Your Ultimate Guide To Chemical Peeling (TCA) : Things You Must Know Before Trying it Out

Your TCA (Trichloro Acetic Acid) Peeling Handbook

Okay so this is the second installment on chemical peel. On the first one we discussed about common questions regarding this & debunked a few myths regarding the same.

However, the name chemical peel itself is downright scary to most because of the predisposal of most people (atleast in India) to the idea that anything ‘chemical’ is bad & skin peeling is horrific (I’m talking about the ‘average’ population). But the truth is, I’ve found chemical peels so far are the best treatment option available for photo damaged (read ‘sun damaged’) skin & scars.

It is also the best & most effective option for reducing the signs of ageing like wrinkles, fine lines etc.

So let me share my experience with this.

I’ve been going in for peels like real long, right from early 2014.

My first chemical peel was a mundane DIY strategy to peel the skin

At first when I started out on this, I didn’t have chemical peeling solutions readily available at that time. So I worked out a funny & simple procedure. I’d apply three kinds of ointments on top of one another: first starting with tretinoin 0.05% àthen glycolic acid 12% à then salicylic acid 12%.

Then I’d bandage the area & keep it like that overnight. The next morning I’d find results similar to chemical peels. There’d be mild frosting (***will explain below) which will soon turn dark & in a week, it’ll peel off to reveal the fresh new skin underneath.

However this was indeed a slow process. With primed skin (priming means application of a topical keratolyte {an agent that helps shed the upper layer of the skin} like tretinoin for 1 month prior to the peeling & stopping it a week before the day I’d apply the peeling agent/solution), it’d take consecutive two sittings which means I’d repeat the above stated procedure for two consecutive days in a row to get any real results.

I know its tiring.

I had severe tanning on both of my arms because of the Indian sun & half sleeved school dress I had to wear for 12 years.

The above, layman’s procedure helped a lot though, but I had to continue it for 6 months of countless sittings.

Finally I got my hands on TCA (Trichloro Acetic Acid) Peeling solution.

I’m particularly inclined towards this agent above all because it suits me the best. Generally I wouldn’t recommend TCA home peels to people & I’d always ask them to stick to milder superficial peels for home; like glycolic acid peels, salicylic or lactic acid peels etc.

TCA is a medium to deep peel & thus it involves some risks.

But when I first tried it, I was desperate. I had crappy, patchy & uneven skin with rough surface. In fact it was so rough that if I’d apply a thick layer of coconut oil, it’d disappear in an hour & the skin would be same once again.

It was especially painful during the winters. Usually I have an oily face, but my body skin was horribly dry & damaged & now I know it’s because of the severe sun damage I inflicted on my skin for years of negligence.

So I decided to do TCA peel. Now let me warn you once again that this should be done by an expert & this is better as an in-office procedure.

I did it on my own but I do not recommend this to anyone. However I’d share my experience of it.

 TCA Peel Priming

Priming the skin is a very important part in case of chemical peels. Priming means application of a keratolytic agent (that chemically exfoliates the skin so that it helps it to shed the damaged cells of the outer layer, epidermis; although slowly) before finally applying the chemical peel solution.

Priming helps prepare the skin so that the chemical peeling agent (TCA here) can easily penetrate the skin.

Such priming agent has another important aspect. As you might know, darker skins (sometimes lighter ones too, like mine) are predisposed to dark scars after chemical peels which is called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Now post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or in short, PIH is the result of activation of melanogenesis (synthesizing melanin, responsible for dark skin colour) as a protective response to inflammation (in this case, the superficial burning by the peeling agent).

This is a counterproductive situation.

Because many of us go for chemical peeling to get rid of scars & uneven skintone, so this is like scars in return of scars.

Proper priming the skin helps a lot to avoid this simply by application of a triple combination bleaching cream like those with {hydroquinone + tretinoin + a mid potent topical corticosteroid} about 1 month before chemical peeling.

Alternatively you may use {arbutin + kojic acid dipalmitate} formula.

Such application won’t result in lightening of the scars though but it’ll temporarily block melanogenesis (synthesis of melanin, no matter what the trigger is, including inflammation).

Ideally such bleaching ointments or in some cases only a tretinoin (a common keratolyte) ointment is applied atleast 1 month prior to chemical peeling & the application is stopped before a week of the day your peeling session is scheduled, to help the skin recover a bit.

But remember, do not follow with chemical peeling agent immediately after stopping the priming ointment (like those mentioned above) or it’ll help the peeling agent penetrate even deeper & you may risk burning.

Ideally stop using the priming agent (tretinoin or bleaching cream) atleast one week prior to your chemical peeling session.

Chemical Peeling Procedure

I still recommend you to get help from a professional but here I’m sharing my experience & how I did it.

·         First the area of the body is located where I’d apply the peeling agent.

Alcohol Rubbing to Cleanse Skin

·         Now, it’s always better to rub the area with 70% isopropanol (doctor’s rubbing alcohol) to make sure no germs are there & any oil residue is cleared up so that the peeling agent can now penetrate the skin better.

·         Now get some of the peeling agent like TCA or Glycolic acid in a glass bowl (do not use plastic or any other metal).

