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Chemical Peels: Phenol, Carbolic Acid, TCA, Alphahydroxy, Beta Hydroxy


Chemical peeling is a process whereby the skin (usually of the face) is subjected to minor chemical burning in order to make the skin healthier and younger looking. The way this works is when the skin is burned, it jump starts the healing process. So the skin is burned enough to trigger the immune and defense system but not enough that serious damage is done or that the rejuvenation only equalizes the damage.

The most intense peel is done with phenol. It so damages the skin that patients must avoid sunlight for several weeks, their faces remain burned looking for longer, and sometimes require anesthesia during the procedure. However, these last much longer than other peels and don't have to be redone for a long time. Furthermore, phenol peels have the most drastic results, eliminating blotches, coarse wrinkles and pre-cancerous growths.

A less severe peel is done with trichloacetic acid, known as TCA. TCA peels, unlike phenol peels, only require 10 or 12 days to recover from, rather than months. Also unlike phenol peels, people with darker skin colors can use TCA without fear of serious pigmentation affects to the skin. However, the effects of TCA are not as remarkable as those with phenol. TCA peels can smooth out fine wrinkles and scars and eliminate some blemishes, discolorations, blotches and pigmentation abnormalities, but deeper wrinkles and scars and pre-cancerous growths will be largely unaffected by trichloroacetic acid.

Then, for patients looking for a lighter peel, physicians can use alphahydroxy acids to peel the skin. Rather than just one session, several sessions of alphahydroxy peels may be needed over the course of several weeks to achieve the final results. Also, they will not eliminate wrinkles. They can, however, improve the texture, look, and health of rough, sun damaged or dry skin and can correct some blemish problems caused by acne or other pigment altering effects. These peels appeal to people who just want to look refreshed, don't want to spend time burned looking our out of the sun, people who don't have serious skin problems to correct, or people who are concerned about the safety of more serious peels. Alphahydroxy acid peels are the safest.

In addition to these three standard peels, a newly developed chemical skin peel has been developed using beta hydroxy (salicylic acid). Beta hydroxy peels can reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles as well as improving overall look and glow of the skin but is not as irritating as other peels, even alphahydroxy peels.

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