- TCA peels are a type of chemical peel offering powerful anti-aging results.
- Though they are typically performed in a clinic, it is possible to do a TCA peel at home.
- At-home TCA peels carry a high risk of accidentally damaging your skin.
- Other products may more safely and effectively improve your skin with fewer side effects.
A TCA peel uses trichloroacetic acid to chemically exfoliate the top layer of skin from the face, revealing healthier, undamaged skin beneath. Although they are typically performed in a clinic by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, you can perform a TCA peel at home for a much lower cost.
However, giving yourself a TCA peel without proper training carries a high risk of injuring the skin. Other products and procedures may effectively exfoliate your skin with fewer risks.
Benefits of a TCA Peel
A trichloroacetic acid peel treats many skin concerns, including fine lines, sun damage, age spots, freckles, melasma, hyperpigmentation and acne scars. If you have acne, TCA provides a deep exfoliation to eliminate the dead skin cells and debris that lead to breakouts.
Can You Do a TCA Peel at Home?
Dermatologists and skin care professionals generally advise against performing a TCA peel at home. If you do choose to do one, you accept the risk of permanent skin damage.
Do not attempt a TCA peel if you:
- Have broken skin or a sunburn
- Have active cold sores
- Took Accutane in the past year
- Recently received chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
What to Buy
TCA peel solutions are available at concentrations ranging from 5–100%. Higher concentrations must be diluted to prevent chemically burning your skin.
To perform the face peel, you’ll need the following equipment.
- Stopwatch or timer
- Fan brush or gauze
- Small container
- Neutralizing solution (can be homemade; dissolve 2 tsp baking soda in 1 cup water)
TCA peel kit
A TCA peel kit includes all the materials you need to perform an at-home peel. However, kits are not guaranteed to be safe. To lower your risk of burning yourself, choose one containing TCA at a concentration of 15% or less, especially if it is your first time.
At-Home TCA Peel Instructions
Before your peel, patch-test a small area of skin to determine if the solution is too strong or if you are allergic to it. If your skin does not react after 48 hours, you can proceed.
Follow all instructions provided with your product. Dilute the peel solution as directed to reach the desired concentration of TCA.
Starting with a clean face, apply a prep solution or rubbing alcohol to remove surface oils from your skin. Apply petroleum jelly around your eyes, mouth and nose to protect those areas.
Wearing gloves, use gauze or a fan brush to apply the peel solution all over your face.
The length of the peel depends on the concentration of the peel solution and your skin’s tolerance, but 2–5 minutes is typical. If your skin starts to sting or you experience frosting, meaning that your skin turns white, immediately neutralize the peel.
To do so, apply the neutralizer (usually provided) using gauze or a cloth. Then, wash your face with water.
Finally, apply a healing ointment such as Bacitracin. Reapply several times a day for 48 hours.
Risks and Side Effects
Performing a TCA face peel at home carries a risk of accidentally burning your skin. This risk increases if you use a product containing more than 15% of the chemical. Risks of using more than 35% TCA include infection, scarring and organ damage.
In darker skin tones, TCA can cause skin discoloration, meaning that the treated area becomes lighter or darker than your natural skin color.
Expected side effects of a TCA peel are redness, swelling and peeling lasting up to two weeks. During that time, your skin is sensitive to light. Avoid sun exposure and wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 every day. Additionally, do not use skin care products containing AHAs, retinol, salicylic acid, vitamin C or any other exfoliating products while your skin recovers.
Alternatives to At-Home TCA Chemical Peels
The best alternative to an at-home peel is a professional treatment from a clinician or dermatologist. These address the same skin concerns and include chemical peels (TCA peels, glycolic acid peels, lactic acid peels, salicylic acid peels and more), ablative laser skin resurfacing, and microneedling.
Retinol can also address many of the same issues as a TCA peel.
TCA peels are an effective means of removing dark spots, acne scars and other blemishes from the face. Though usually performed in an office, a TCA peel can be performed at home using a kit.
To avoid the risk of a chemical burn, only use products containing 15% or lower TCA. Follow all included instructions and an appropriate post-peel care regimen to prevent complications. Side effects include redness, swelling and peeling lasting up to two weeks.
As an alternative to an at-home peel, consider a professional treatment. These treatments offer the same significant skin improvements with a far lower risk of damaging your skin.
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