A chemical peel can cause various side effects, including:
- Redness. Normal healing from a chemical peel involves redness of the treated skin. After a medium or deep chemical peel, redness might last for several months.
- Scarring. Rarely, a chemical peel can cause scarring — typically on the lower part of the face. Antibiotics and steroid medications can be used to soften the appearance of these scars.
- Changes in skin color. A chemical peel can cause treated skin to become darker than normal (hyperpigmentation) or lighter than normal (hypopigmentation). Hyperpigmentation is more common after superficial peels, while hypopigmentation is more common after a deep peel. Changes in skin color are more common in people who have darker skin and can be permanent.
- Infection. A chemical peel can cause a flare-up of the herpes virus — the virus that causes cold sores. Rarely, a chemical peel can lead to a bacterial or fungal infection.
- Heart, kidney or liver damage. A deep chemical peel uses carbolic acid (phenol), which can damage the heart muscle and cause the heart to beat irregularly. Phenol can also harm the kidneys and liver. To limit exposure to phenol, a deep chemical peel is done in portions at 10- to 20-minute intervals.
A chemical peel isn’t for everyone. Your doctor might caution against a chemical peel or certain types of chemical peels if you:
- Have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Amnesteem, others) in the past six months
- Have a dark complexion
- Have red hair and a pale, freckled complexion
- Have a personal history of ridged areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue (keloids)
- Have abnormal skin pigmentation
- Have facial warts
- Have a history of frequent or severe outbreaks of cold sores