“Chemical peel gone wrong” are not the words you want to read before your chemical peel appointment. However, you need to be aware of the possible side effects and chemical peel risks that can happen if you are not careful in choosing a trustworthy (read: trained and licensed) practitioner for this treatment.
Keep reading to learn what side effects are normal, which are not, and what the potential risks are.
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How to Avoid a Chemical Peel Gone Wrong Situation?
The most important step in making sure your chemical peel goes fine is finding an experienced practitioner to perform it.
A chemical peel is a skin treatment that intentionally destroys the epidermis, the first skin layer. In some cases, it reaches deeper, into the upper part of the dermis. Most often, it’s done by applying some type of acid that is best suited for your skin type and the severity of the condition treated.
If done improperly, it can have serious negative effects on your skin. These treatments are not one-size-fits-all and they need to match your skin needs specifically. That’s why you need to go to a trained professional who will assess your skin and provide you with the right treatment.
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Chemical Peel Side Effects
Chemical peels are mostly harmless, however, there can be some side effects.
After any chemical peel, you can expect your skin to be red, tight, irritated, and slightly swollen. That doesn’t necessarily classify as chemical peel gone wrong. What’s important is to differentiate between what’s normal and to be expected, and what’s something you should start worrying about.
Let’s go over some of the most common chemical peeling side effects.
Pain and Burning
Pain and burning commonly occur in patients with sensitive skin. It can last up to 5 days after the treatment until re-epithelialization (the old skin peeling off and new skin emerging underneath) is over.
Upping this risk is prolonged sun exposure, especially without sunscreen. The use of topical retinoids and glycolic acid can also cause burning, so make sure to avoid these and similar ingredients.
After each peel, some level of redness is to be expected. Normally, it should disappear within 3-5 days after the light chemical peel, 15-30 days after the medium, and 60-90 days after the deep peel. If your redness persists longer than that, it can be a sign of potential scarring.
Additionally, redness can be caused by the usage of topical tretinoin, contact dermatitis, contact sensitization, and genetic susceptibility or pre-existing skin disease.
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During a chemical peel, some spots of the treated skin can turn white. This is called frosting, and it indicates that the acids penetrated deep into the skin. It’s normal, and it usually means that the peeling will be most intense in those spots.
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Temporary Hyperpigmentation and Hypopigmentation
A chemical peel can cause hyperpigmentation (darkened skin) and hypopigmentation (patches of lighter skin).
Superficial peels are the more common cause of hyperpigmentation while deep peels are more likely to be the cause of hypopigmentation. Both are more common in darker skin tones and in the jaw-neck region.
These changes are mostly temporary but can become permanent, if not treated adequately.
This risk is more associated with medium and deep peels, but it can happen in superficial peels when the person has thin, dry, or damaged skin. It occurs within 24-72 hours of the treatment. Swelling resolves on its own as time passes but you can speed up the recovery process by applying ice.
Itching is common after both superficial and deep peels, but it can also occur after the resurfacing of new, regenerated skin. Itching is a normal part of the recovery process, however, if it is excessive it might be from dermatitis or infection.
Breakouts can happen during the first few weeks of the healing period, mostly in people who have thicker skin. Milia (tiny white bumps), pimples, and even cysts can form due to skin congestion. These breakouts usually resolve on their own but in some cases, gentle (and sterile!) extraction may be necessary.
There might also be some texture changes. Post-peel, you may experience the temporary appearance of enlarged pores or wrinkled skin.
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Chemical Peel Risks
When done improperly, a chemical peel can result in some complications, mainly scarring, blisters, burns, infection, and some other adverse reactions. The best way to avoid the majority of these risks is to go to a licensed professional.
Here are the most common chemical peels risks.
Scarring happens rarely and it can be handled with the use of antibiotics and steroid medications. It usually occurs if the peel was too intense for your skin or if you are disrupting the proper recovery by ripping off the peeling skin.
Blisters can be caused by deeper peels.
Sensitive areas such as the nasolabial fold and areas surrounding your mouth and eyes are especially at risk of blistering. It is also more common for younger people, but also those that have loose skin around the eyes.
Blistering is usually expected to crust over and heal on its own, but if it doesn’t, there is a point after which you should go to the doctor (usually after 2 weeks have passed).
Adverse reactions are usually in the form of an allergic reaction or an irritation. Both forms cause itching, swelling, blistering, skin burning, and pain.
Depending on the severity of your reaction, a doctor might prescribe you topical steroids or even oral medication if the reaction is very severe.
It’s important to note you should not try to treat the reaction by yourself, at home. There is a chance of making the reaction even worse and causing permanent damage to your skin.
A chemical burn is essentially a severe inflammation and irritation of the skin after one or more layers have been destroyed.
At the site of contact, you may experience redness, pain, irritation, burning, or numbness. If it’s severe, then symptoms can also include blisters and blackened, dead skin cells.
Inhalation of Chemicals
Chemical peeling should be done in a well-ventilated room. Inhaling the chemical can cause shortness of breath and coughing.
After its top layer has been removed, the skin is very sensitive to external influences, which enhances the chances of contracting bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. It can also cause various flare-ups – especially cold sores.
Ocular Exposure to Chemicals
If the peeling agent comes in contact with the eyes, it might cause some vision changes. Accidental spillage of any chemical peel agents in the eyes can cause eye injuries in the form of corneal damage. If that happens you should visit an ophthalmologist.
To prevent this, your eyes will be covered with appropriate eye protection during the procedure.
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Biggest Risks – Deep Chemical Peel Gone Wrong
The harsher the chemicals, the bigger the risk. Deep chemical peels are the most intense chemical peel treatments. They penetrate into the deepest layers of your skin, causing intense skin peeling and a very meticulous aftercare regimen.
You need to be extremely careful with your aftercare because your skin will be extra sensitive and very susceptible to infections. The risks are quite a bit higher compared to light and medium chemical peel. In cases of over-exposure to phenol or carbolic acid, there can even be internal organ damage – your heart, liver, or kidneys.
So, once again, we need to highlight the importance of going to a trained professional.
Chemical Peel Gone Wrong – Main Takeaways
As with all other cosmetic treatments, some risks are bound to exist. Chemical peels are safe when done properly (seriously – go to a professional! Ideally to a cosmetic dermatologist). These treatments are great for reversing damage already done to the skin – you just need to be careful not to further damage it after the treatment.
So, refrain from picking, rubbing, or scratching your skin. And be patient as it could take several months before you see the full effects of the peel. In the meantime, don’t forget to use SPF!
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