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Chemical Peel for Acne Scars: A Step-by-Step Guide to Chemical Peeling

Chemical peels for acne scars are one of the most effective treatments for evening out rough and pitted skin. However, the idea of a chemical peel can be a little scary for many people. If you’re considering having a chemical peel for acne scars or dark spots, here are some things to consider so that you can choose the best chemical peel according to  your skin type.

How does a chemical peel for acne scars work?

Essentially, chemical peels work by using a chemical solution to remove the outer layer of skin. This reveals a tender underlayer, which hasn’t been affected by the pitting of acne blemishes. There are different options, depending on the condition of your acne scarring, designated as superficial, medium, and deep peels. Your dermatologist will determine the best chemical peel treatment for you. Many physicians start with the least invasive treatment. Peels can also be used on your chest or back if you’re affected by acne there. 

Superficial peels are typically used to treat acne, hyperpigmentation, melasma, and actinic keratosis. Medium peels are commonly used for solar keratoses, pigmentation disorders, and superficial scars. A deep chemical peel may be used if you have deep scars or wrinkles, photoaging, or precancerous skin lesions.

Many dermatologists view chemical peels as more effective at exfoliation than physical exfoliants, such as topical scrubs. Chemical peels stimulate the body to produce more collagen, which can help fill in the pits from hormonal acne and give skin a more resilient, dewy appearance.

During the chemical peel process, a chemical agent is applied to the skin. Most surface peels contain either alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid, or beta hydroxy acids, such as salicylic acid. For medium and deep peels, the exfoliating agent is typically trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or phenol-based. This particular chemical carries a greater risk of side effects.

The chemicals are carefully brushed on, making the old, rough skin blister and fall off. You may look like you have a bad sunburn afterward. Your dermatologist will give you aftercare instructions, including wearing strong sunscreen to protect the new layer of skin. Be sure to follow their orders exactly.

How to do chemical peeling for acne scars at home

It’s important to use caution when doing a chemical peel at home. Follow the directions exactly to avoid damaging your skin. Opt for at-home peels that use AHAs instead of harsher chemicals. Steer clear of anything TCA-based, as this chemical can be harmful if used incorrectly. It’s safe for dermatologists to apply TCA-based peels because they’re professionals and have the tools to mitigate any damage during the peel.

The best at-home chemical peel for acne scars is the gentlest one possible, with AHAs and the correct formula for your skin type.

At-home treatments are generally helpful for light surface scars and fading dark spots. However, if you need something to lessen the appearance of scarring, especially over a large portion of your face, you may wish to consult with a dermatologist instead. If you have sensitive skin, then look for peels that are glycolic or lactic acid-based. These types of AHAs are gentler than salicylic acid.

Purchase your peels from a reputable provider, and be prepared to pay more than you would for everyday skincare products. Choose a well-recommended source, and be cautious about online retailers. At-home peels are good for general exfoliation, but if you want to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and acne scarring, it’s better to go to a professional dermatologist or aesthetician. 

Here’s a list of the different types of acids found in at-home chemical peels:

  • Phytic acid 
  • Lactic acid 
  • Salicylic acid 
  • Mandelic acid 
  • Glycolic acid 

The best at-home chemical peel for acne scars is the gentlest one possible, with AHAs and the correct formula for your skin type.

Taking care of skin after chemical peeling

The side effects from your chemical peel depend largely on what you do afterward and how you care for the tender new skin. Avoiding sun exposure is critical. Too much sun can result in greater pigmentation problems and prolong the healing process. Make sure to wear strong sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Your skin can develop scars if it isn’t properly cared for after a peel. 

Redness is the most immediate aftereffect from a chemical peel. This is followed by irritation for three to seven days and some swelling. Expect to feel a little tightness and soreness for the first week or so afterward. Drink plenty of water to help your body produce healthy dermis (the layer of skin below the surface) and collagen, and use the gentlest cleanser possible for your skin.

Blisters will form after a deep or medium peel, starting right after the procedure. The blisters will crust, turn brown, and peel off within one to two weeks. You may need bandaging over the treated areas, depending on the severity of the blisters.

It’s important to be very careful when in the sun, especially after deep peels. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, and limit your exposure from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as this is when the sun’s rays are most intense. Even if it’s cloudy outside, make sure to use sunscreen.

Pros and cons of chemical peeling for acne scars

A light chemical peel can reduce the appearance of shallow acne scars and blemishes. It can also brighten your skin overall by removing the thick, dull outer layer of the dermis and exposing a fresh layer of skin. Plus, the abrasion from the chemical treatment stimulates the production of collagen, which acts as a plumping element, reduces the overall appearance of wrinkles, and makes your complexion look fresh and youthful.

A light chemical peel can reduce the appearance of shallow acne scars and blemishes. It can also brighten your skin overall by removing the thick, dull outer layer of the dermis and exposing a fresh layer of skin.

Bear in mind, however, that the chemical peel process, if done incorrectly or with the wrong type of exfoliant, can cause scars. During the healing process, the skin reacts quickly and sends cells to produce new collagen fibers. 

Infections can develop after deep face peels for acne. This is why it’s so important to have a professional evaluate the depth and nature of your face peel for acne scars.

Other treatment options for acne scars

If you don’t want to risk acne chemical peeling to treat your facial scarring or darker spots, there are other options to improve your complexion. Dermabrasion is one such procedure. It involves using an abrasive device to sand down the surface of the skin. Dermabrasion can decrease the appearance of fine facial lines and improve the look of scars, such as those caused by acne. Skin treated with dermabrasion will be sensitive and bright pink for several weeks. Be cautious when choosing microdermabrasion. Side effects can include hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, the formation of tiny whiteheads, and the development of scar tissue or infection at the sites.

Another treatment option is tretinoin, a prescription cream that has many brand names. This surface treatment is a derivative of vitamin A and can have a positive effect on acne, fine wrinkles, and sun-damaged skin. It works by lightening the skin, replacing older skin with newer skin. It’s less invasive than an acne chemical peel. This cream should be prescribed by a dermatologist, though, and used according to your doctor’s directions. 

No matter which treatment you choose, or even if you opt for none, your skin will always look better when you drink plenty of water — at least 64 ounces a day — and wear sunscreen. Eating a diet rich in fresh vegetables and lean protein will help your skin look better and improve your overall health.

The takeaway

Chemical peels for acne scars can be a huge boost to your confidence, especially if you have spotty skin or deeper pitting. They’re good for people of all ages, as they reduce everything from fine lines to deep wrinkles. However, use at-home chemical peels for acne scars with care, and make sure to work with a professional dermatologist if you need deeper treatment.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6053170/

https://www.asds.net/skin-experts/skin-treatments/chemical-peels/chemical-peels-for-acne-scars

https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs./tretinoin./drg-20066521?p=1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/dermabrasion/about/pac-20393764

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