Trichloracetic acid (TCA) peels are considered medium-depth peels. They reach slightly deeper into the skin than alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels–and thus often produce stronger results.
These peels also have the advantage of being suitable for most skin types, including darker-toned skin. To avoid discoloration, however, people with dark brown skin need to follow a pre-treatment protocol that may include treating the skin with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) first. (Your physician will explain this process to you during your consultation.)
How Does a TCA Peel Work?
TCA is a skin-resurfacing treatment: it removes dead skin cells, uncovering a “new” layer of skin that appears smoother and more vibrant. As a result, it softens fine lines, minimizes superficial “age” spots and other skin discolorations, and generally improves the tone and texture of your skin. TCA peels are also very popular for diminishing the appearance of acne scars.
More than one TCA treatment may be recommended. Treatments are usually spaced 2 to 3 months apart. To increase their effectiveness, these peels are often combined with other skin-rejuvenating treatments, such as microdermabrasion.
TCA peels generally take 15 to 30 minutes. The exact length of treatment will depend on how many “coats” of the acid are applied to your skin. First, your skin will be cleansed and degreased. Then the acid will be applied. As soon as the acid has reached the intended depth, your physician will apply a neutralizing solution.
You’ll experience a slight stinging sensation during the 2 to 3 minutes the solution remains on your skin. Your physician may use ice water or a fan to reduce any discomfort. If a high concentration of acid is being used, you may also be given a medication for pain or anxiety.
You’ll probably want to set aside several days to recover from a TCA treatment. Immediately after the procedure, you can expect some skin irritation, redness and swelling. Within a few days, your skin will tighten and darken–and then begin to crack and peel for the next 4 to 7 days–at which point the tighter, smoother and more youthful-looking layer of skin will emerge.
Because your skin’s newly formed layer will be temporarily more susceptible to sunburn, you’ll need to protect it with an effective sunscreen for several weeks. TCA is a strong chemical that can transform the appearance of your skin, but it should be administered only by a skilled and experienced physician.