TCA Peels

Information about TCA peels and what to expect |

TCA peel

TCA peels, trichloroacetic acid peels, are medium strength chemical peels that rejuvenate and repair your skin. They improve skin discoloration, reduce fine lines, and even out skin texture. They also cause your skin to physically peel, so they will require around a week of downtime. However, the results are usually well worth the wait!

This section explains what happens during the various stages of the TCA peeling process and what you can expect from a TCA peel, whether you get one professionally done or give yourself one at-home.

Below are some common questions about TCA peels that are thoroughly answered in the following pages:

  • What do TCA peels do?
  • Where do you get TCA peels?
  • How do you prepare your skin for a TCA peel?
  • What happens during a TCA peel?
  • How much does a TCA peel hurt?
  • How much your skin will peel and how long will it take?
  • How do you take care of your skin after the peel?
  • What skin types are TCA peels best for?
  • What are side effects of TCA peels?

Keep reading to learn more about TCA peels and how to use them safely to make your skin look better.

What do TCA peels do?

TCA peels are medium depth peels, ranging from 8% to 30% strengths. Though their concentrations might not be as high as other chemical peels, TCA peels are considered much deeper peels than lactic acid and glycolic acid peels. For instance, a 75% glycolic acid peel never made me peel, but a 12.5% TCA peel had my skin peeling for days.

TCA peels brighten and even out your skin tone by reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation (dark spots, acne marks, sun spots, freckles) and skin discoloration. They revitalize dull-looking skin, helping skin look soft and smooth. Because of their deep exfoliating effects, TCA peels can clean out congested pores to refine the surface of your skin. Unfortunately, they don't work as well for acne scars or moles, but they can minimize the appearance of skin tags. TCA peels are also great for erasing fine wrinkles and treating sun damage.

TCA peels can be used on the face, neck, or back of the hands. They can also be used all over the face or just as a spot peel. One TCA peel will give better results than one glycolic acid peel, but more than one TCA peel is still necessary for the best results. Results generally last around 6 months, but they can last even longer when supplemented with glycolic or lactic acid peels every two weeks.

Where do you get TCA peels?

You can get TCA peels of varying percentages from your local dermatologist, plastic surgeon, or aesthetician. They are also available as at-home peels. However, TCA peels are not to be taken lightly! Doing them at home by yourself can be dangerous if you don't follow the proper instructions.

If you've never gotten a TCA peel done before, it's best to get them done the first time by a professional instead of using an at-home kit. Getting the first few TCA peels done by a professional will teach you what to expect from the peel. After you get a few done and know how to care for your skin and apply the peel correctly, then it's safer for you to give yourself a TCA peel at home.

Keep in mind that high concentration TCA peels (above 20%) are still best administered by a specialist. You should also never get a high strength TCA peel unless you have gotten weaker TCA peels before to build up your skin's tolerance.

What to expect from a TCA peel

TCA peels are serious peels with about 7-10 days worth of downtime. If you are considering getting one done, definitely schedule some time off of work and clear your calendar because you don’t want to get any sun exposure after the peel and you’ll probably look too red and flaky to be presentable.

So, how do you prepare your skin for a TCA peel? How much will it hurt? And how long will the peeling last? These questions and more will be answered in the following breakdown of what the 10 day course of a TCA peel (from pre-peel to recovery) are like:

  • Pre-peel:

    Before you get the TCA peel, there are a few things you should do to prepare your skin for it. Some dermatologists recommend using retinoids or an AHA serum for two weeks prior to the peel to prime the skin for a more even and penetrating peel. However, this is optional.

    Three days before the actual peel though, you must stop the use of all exfoliants (manual or chemical) and especially avoid using any harsh products (such as hair removal or grainy scrubs) on the day of the peel and for the duration of the peel.

    48 hours before you get a full peel, you must do a patch test on the area where you will get the peel. If you are getting a peel on your face, patch test your face. If you are getting a peel on your hands, patch test your hands. Spot testing the TCA peel solution is extremely important for a safe peel because it will help you understand how your skin responds to the acid and make you aware of any averse reactions before getting a full-face peel.

    It's also wise to get yourself some time off work. If you can't get 10 days off, try to get the days off when your skin will start to peel the most, most likely 3-4 days after the day of the peel. Have a good moisturizer, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), antibiotic cream (usually provided by the dermatologist or Bacitracin or Neosporin), and anti-itch cream (Lanacaine or Cortaid) on hand. If you plan on going out during any of the 10 days, make sure you have a good sunscreen and a big floppy hat to wear too.

Last updated: September 22, 2012

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What happens on Day 1 of a TCA peel?