Peeling away our skin imperfections may seem like a scary thought.
A solution that removes the top layer of our skin sounds hazardous, and not helpful, but essentially, this is a safe and effective method for treating skin conditions.
Have you heard of a popular non-surgical skincare treatment called a chemical peel?
The results of a chemical peel can be a dream come true, but they can turn into a nightmare after a chemical peel gone wrong. Most chemical peels deliver beautiful results, but although they are rare, there is the risk of a chemical peel gone wrong.
Chemical Peel Side Effects
It is completely normal and expected to experience mild chemical peel side effects. Superficial chemical peels are the most routinely performed type of chemical peel in dermatology clinics and medical spas. Medium and deep chemical peels take longer to heal and have more severe side effects.
The chart below provides an overview of the chemical peel side effects for a superficial peel and how long they last.
|Chemical Peel Side Effects||How Long Side Effects Last|
|Redness||3 to 7 days after treatment|
|Swelling||36 to 48 hours after treatment|
|Burning||Several hours after treatment|
|Itching||2 to 3 days after treatment|
|Peeling||3 to 5 days after treatment|
|Dryness||Up to 7 days after treatment|
Bad Chemical Peel Reactions
If side effects persist longer than two weeks for a superficial peel, or longer than a month for medium and deep peels, you may have a bad chemical peel reaction or a chemical peel gone wrong.
Signs of bad chemical peel reactions include:
- Chronic soreness/pain
- Severe inflammation
Rubbing or scratching at your skin when you have a bad chemical peel reaction can lead to an infection.
Classification Types of Chemical Peels
An at home chemical peel is a product containing low concentrations of Alpha Hydrox Acids or Beta Hydroxy Acids. Professional chemical peels contain these acids in higher concentrations or a stronger acidic formula.
Dermatologists use three major classifications to categorize professional chemical peels based on the layer of skin they penetrate into. Depending on which type of peel you get, your side effects will differ and may last longer.
The three classifications of professional chemical peels are:
- Light or superficial chemical peels
- Medium chemical peels
- Deep chemical peels
The chart below provides a brief overview of each chemical peel and its healing process.
Burn Spots After Chemical Peel
Burn spots after a chemical peel may occur as complications from a medium or deep chemical peel. When performed correctly by a professional dermatologist or medical esthetician, burn spots after chemical peels are rare.
Burn spots after a chemical peel usually occurs due to one of the following reasons:
- The solution is left on too long
- Improper aftercare
- Allergic reaction
When the chemical peel solution is left on too long, it continues to burn through the skin, resulting in chemical burns. Some chemical peels need to be neutralized with a neutralizing agent like sodium bicarbonate to stop the chemical burning process.
The chart below shows which peels need to be neutralized and which typically do not.
Burn spots after chemical peels can also happen as a result of improper aftercare. Even after a light superficial chemical peel, burn spots can occur after exposure to sunlight or if acidic skincare products are applied while the skin is still healing.
Certain people may experience an allergic reaction to the chemical peel. Allergic reactions will usually cause a breakout in hives, along with chemical burns.
Chemical Peel Burn Symptoms
It can be hard to tell the difference between expected chemical peel side effects and chemical peel burn symptoms due to a chemical peel gone wrong. If side effects last longer than a week or progressively worsen, you might have chemical peel burns.
Symptoms of burn spots after a chemical peel include:
- Burning sensation
- Extreme pain
Mild pain and inflammation are expected for a few days after a chemical peel, and peeling is part of the healing process for the first week. If the pain worsens and the peeling becomes blisters, you may have a chemical peel burn.
Chemical Peel Burn Scars
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Chemical peel burns can leave scars if they are not appropriately treated. Any reddening of the skin that lasts longer than a week or two may indicate early scaring.
Visit your dermatologist if you think you may have had a chemical peel gone wrong. They will prescribe potent topical corticosteroids to prevent scarring and infection from chemical peel burns.
Face Burning After Chemical Peel
The sensation of your face burning after a chemical peel is normal for the first several hours following the procedure for a superficial peel. Burning sensations last longer following medium chemical peels and deep chemical peels.
Face burning after chemical peels may also result from:
- Exposure to sunlight
- Skincare products with AHAs, BHAs, or retinoids
- Hot showers
- Intense exercise
Use a damp cloth soaked in cold water to soothe your face in the first 24 hours after a chemical peel. You may use products with aloe vera to soothe the skin after 24 hours.
Use a spray bottle with cold water to mist your face to avoid aggravating your skin after a chemical face peel.
Skin Burn After Chemical Peel
Skin burn after a chemical peel is possible if it is performed incorrectly or by an inexperienced skincare provider. Due to its acidic nature, a chemical solution left on the skin will burn through the layers of the skin infinitely until a neutralizing agent is applied at the appropriate time. Instead of creating a controlled wound that will heal to reveal smoother skin, a deeper wound is formed, resulting in a chemical burn.
Symptoms of skin burn from a chemical peel gone wrong include:
- Redness and irritation
- Pain and numbness
Skin burn after chemical peels should be treated the same way as a regular chemical burn: ice the area, apply an antibacterial ointment like Bacitracin or Neosporin, and cover with an antiseptic bandage if possible. If your skin burn after a chemical peel does not improve within two days, visit your dermatologist. Dermatologists can prescribe oral antibiotics and topical steroid creams to treat the area.
Red Blotches After Chemical Peel
Red blotches after chemical peels are the most common side effect. Your skin becomes inflamed due to the intense exfoliation process and the acidic nature of the chemical solution.
