Chemical Peeling for Acne

Chemical Peeling for Acne (Skyn Stories by Dr Meenu Sethi)
Chemical Peeling for Acne (Skyn Stories by Dr Meenu Sethi)

Acne can be devastating, resulting in low self-esteem and its effect can go much deeper causing a significant impact on a social relationship. Acne can affect people of all races and all ages. Most cases of acne can be controlled and cured with treatment. One of the popular non-invasive cosmetic treatment for acne is a chemical peel. Chemical peels don’t really peel the skin, regardless of what the name infers.

Chemical peel is a process in which concentrated form of chemicals are applied to the skin and these acids chemically exfoliate the top layers of skin. It stimulates chemical activity in the skin increasing cellular regeneration, which can speed up skin turnover and prevent pores from becoming clogged. The exfoliation caused by peel reduces the appearance of acne marks and scars. It also further eliminates skin’s pigmentation and makes the skin smoother.

How Chemical Peels for Acne Works?

Chemical used in the chemical peels exfoliate the skin, as a result, allowing dead skin cells to shed more effectively. Pimples and acne can be reduced by keeping dead skin cells and excess oil from clogging the hair follicle.


The skin is first carefully washed and dried. Next, the chemical is applied with a large cotton swab, cotton pad or brush to the area to be treated. You might feel an instant burning sensation just after the application of an exfoliating agent. Peeling agent is left for a few minutes, depending upon the type of peel applied. Your doctor may use a hand-held fan to gently cool the skin, which can make you more comfortable during the treatment. Now, the peel is removed with cool water and a neutralizing agent. The skin is dried after that and the process is complete.

Phenol peels, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels, and alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or glycolic acid are three general chemical peels used to treat acne.

Alpha Hydroxyl Acid (AHA) or Glycolic Acid - It includes glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) that occurs naturally in sugar cane. It works by removing the outer layers of skin so that a fresh, vibrant skin is revealed. This action kindles the production of elastin and collagen, leaving you with healthy and youthful skin. It is considered effective for acne treatment as it exfoliates the surface of the skin and unclog pores. The complete process takes less than an hour and patient may experience little to no redness. You can go back to your normal routine after this treatment. Multiple treatments are required for desired results. This treatment is suitable for all skin types.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Peels - In this procedure, the doctor applies a solution containing trichloroacetic acid to the skin. After 4-5 days of treatment, the dead layers of skin slough off, giving you a new and smooth layer of skin. It penetrates the skin more deeply than glycolic acid. It works effectively to treat acne scars and also improve uneven pigmentation. They are also known as a spot treatment and can be used in any area of the body. The process normally takes about 15-20 minutes accompanied with minimal recovery time. However, this treatment is not recommended for sensitive and dark skin types.

Phenol Peels - Phenol peels include the application of carbolic acid and hence the procedure is not suitable for treating a suitable area. It should be used on the full face. Phenol peels penetrate the skin deeper than AHA or TCA peels to treat more severe problems such as scars, wrinkles, pre-cancerous growth, and blotchiness. When compared to above two peels, phenol peels provide more dramatic results and only a single treatment is enough to treat the issue. The treatment entails 1 week recovery period and the result may last up to two years.

Who are the right candidates?

If you have a very active or severe acne then you are not a good candidate for chemical peels. The best candidates for acne chemical peel treatments are people with acne scars or superficial acne. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also advised not to undergo chemical peel treatment.

Sun protection

It is extremely important to use sunblock with an SPF of 30 on the treated area after chemical peels as chemical peels peel away the protective layers of the skin. Make sure to buy a non-comedogenic brand that won’t block your pores.

Side effects

You might get redness and swelling, but this redness tends to be less pronounced with each consecutive peel. People with darker skin are advised to consult a dermatologist before embarking on chemical peels as they are prone to keloid scarring.

When over the counter acne medication is not giving you satisfactory results, then a vibrant and healthy look can be achieved with chemical peeling. Best results are achieved from chemical peels if followed with right skin care routine on a regular basis. Visit your dermatologist to know more about chemical peels.

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