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My TCA Chemical Peel Experience

Updated on July 25, 2017


The author has in no way been influenced or paid to endorse these products. The author purchased the mentioned products with her own money.

After 10 years of living in Australia I found myself quite literally faced with the problem of hyperpigmentation. Although I have always tried to avoid sun damage by never going out without a sunhat and sunscreen, unfortunately spending so much time in the sun eventually took its toll and I was left with dark patches of skin, commonly known as hyperpigmentation.

In an attempt to get rid of these dark patches of skin, I spent ridiculous sums of money on skin bleaching cream. I tried every product on the market from cheap to expensive, even going online to buy stronger products not available in my own country. After no success, I turned to cosmetic procedures. I was told by the first skin care clinic I attended that ‘Photo-rejuvenation’ (intense pulsed light treatment better known as IPL – also used for hair removal) was the answer to my skin problems. However, after the first treatment my skin had absolutely no reaction. Stupidly I wasted money on further treatments which did nothing.

Frustrated, I went to another ‘reputable’ skin clinic that assured me that laser treatment would fade my hyperpigmentation. Again, after several treatments there was absolutely no noticeable improvement.

After consulting a third skin care specialist, I was advised that only a chemical peel would improve my hyperpigmentation. However, by this point I was feeling quite fed up and disappointed with it all, so I gave up on it for a few years. We also moved country a several times so I never seemed to find the time to try it.

After finally settling in the UK, I decided that it was finally time to do it. The cold dark winters meant that I could safely get the treatment without risk of sun exposure. After carefully researching chemical peels online, I found a nearby skin clinic that had good reviews and a winter sale charging £150. They also provided me with a free consultation with their nurse (in the UK peels of this nature need to be carried out by a nurse). Initially I had decided to have the Jessner Peel, but after consulting with the nurse I decided to go with the stronger TCA peel, a double application of 7% trichloroacetic acid and 2% salicylic acid paired with 4% retinol. My reasons for doing so was because it was stronger, and although it would mean a longer recovery time I had 11 days of leave planned so could hide away while my skin was healing. Also, I was advised that if I got the stronger peel, then I could just undergo the one treatment and then maintain it with milder treatments, whereas if I had a milder peel, several treatments are recommended for best results.

Excited, I booked my treatment. In preparation, I went to the pharmacy and purchased the products I was going to need. While your skin is peeling it is extremely sensitive to the sun, so if you plan to go outside you will need to wear the highest level of sunscreen, along with a large brimmed sunhat. If you don't do this you could end up damaging the new skin. I purchased Soltan's Hypoallergenic Sensitive Face 50+ sunscreen because it had the highest UVA and UVB protection. When choosing your sunscreen, it's essential that it protects against both UVA and UVB. UVA is the long wave rays that penetrate deep into the skin layers and causes ageing and wrinkling. UVB is the short wave rays that causes your skin to burn and damages the superficial epidermal layers.

After undergoing a chemical peel your skin will become sensitive, raw and dry so you will need to use a very gentle face wash. I purchased some Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser which is usually used by sufferers of Psoriasis, Rosacea, Acne, Diaper rash and Eczema. It's very gentle and doesn't cause stinging like other face washes do.

You will also need a gentle but hydrating skin cream. I used Cetaphil's Moisturising Cream which is non-comedogenic, fragrance free (so doesn't sting) and is really moisturising.

Day 1: Thursday Evening - The Treatment

I was nervous when I arrived for my appointment. After talking through the procedure again, the nurse set up a fan to blow on my face in an attempt to cool it and ease the pain. She also covered my eyes to protect them. Be aware that they won't apply the acid around your eye area as it is too risky (acid in the eye can blind you).

I have a high pain tolerance, so I thought I was prepared for pain that the peel would cause. However, it was much more painful than I expected. The nurse advised me that although it was going to hurt, the longer I could hold out, the better the results. I was determined to get a great result, so I held out for as long as possible! The nurse applied the acid twice as the pain quickly intensified. Eventually she advised me that I had a very good ‘frosting’ effect so it was time to neutralise the acid. By this point the pain was so bad that my eyes were weeping.

After neutralising the acid the nurse handed me the mirror. For many years I was trained as a workplace first aid officer, so when I saw my face I was instantly reminded of the terrible images of chemical burns that I saw during my training. The nurse assured me that this white ‘frosting’ meant that I was more likely to get a good result. As I left the clinic it was a cold winters evening, which I thought might soothe it but ended up making it sting much more! By the time I got home, the frosting had subsided and I was left with bright red skin that stung...alot.

Day 2: Friday

The next day, my skin was still bright red, but the pigmented areas of my skin had turned dark brown. I was flying out on holiday that day so in an attempt to tone it down, I smothered my face in foundation. I was glad that I didn’t have to go to work looking like that.

Day 3: Saturday

The following day the skin had become even darker brown and was very tight, becoming more uncomfortable as the day wore on. It made it very difficult and painful to open my mouth to eat! As the day wore on it began cracking and peeling. My sister started calling me ‘crispy bacon face’.

Caution: It’s important that you don’t pick and peel the skin or you could risk causing scarring. I know it’s very tempting when you have a big chunk of skin hanging off your face, but don’t pull on it! If you must, carefully trim the dead skin with some clean scissors.

