing new skin to replace it. The new, regenerated skin is usually smoother and less wrinkled than the old skin. The new skin is also temporarily more sensitive to the sun.

This is a cosmetic treatment and is not generally available on the NHS and has to be paid for as a private treatment.

No cosmetic procedure is without risks, and these should be discussed before going ahead with any treatment.

What conditions does a chemical peel treat?

Chemical peels are performed on the face, neck or hands. They can be used to:

  • Reduce fine lines under the eyes and around the mouth.
  • Treat wrinkles caused by sun damage, ageing and hereditary factors.
  • Improve the appearance of mild scarring.
  • Treat certain types of acne.
  • Reduce age spots, freckles and dark patches due to pregnancy or taking contraceptive pills ( melasma).
  • Improve the look and feel of skin that is dull in texture and colour.

Areas of sun damage, which may contain pre-cancerous keratoses that appear as scaly spots, may improve after chemical peeling. Following treatment, new pre-cancerous lesions are less likely to appear.

However, sags, bulges and more severe wrinkles do not respond well to chemical peels. They may require other kinds of cosmetic surgical procedures, such as carbon dioxide laser resurfacing, a facelift, brow lift, eyelid lift or soft tissue filler ( collagen or fat). A consultant cosmetic surgeon can help determine the most appropriate type of treatment for each individual case.

Who is a good candidate for a chemical peel?

Generally, fair-skinned and light-haired patients are ideal candidates for chemical peels. Darker skin types may also have good results, depending upon the type of problem being treated.

How are chemical peels performed?

A chemical peel can be performed in a consultant dermatologist's or cosmetic surgeon's consulting room or in a cosmetic surgery centre as an outpatient procedure.

The skin is thoroughly cleansed with an agent that removes excess oils and the eyes and hair are protected. One or more chemical solutions, such as glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid or carbolic acid (phenol), are applied to small areas on the skin. These applications produce a controlled wound, enabling new, regenerated skin to appear.

Preparing for a chemical peel

Prior to the chemical peel, your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medicines and prepare your skin with topical preconditioning medications such as tretinoin or glycolic acid. After the chemical peel, it's important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day.

If you have been prescribed oral antibiotics or an oral antiviral medicine by the dermatologist, you should begin taking those as directed. Typically, the oral antibiotics are prescribed depending on the depth of the chemical peel.

Remember to ask your doctor if you need to get someone drive you home.

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