When people think of chemical peels, they often bring to mind an image of an aging beauty desperately trying to hold on to her looks. That image is rapidly changing due to a new use that is sweeping cosmetic surgeons’ offices worldwide. The newest use of the chemical peel is not for beauty enhancement, it is for skin cancer prevention.

Most of the women that are in their forties or fifties now came of age in a different era. It was an era that was much less concerned with the risk of skin cancer. These ladies spent their teens and twenties relaxing by the pool with a bottle of lemon juice or tanning oil handy next to the lounge chair. All of that sun exposure is now catching up with them, and they have to be wary of the development of skin cancer.

Physicians are using chemical peels to do preventative maintenance of the skin. Patients that come in to a dermatologist will have their skin examined. If the patient has experienced a large amount of sun exposure over the course of a lifetime, they will often have sunspots on their skin. These sunspots can be precursors to skin cancer. To prevent the sun spots from ever getting the chance to become something potentially dangerous, the dermatologist will prescribe a chemical peel.

Many dermatologists will perform the peel themselves. Sometimes they do not have the necessary arrangements to perform the procedure, so they will refer their patient to a cosmetic surgeon. The technique is fairly straightforward. The physician applies one of three different acids to the patient’s skin. The three types of acid are phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and alphahydroxy acids (AHAs). Each penetrates a different depth into the skin tissue, with phenol being the strongest and AHA the weakest. The old skin is removed, and new skin, healthy skin replaces it. It takes around a week for the patient to recover, and it will appear similar to sunburn during the recovery period. The skin will peel and shed, but the skin is not damaged like it would be with a sunburn.

As well as getting rid of the sunspots that are a skin cancer risk, the chemical peel has that added benefit of a rejuvenation of appearance. When the old skin falls away, the new skin has a fresh appearance. It is often said that someone that has undergone the procedure will appear ten years younger.