A chemical peel is a cosmetic procedure typically performed to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, as well as to give skin a softer and smoother appearance. Peels generally use one or more chemical solutions, such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or lactic acid, that is applied to the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD ). Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that may also hydrate dry, flaky skin. Lactic acid and other such solutions generally cause similar side effects. However, the severity can vary considerably depending on the depth of the peel.
Redness, Flaking and Scaling
A lactic acid peel may cause a sunburn-like sensation accompanied by redness and flaking, which can range from mild to severe based on the strength of the peel.
Light or superficial chemical peels treat only the outer layer of the skin, while deeper peels reach the middle layer of the skin to clear away old, damaged skin cells.
A superficial peel typically causes the treated skin to become red, which is usually followed by scaling for up to five days, according to the AAD. Your skin may also feel tight. A gentle lotion or cream may be applied following a lactic acid peel to help soothe the skin.
Flaking, Crusting and Blistering
Swelling and blistering are possible side effects of medium- and deep-strength chemical peels, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Surgical tape may need to be placed over the treated skin in some cases.
It may take a minimum one or two weeks for blisters to crust and naturally peel away. Refrain from tugging on scabs or crust.
Some people may experience temporary or permanent changes in skin color following a chemical peel, according to the AAD. Individuals with a family history of brownish face discolorations, women who have been pregnant and those who take oral contraceptives may more vulnerable this side effect.
Infection and Scarring
Infection is an unlikely but possible side effect of chemical peels, according to FacialPlasticSurgery.net. If you have a history of cold sores or fever blisters, check with your doctor about getting an antiviral medication prior to getting a chemical peel since an outbreak can lead to an infection and scarring if a peel has not completely healed.
If scarring does occur following a lactic acid peel, it can usually be successfully treated, notes the AAD.
Increased Sun Sensitivity
Chemical peels can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun, so it's very important to wear sunscreen once your skin has healed. A sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of 30 or higher is generally recommended by the AAD.
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.