·         Get a fan brush or even hair dyeing brush (ofcourse new & unused) can be used to take a little of the product from the glass bowl/cup. This is okay if the peeling agent is a liquid agent. Most glycolic acid, salicylic acid & TCA solutions are sold in a liquid state. Now apply this evenly on the cleansed skin.

TCA Peeling Solution
TCA Peel Solution

·         However there are also gel formulations. In that case, you can directly take out that gel product from the product reservoir/bottle to applicator brush & apply it on the cleansed skin you’d previously primed.

·         Now depending on the peel strength, you’d keep it on your skin from 1-5 minutes.

·         For strong peels like TCA 30-35%, 1 minute or less is more than enough.

·         For mild peels, you may keep it for longer like 4-5 minutes if you’re applying it on your body skin. If applied on facial skin, you’ll need to neutralize it soonerbecause facial skin is way thinner & hundred times more sensitive than your body skin.

·         After application of the agent, depending on the peel strength, you may feel tingling or even pain. At this time, you’ll also notice the area you’ve applied the agent to turn white or even patchy white. This is called frosting, usually the result of surface protein coagulation by the peeling agent/acid.

·         You must neutralize the area as soon as you notice frosting or even sooner.

·         You must understand frosting is not necessary; it’ll still peel without the occurrence of frosting during the event. However, frosting usually happens if you’re using a strong peel like TCA, or higher conc. of glycolic acid etc.

·         Now to neutralize the peel after it’s stayed on your skin for the required time, you need a neutralizer. Most chemical peeling brands also make neutralizer. You can buy it. Alternatively you can wash it off with cold water which will also neutralize the whole thing.

Home Made Chemical Peel Neutralizer

·         You can also make your own neutralizer at home. Simply take ½ cup distilled water & add 1 tsp baking soda & ½ tsp glycerin in it. Shake well & keep this in a spray bottle. Each time you apply it; do not forget to shake it well. This is your homemade DIY chemical peel neutralizer.

·         Now, get a piece of aloevera leaf & cut a thin slice & rub the slimy inside part of it on the peeled skin. Alternatively you may use aloe vera gel. But this is completely optional.

Usage of Aloevera in Chemical Peels

·         Now apply a thick layer of coconut oil or simply a topical corticosteroid like hydrocortisone or mometasone.

Chemical Peel Aftercare

For most peels, aftercare rule is as important as priming & the results depend a lot on this. Like other peels, TCA peeling requires similar aftercare.

·         To be simple, if you have darker skin, you’re more prone to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation/PIH as stated above & it is because you have either hyperactive melanocytes (melanin producing cells) or have higher number of them which anyways produce the same results. So it is more important for you to take precautions & follow proper aftercare routine.

·         So, for people with darker skin tone, peeling aftercare requires application of a topical bleaching cream. This can be same as the one used to prime to skin before peeling like triple combination creams {hydroquinone + tretinoin + corticosteroid} or the safer versions like Arbutin or Kojic Acid Dipalmitate based creams.

·         Ideally after the peel, the skin stays red for long because it is a deep peel. This condition is called erythema. Mild erythema or redness is normal & this redness will soon turn to dark plastic like skin which will eventually peel off.

Skin Redness

·         Usually while peeling, you’ll notice irregular frosting (white patches) on the skin where the peeling agent (usually an acid) has been applied. The frosted areas are the first to turn dark & the last to peel off. This is normal.

·         Please do not pick the skin. I have a very bad habit of doing so & I’ve learnt the hard way. Picking may result in premature peeling & scarring which would take another 3 months to heal, which you don’t want obviously. So LEAVE YOUR SKIN ALONE.

·         Do not 'help' the skin to peel anyway or it’ll leave scars, simple BUT there may be accidental picking. If this happens, you’ll see the skin underneath will turn super red. This is the hallmark of a future PIH or scar. So if you accidentally do this, immediately apply a topical corticosteroid preparation like hydrocortisone or mometasone cream on it to minimize the adverse effects of picking & pray to God it helps.
TCA Treated Skin
Crinkly Treated Skin 'About To Peel'

Skin Peeling After TCA Peeling
Skin Peeling After TCA Peeling

·         Please be sure that it’ll peel off anyway & keep your patience. But if you’re getting really impatient & you need a trick to make it peel faster without picking it then, there’s an age old way to do this. Immerse the body area where you applied the chemical peeling solution in warm water daily or frequently for about 20 minutes. Follow up with a bleaching cream & this will make it peel faster.

·         Also while you’re applying the priming cream (bleaching cream or any keratolyte), or following up with aftercare after the chemical peel, make sure you follow proper sun protection rules like covering the area & applying a broad spectrum sunscreen every 2-3 hours even indoors.

So, that’s all I know about chemical peels & this is exactly how I did mine & achieved good results. But I’d always suggest you to talk to a dermatologist before attempting such in-office procedures at home even if it’s a superficial peel because what works for me, may not work for you. Everyone is unique. I’m simply sharing my experience.

Finally I do not officially endorse any products shown here. I use them & the photos are for demonstration purpose only.

Again, this is for educational purpose only; thus it cannot be treated as an alternative to a medical professional’s advice. Please refer to the disclaimer for further information:

Let me know how you found this article in the comments section below & don’t forget to follow me here on my blog & on social media (buttons on the collapsible sidebar ß).


Koyel M.

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