Chemical Peels: What You Need to Know

Side Effects of Chemical Peels

Chemical peels can be an effective treatment for removing damaged skin cells and allowing newer, healthier cells to take their place. The end result is usually tighter skin with fewer blemishes and fewer wrinkles. It almost sounds too good to be true. Here's the catch: Beauty is rarely achieved without a little bit of pain. It doesn't matter whether you spend time kicking your butt at the gym or you go to a dermatologist to get a chemical peel -- you're going to be sore the next day.

Chemical peels literally involve peeling away layers of skin. Think about the last time you accidentally scraped a need or an elbow. The area was most likely red and sore for a few days. Chemical peels have a similar effect. Treated areas are generally red and tender for days after your treatment, and depending on the type of peel you get, these side effects could last for weeks [source: AAD].

With glycolic acid and other AHA peels, recovery time is usually rather quick. In fact, a complete recovery can be expected in about a week. With trichloroacetic acid peels, it may take a little longer, but the side effects are similar. Phenol peels, however, require much more recovery time and the side effects can be severe. After a phenol peel a patient's skin will be red and incredibly sore. This is followed by oozing and scabbing, and then over the course of about two to four weeks the skin recovers to a state in which it simply looks sunburned. This sunburned look can last up to 3 months [source: AAD]. Phenol peels also might leave the skin looking permanently bleached. In fact, people with darker skin can usually see a definite line between treated and untreated areas.

Althogh phenol peels tend to be the most dangerous peels on the market, all types come with risks. Any of the above procedures can cause permanent scarring, discoloration or infection. This doesn't happen often, but it's always a possibility. If you've previously had herpes outbreaks, you might be in for some cold sores [source: Levine]. Also, patients with heart problems aren't ideal candidates for phenol peels [source: ASAPS]. As with any treatment, consult a physician beforehand and be honest about your medical history.

If a chemical peel still sounds like the right treatment for you, keep reading to find out just how much it's going to cost.