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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: My TCA Peel Experience

flickr user Darwin Bell

Perfect skin. It’s something I’m in perpetual pursuit of—and I assume that, since you’re reading the DermStore blog, the same holds true for you. (Deductive reasoning!) With that in mind, I’d like to discuss something that, while not for everyone (i.e. not for trying without discussing with your dermatologist, trying at home or doing yourself), has proven a great tool in my own personal battle to keep a young-looking, even-toned complexion: the chemical peel .

True story: this is the second December in a row I’ve spent with a peeling, snake-like face and chest. (Working at a beauty company, this kind of thing is understood. At the grocery store or the mall, it’s another story. Lots of strange/confused looks.) Honestly, not the most fun—but well worth it, I promise! Of course, it’s not like there’s ever a convenient time to look like Freddy Krueger, but the long-term benefits of my now-annual medium-strength TCA peel far outweigh the couple of weeks of awkwardness and initial discomfort. Is a peel something you’ve considered? If it is, here’s my experience in a nutshell. Hopefully it will help you in deciding (with your dermatologist or licensed esthetician, of course!) whether or not this is something you’d like to try.

The procedure itself

After a thorough cleansing, my esthetician applied the peel to my skin with a fan brush. I won’t sugar coat things here … it burned. I’ve done milder peels (glycolic acid, lactic acid) in the past as an add-on to facials, and those don’t hurt at all. The TCA (trichloracetic acid) does. That’s because it creates a second-degree burn in the skin, facilitating peeling that isn’t just on a microscopic level, unlike its aforementioned counterparts. It’s nothing you can’t handle, but it’s no walk in the park either. For the record, I’ve heard that a medium-strength salicylic peel (suitable for oily skin with acne) is slightly more painful. (Just FYI, the really heavy-duty peels, like the Obagi Blue peel, involve anesthesia. I encourage you to discuss the specifics of that one with your skin care professional if it’s something you’re interested in.) This time, we opted to do three “layers” of the peel—that is, three even coats of the solution were applied to my skin. This was on a Friday night—and in my case, my esthetician advised me not to do anything to my skin—no washing, no product, nothing—until Monday morning.

The aftermath

It was a rainy weekend in Los Angeles and I was not allowed to get my face wet, and therefore I was able to reinforce my relationship with the delivery team at my favorite Thai place. (I actually put a plastic bag over my head to take the trash out.) Saturday and Sunday, my skin was red and stiff. Monday, after cleansing and moisturizing, my stiff, red skin began to crack a little bit (no pain, though—that’s over with once the peel procedure itself is done.) By Wednesday I was shedding like a snake—more so around my mouth and where I make facial expressions. (The rest of my face took a little longer and my chest and neck just started a couple days ago.) I’m always a meticulous wearer of sunscreen, but since my skin is so very vulnerable right now, I’ve been downright obsessive and have even been donning a big hat and sunglasses (the celebrity-in-hiding costume) for any outdoor activity during daylight hours.

The results!

Nearly two weeks have passed, and I’m still a little flaky. Some areas, like the sides of my chest, are still full-on peeling. However, having gone through this process last year, I know what I have to look forward to in just another couple of weeks:
1. A dramatically brighter, more even-toned look, thanks to a huge improvement in sun damage (age spots)
2. Softened crow’s feet
3. A boost in elasticity and suppleness (a couple of friends actually thought I got botox injections)
4. A thoroughly exfoliated complexion that will make the most of/adequately absorb the pricey maintenance products I use
5. An all-around younger look. (My esthetician, who does not mince her words and speaks frankly when my face is looking less than awesome, told me my skin looks better now than it did when I was 24.)

Speaking of maintenance, my esthetician also recommended that, to retain the results of the peel, I use a retinol product every other night once the peeling is completely done and my skin is fully intact.

Will you be embarking on a procedure like this in the New Year? Got any helpful tips for others who are considering this? Have questions? You know where to find me!



  1. Posted December 29, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting about your experiences, I have been curious about the TCA (and other) peels. I’m a little obsessive about the lighter strength at-home peels, and am trying them once by one and blogging about my results. I am trying Colbert MD Intensify Facial Discs right now, they are nice and gentle. I have sensitive skin, so there are a lot of products that I can’t really use. I tried Make Up Artist’s Choice Radiance Peel, which burned me (didn’t expect that). They also have a TCA peel for sale online (scared of that). Won’t be doing anything hardcore at home, that’s for sure! I’m finding that something like the Colbert MD peel pads are great for at-home use (lactic acid, bromelain), because they really won’t hurt you, and can only help. I would love to visit an esthetician to get a professional opinion about my skin, just need to save up the dough. Thanks again for posting!

  2. jenn
    Posted December 29, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    I want one! This would be a better article if u had pix to show.

  3. Liz
    Posted January 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Glad you enjoyed and glad you’re NOT planning on performing a TCA peel on yourself at home! Thanks for sharing your experiences with that at-home products too … how are those working out for you?

  4. Liz
    Posted January 3, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Jenn, I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of the peeling mess. However I’d be more than happy to post pics of my healed complexion!

  5. Esther
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi Liz!
    I’ve always wanted to get a chemical peel but I’ve been afraid. I really don’t know what kind of peel I should get or where to get it. All I know is that I want a peel which will give me better skin tone, reduce pore size, brighten my face and even out hyperpigmentation. But where do I go? Can you share your esthetician’s name?


  6. tca peels
    Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with that at-home products,I am really afraid to try anything at home and i think its really important if anybody trying its first time at home than i would suggest them to consult a dermatologist and then use it.

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