Follow these steps to reduce inflammation and red blotches after chemical peels:
- Soothe face with cold water
- Cleanse skin with a gentle cleanser
- Keep skin moisturized
- Wear SPF 30+ sunscreen
- Use a skincare product with aloe after 24 hours
- Avoid heat (hot showers, exercise, saunas)
- Drink plenty of water
Bumpy Texture After Chemical Peel
After a chemical peel, it is normal for the skin to take on a rough, patchy texture due to the intense exfoliation process; think of your skin if you were to scrub it with a dry loofah intensely. The skin will be smooth after a few days after the top layer peels away. During this time, it is important to keep your skin hydrated by moisturizing with an acid-free face cream and drinking lots of water.
If the problem persists after the peeling, it could be another cause.
Other possible causes for a bumpy texture after chemical peel include:
- Allergic reaction to the peel
- Mild acne breakout
- Contact Dermatitis
Allergic Reaction to the Peel
Some people develop an allergic reaction to the chemical peel product. If you have sensitive skin, it is important to inform your doctor so they can use a solution with a lower concentration or a peel for sensitive skin.
Mild Acne Breakout
Mild acne breakouts occur after a chemical peel due to the procedure’s congestion of dead skin and inflammation. The pimples will resolve after the first week with proper cleansing and care.
Contact dermatitis may develop from wearing clothing over the treated area or covering your face after a chemical peel. Wear loose-fitting clothing for the first few days after a body chemical peel, and avoid covering your face after a facial peel. Let’s hope we don’t have another mask mandate!
Deep Chemical Peel Gone Wrong
Deep chemical peels have a greater risk of negative side effects. Recovery time will always be longer after a deep chemical peel, and you will likely experience more severe redness, swelling, and discomfort than with a light or medium chemical peel. Because of the long downtime, you will need to avoid sun exposure, exercise, and other activities for a few weeks.
The most common signs of a deep chemical gone wrong include:
Like BBL face treatments, deep chemical peels are rarely recommended for people with darker skin, as there is a high risk of hypopigmentation. Hypopigmentation occurs when the skin is stripped of melanin, resulting in lighter patches.
Itchy Bumps After Chemical Peel
Itchy bumps after chemical peels are typical side effects for a few days following your treatment. Do not scratch or pick at your skin, as this may result in permanent scarring.
Take the following steps to relieve itchy skin and itchy bumps after a chemical peel:
- Take oral antihistamines like Benadryl or Allegra
- Use cold compresses
- Apply a natural topical soothing agent like calamine lotion
- Take cool showers
Rash After Chemical Peel
Redness and inflamed skin that occurs as a normal side effect can often be mistaken for a rash after a chemical peel. The itchy, rash-like feel of skin after a chemical peel should subside two to three days after the treatment when the skin starts to peel.
A rash may also appear due to an allergic reaction to the chemical solution.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction rash after chemical peels include:
- Severe inflammation
Symptoms can be treated with antihistamines and topical ointments. If your rash does not clear within a week, contact your doctor.
TCA Chemical Peel Gone Wrong
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Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are used for medium peels to treat sun damage, skin discoloration, and scarring. A TCA chemical peel’s normal results are often confused with a chemical peel gone wrong.
Here is what you can expect from a TCA chemical peel:
- TCA peels use 35% concentration or higher
- Burning sensations are expected during a TCA peel
- No neutralizing agent is required
- ‘Frosting‘is normal and causes the skin to turn white
- Patients will have white skin immediately after the treatment
- White skin will turn to grey, then brown in the first four days
- Skin should be healed within two weeks
If your skin starts to blister or show signs of infection, contact your dermatologist.
How to Prep Skin for Chemical Peel?
During your initial consultation with your dermatologist or medical esthetician, they will provide you with specific instructions to prepare for your chemical peel.
One week before your chemical peel, take the following precautions:
- Stop exfoliating your skin
- Discontinue using retinoids
- Stay out of direct sunlight
- Drink plenty of water
Skin should always be cleansed to remove dirt and oil before a chemical peel. Your dermatologist should cleanse your skin with rubbing alcohol or a wipe. Failing to clean skin before a chemical peel can result in uneven results or a risk of infection.
Do not schedule a chemical peel within six to eight weeks of other skincare treatments like micro-needling or fibroblast skin tightening.
What Causes a Chemical Peel Gone Wrong?
There are many factors that can cause a chemical peel to go wrong. It can happen at the time of the treatment or during the healing process.
The main causes of a chemical peel gone wrong include:
- Solution left on the skin for too long
- No neutralizing solution applied
- Allergic reaction
- Improper aftercare
- Sun exposure after the treatment
How to Prevent a Chemical Peel Gone Wrong?
To prevent a bad chemical peel reaction, inform your dermatologist of any skin allergies and any products that cause your skin to become irritated.
Follow the aftercare advice provided by your dermatologist. The most important chemical peel aftercare tips are:
- Do not touch the treated area: Avoid peeling, picking, and scratching your skin.
- Avoid intense exercise, tanning, and saunas: Increased blood flow to the skin following a chemical peel can intensify warming, itching, and redness.
- Do not use skincare products with active ingredients: Using acidic skincare products will disrupt the healing process and can lead to burns, scarring, and other complications.
- Take cold showers and cleanse your face with cold water: Hot water causes the skin to become itchy and inflamed.
- Do not use at-home skincare tools: Wait at least two weeks before using a derma roller or high frequency wand.
Chemical peels are nothing to be afraid of. They are routine, minimally-invasive skincare procedures; it is rare to have a chemical peel gone wrong.
Always research a top-rated dermatology clinic or medical spa, and take precautions to ensure your chemical peel heals smoothly.