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Many skin imperfections appear later in life, a natural result of aging skin in many cases, the most common being fine lines, acne scars, uneven skin tone, and dark spots or hyperpigmentation.
If you’re self-conscious about your dark spots, there are treatments that can help reduce dark spots and hyperpigmentation. One option that gets lip service on the internet is a chemical peel for dark spots. Before going down this path, it helps to understand a bit more about dark spots, as well as how a chemical peel works, or IF a chemical peel works for dark spots.
Dark spots may also be called hyperpigmentation. These spots appear when melanocytes produce excess melanin in the skin. There are numerous causes to these excess levels of melanin, including:
Dark spots typically show up on areas of the skin that receive more sun exposure, and the face is a common area; so are the hands, shoulders and back. Depending on your skin tone, dark spots can range from light to dark brown. The spots also vary in size. They may be small, round dots or take up a larger surface area. Their texture is typically the same as your skin and they’re usually not uncomfortable, itchy or painful.
In some instances, dark spots do fade away on their own, though this can take anywhere from months to years. Because these spots don't generally cause medical issues, it’s not really necessary to remove them. Still, we know that many people want them gone. Some common approaches to dark spot removal include laser therapy, cryotherapy, microdermabrasion, prescription treatments, and skin-lightening creams.
Another popular option for dark spot removal is the chemical peel. This aesthetic procedure has been around for a while and can be beneficial for a variety of skin conditions. A peel removes the top, sometimes damaged layer of skin to reveal a healthier layer of skin, essentially expediting the skin turnover process. Some things that chemical peels are used for include fine lines, wrinkles, redness, acne and other scars, melasma, and sun damage. A peel done right can also help dark spots fade away.
Not all chemical peels are created equal. There are three primary types, and they vary in severity and depth of resurfacing:
During this treatment, a chemical solution is applied using a brush, cotton ball or gauze. The solution will sit long enough for it to penetrate the outer layer of the skin. During this time, your skin will turn white and you may feel some tingling. The solution is then removed with a wash or neutralizing solution.
Improvements are usually seen about five days after the peel. Light peels can be done more frequently, as much as every two to five weeks.
For a medium chemical peel, a different chemical solution is applied using a sponge, gauze or cotton-tipped applicator. This skin will turn white, and you may feel a stinging or burning sensation while the solution is on the skin, which is about 15 to 20 minutes. A cold compress or hand-held fan may be used to help cool the skin.
Results from a medium peel usually begin to appear around a week after the treatment. This peel may be repeated to achieve the desired results, although the frequency should be less than a light peel because of its invasiveness.
Prior to starting a deep peel, you may be sedated, you may be given fluids through an IV, and your heart rate will be continually monitored. Carbolic acid, also known as phenol, may be applied with a cotton-tipped applicator, and the skin will turn gray or white. Because phenol is so strong, the skin professional will work in 15-minute intervals to limit the skin's exposure.
Because a deep chemical peel is so intense, it’s done infrequently or only once.
The first step in a chemical peel is to consult with a specialist or dermatologist to determine which type of peel they recommend. This depends on various factors, such as skin issues, the patient's expectations, and the potential risks of each peel. Also discuss any medication you’re taking, as this can affect the results or increase the chances of side effects.
Prior to a peel, you’ll need to avoid any medication that contains retin-A or retinol for at least 48 hours. One week before the treatment, stop epilating, waxing or bleaching hair. You should also avoid exfoliants and facial scrubs. Sun protection is also important. If you’re getting a medium or deep peel, it’s a good idea to arrange for a ride to and from the appointment. You may also need to take a sedative or painkiller before the appointment.
No matter which type of peel you get, you’ll need to allow for recovery time to let the skin heal. Your specialist will give you specific post-care instructions, such as ointments, cleansers and moisturizers to use, but there are some general guidelines. Avoid picking, scratching or rubbing the affected skin, and always wear sun protection, as the skin will be especially sensitive after a chemical peel.
After a light peel, the skin will be red, mildly irritated and dry. A protective ointment will be applied right after the treatment. Recovery time is generally four to seven days.
After a medium peel, the skin will be swollen and red, and it may sting. Apply ice packs and take over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce discomfort. After the swelling goes down, crust and brown blotches may develop. It can take up to two weeks to heal, although redness may remain for longer.
After a deep peel, there can be swelling, severe redness, throbbing and burning. A surgical dressing is applied post-treatment, and you may be prescribed pain medications. Ice packs and a fan can help cool the skin. New skin develops in two weeks, although white spots tend to hang around for a few weeks and redness can last for months. There are frequent follow-up visits to assess healing, and many choose to stay at home during the healing process.
A chemical peel for dark spots is not the only option, and depending on the strength you’re looking for, it may be both expensive and invasive.
At Nava MD, we help patients with skincare concerns get effective care from licensed physicians – online. Our telemedicine platform is designed to help you order prescription medications for common conditions like acne and wrinkles with a doctor's help, if appropriate, that are then shipped to your door. No waiting rooms and no co-pays.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency