If you have acne scars, wrinkles, fine lines, or any type of pigmentation from sun damage, you may have considered a chemical peel. This is a procedure that uses a chemical solution to "peel" away the damaged outer layers of skin, usually on the face. Chemical peels can run the gamut from mild lactic acid or fruit acid peels performed quickly and without any down time to moderate trichloroacetic peels that cause swelling and redness for several days to stronger phenol peels that require a couple of weeks of recovery. Most peels are safely performed in doctors' offices, but do-it-yourself peels are an option also.

It's important to know that in some states practitioners do not need a medical degree to administer chemical peels, even the strongest ones. Be wary of technicians who lack the experience to properly and safely administer peels. Remember-chemicals are being applied to your skin. Even the mildest peels may cause stinging, redness and flaking, which should dissipate fairly quickly. More intensive peels mean your face will hurt and become very swollen for a few days, and you'll probably need someone to help care for you. After about a week, new skin that's quite red will form. It can take months for the redness to fade to a pinkish color, and it's crucial to protect this new skin from the sun or risk developing irregular blotches.

Are there other risks to chemical peels? Phenol peels may not be safe for people with heart problems, as phenol is an acid that can affect the functioning of the heart. It's also not recommended for dark-skinned people. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, people with certain skin types are at risk of developing a temporary or permanent color change in their skin after a peel. There's also a risk of scarring after a peel, although it's extremely low.

If you're tempted to buy an at-home chemical peel, it's important to follow the instructions closely. And talk to a dermatologist before you administer the peel, as certain facial products such as those containing retinoids do not mix well with the chemicals found in peels. Nevertheless, the concentrations of chemicals in at-home kits is much lower than those used in doctors' offices in order to minimize the risk of complications.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, www.plasticsurgery.org