Day 4: Sunday

Heavy peeling. The area around my mouth, especially around my chin begun to weep and was very sore and deeply cracked. I was constantly slathering cream on my face to reduce the dryness. Opening my mouth to eat my Christmas dinner was very painful – the skin was so tight and sore.

I tried to minimise further irritation by avoiding makeup. There really didn't seem much point anyway because even when I tried using it, it didn’t look any better. Foundation doesn’t really cover up chunks of peeling skin!

Day 5: Monday

My face continued to shed skin, the forehead begun to peel as well, but it was not as thick. I was told prior to the procedure that the forehead does not respond as well to the chemical peel as the rest of the face. I found that the skin on my forehead did not turn very dark and the peeling was not as deep.

Day 6: Tuesday

Still painful and red with heavy peeling.

Day 7: Wednesday

Most of my skin had shed. In some areas (especially all around my mouth) where there was deep peeling, it begun a second lighter peeling. My face was bright red and raw. I had to be very careful to keep it moisturised and out of the sun.

Day 8: Thursday

Continued to be red and sore, the peeling was in the final stages.

Day 9: Friday

The skin had pretty much finished peeling, but was still red. The rawness began to settle down.

Have you had a chemical peel?

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If you have undergone a chemical peel, were you happy with the results?

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The Following Weeks

Two weeks after the peel, the skin continued to be red and slightly sore all around my mouth. However, it was easily covered up with foundation. My skin is softer and the age spots have almost disappeared. However, for some reason I experienced a break out along my jaw line and chin as well as other areas of my face. There seemed to be lots of blackheads and little lumps and bumps. Some ended up as pussy pimples.

Around the four week mark after my peel, the pimples cleared up and the redness had mostly subsided. However, I was disappointed to find an old pimple scar on my cheek had become a dark spot and I had hyperpigmentation on the left side of my chin. This is where it had cracked and wept. Apparently, this is called Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (also known as PIH) which is caused when melanin levels rise due to skin inflammation stimulating increased melanin production. Although I have white skin, it is supposed to be more common in Asian, Hispanic and African skin. This is really disappointing, but I’m using fading products and have been advised that it will fade over time.

Asked if I would do it again, I have to admit that I’m not sure. There was a heck of a lot of down time, and I would not have been comfortable going to work with my face as it was. If you feel the same way, then I would suggest you get the peel on the Friday night after work and plan not to return to work for a full week – that should give you nine recovery days. However, if you had a lighter peel, you wouldn’t need us much downtime.

I don’t think the improvements have been massive – no one seems to have noticed or complimented me! I acknowledge that many people have said that my face wasn’t that bad to begin with (which I do agree with), so maybe that's why I don’t see a massive difference. Also, it is hard for me to compare because I can’t exactly put my old face beside my new face. But when I look back and compare the photos I took before and after my peel, I do see that my problem age spots have significantly faded or disappeared. I have also noticed that a large dark freckle has gone as have many of my old acne scars. My overall skin tone and texture have also improved.

I also think that you have to be patient. My skin only began looking its best around the 2 month mark. So try and be patient and wait several months before judging the results.

2 Months On...

After a couple of months, the initial baby pink, shiny skin had gone and my skin had pretty much returned to what it was prior to the chemical peel. All of the hyperpigmentation resurfaced. I think it had been lurking underneath the surface all of the time, only to reappear once my skin had recovered.

I want to be clear in stating that this was not new pigmentation that had appeared. I live in a cold dark place, and my skin had not seen any sun the entire winter. Furthermore, I wear sunscreen all year round. So basically, the entire process seemed like it had been a waste of time, energy and money. I'm sure that other people may get better results, but for me the improvement was only temporary.

Have you had a chemical experience or are you thinking about getting a TCA chemical peel?

Please share in the comments below.


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    • C L Mitchell profile image

      C L Mitchell 4 months ago

      Hi Glenis Rix,

      I've actually been meaning to add an additional update to the end of this article. I don't think the pain, discomfort and general inconvenience that the down time causes is worth it. I think your decision to stick with the less intensive peels is sensible!

    • Glenis Rix profile image

      GlenR 4 months ago from UK

      I had laser treatment to heal my skin after a small lesion was shaved by a cosmetic surgeon. The pulses from the laser feel like wasp stings. For at least two years I have been vacillating over whether or not to have some of the treatments that you mention. You have persuaded me to avoid them, especially the TCA as I don't like to voluntarily suffer! May go for a lighter, less intensive peel, though.

    • simplehappylife profile image

      sannwi 9 months ago

      That's wonderful :) It looks a bit painful, so I'm so glad to hear that the positive results seem to be outweighing the discomfort. Oh, and you're welcome :) This was a very interesting read!

    • C L Mitchell profile image

      C L Mitchell 9 months ago

      Hi simplehappylife, thanks for your comments. Yes, I'm hoping that the it will look even better in a few months time as I still have a bit of residual redness, but each week it looks a little better!

    • simplehappylife profile image

      sannwi 9 months ago

      Interesting article. I've read a little about chemical peels, but never wanted to try. I love how thorough your documentation of the process is. Great work. Congratulations on the peel diminishing old scarring and other markings. I wonder if it took such a long time to get to this point, will it improve even more in the next couple of months? It would be interesting to see the follow-up.