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Skincare FAQ

The Benefits of TCA Peel: A New Game-Changer for Skin Discolorations, Scarring, and Wrinkles

What it is, how it works, benefits, and how to use TCA peels for skin.
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  • TCA peel stands for trichloroacetic acid and it’s a noninvasive skin treatment often used to treat photodamaged skin, wrinkles, acne scars and discolorations.
  • The TCA peel benefits are also ideal for treating less-inflamed acne and enhancing skin texture and radiance.
  • The general belief is that TCA peels have more potent and longer-lasting results than glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid peels.
  • TCA peels can be tailored to most people’s needs in the hands of a good dermatologist and are suitable for all skin types.

Everyone dreams of that picture-perfect skin we so often see in Hollywood, and no doubt, one of the best ways to achieve better skin is through exfoliation. Luckily, today’s skincare world comes up with an amalgam of treatments in terms of exfoliation: from microdermabrasion, the dreaded St. Ives scrub, crazy pore-sucking vacuums, and of course, our beloved AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids).

Everyone would agree that acids are some of the most powerful exfoliators to remove the buildup of dead skin cells and reveal an even, smooth and radiant skin. And if you haven’t tried them yet, you should, whether it’s an acid peel at a spa day or at-home products that deliver a stunning next-day glow.

But what about when your skin concerns aren’t solved by gentler exfoliators you can use every day? If AHA or BHA peels haven’t brought you the desired results, there’s a new acid in town that you may want to give a try: trichloroacetic acid (THA). The list of TCA peel benefits is lengthy, and the general belief is that TCA peels have more potent and longer-lasting results than glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid peels. This is because TCA peels exfoliate deeper into the skin’s layers compared to other peeling solutions.

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Dermatologists have used TCA peels for over 50 years, being touted as the age-old skin perfecters.[3] With that kind of a longstanding reputation, you know it must bring some serious results. So what are the specific TCA peel benefits that make it different than any other acid, and how to use it to maximize the results?

What is a TCA peel?

TCA or trichloroacetic acid is a fan-favorite for in-office chemical peels because this multi-talented acid can be tailored for diverse skincare needs.[4]

The name may sound a little intense, but this acid isn’t too dissimilar from others you’ve used. TCA is made from acetic acid, the stuff that gives vinegar its wallop. The difference is that TCA peels are much stronger and often more concentrated than what you can find in at-home products. Serums like 2% salicylic acid can be used daily, and even the chemical peels you can get from a facialist can be done every one to two weeks. These weaker acids need a more frequent application to see improvement, but since TCA is a stronger peel, you’ll most likely see results in fewer treatments.

TCA peels are done in a professional office, where your dermatologist or aesthetician will discuss your goals and provide some before and aftercare. During your appointment, a solution of TCA is applied to the skin for about 30 minutes, after which the acid is no longer active. Your skin may look a little scary at first, but the signs of redness should reduce after 4-10 days.  

The deeper a peel goes, the longer the recovery time between the old skin peeling and your new baby’s smooth skin. Give your skin time to heal. This is not a treatment for the day before vacation.

What is a TCA peel good for?

If you ask some dermatologists, TCA peels are good at everything.[4] Used to treat almost every skin condition, from sunspots, wrinkles, uneven texture, acne scars, and even to lighten tattoos, TCA peels are an essential part of nearly every dermatologist’s toolkit.[1][2]

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The versatility of TCA peel’s benefits comes from the ability to use varying concentrations for depths of peel targeting different concerns.

There are three levels of chemical peels, with strength varying based on your goals. The mildest ones, superficial peels, have a lower concentration, safer for routine spa days. These brighten your skin and help soften texture issues. Superficial peels can also treat minor breakouts and improve sun damage.

The stronger intensity is where today’s star really shines! With the supervision of a professional, medium-depth peels can treat deeper acne scars, wrinkles, and fine lines. For deeper peels, TCA is usually combined with other exfoliants (like Jessner’s solution) to target more stubborn problems.[5]

Deeper TCA peels benefit those with challenging acne ‘icepick scars’. High concentrations of TCA up to 70% can be applied to scarring using something called the CROSS technique — a procedure that involves using high concentrations of TCA solution onto the surface of the atrophic scar.[6] Generally, this gives really good results when other treatments haven’t worked.[7]

TCA peel benefits are ideal for treating less-inflamed acne, reducing scarring, and improving skin texture and radiance.[1][2]

Who can use TCA peel?

TCA peels can be tailored to most people’s needs in the hands of a good dermatologist. If you have darker skin, be careful before getting a TCA peel, as you have an increased chance of scarring and hyperpigmentation, so make sure to discuss it with a professional beforehand. The same goes if you have super sensitive skin or are using products like retinol. During the appointment, they can spot test the peel just to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction.

Please make sure to visit a licensed dermatologist or clinical aesthetician as TCA peels require medical supervision.

TCA peel vs. glycolic acid

TCA peels are often compared to glycolic acid, and while there is no clear-cut way of deciding which one is better, the decision is up to you as it is more like a matter of preference. 

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Multiple comparative studies have shown that TCA peels may give similar results to glycolic acid or Jessner peels for the treatment of photodamaged skin, wrinkles, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation.[2][4][8] However, there’s a big difference in the concentration used for each peeling solution in those studies. That being said, TCA peels have shown similar benefits at a significantly lower concentration than glycolic acid, wherein in some studies, the concentration of TCA peel was even three times lower than that used for glycolic acid.

Related

  1. Best Lactic Acid Peels To Resurface Rough, Dull Skin
  2. Best Enzyme Peels for Healthy, Glowing Skin
  3. Best Chemical Peels for Dehydrated Skin
  4. Best Chemical Peels for Sensitive Skin
  5. Best Chemical Peels for Oily Skin
References
  1. Fanous, N. et al. (2017). Universal Trichloroacetic Acid Peel Technique for Light and Dark Skin. JAMA facial plastic surgery, 19(3), 212–219. doi:10.1001/jamafacial.2016.1666
  2. Kubiak, M. Et al. (2014). Evaluation of 70% Glycolic Peels Versus 15% Trichloroacetic Peels for the Treatment of Photodamaged Facial Skin in Aging Women. Dermatologic Surgery, 40(8), 883–891. doi:10.1097/01.dss.0000452669.84787.bf
  3. Farber, George et al. (1984) Update on Chemical Peel, The Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology. 10( 7) , 559-560 doi: 10.1111/j.1524-4725.1984.tb01252.x
  4. Puri, Neerja, et al. (2015). Efficacy of Modified Jessner’s Peel and 20% TCA Versus 20% TCA Peel Alone for the Treatment of Acne Scars. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 8(1), 42-5. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.155082
  5. Abdel-Meguid, et al. (2017). Combined Jessner Solution and Trichloroacetic Acid Versus Trichloroacetic Acid Alone in the Treatment of Melasma in Dark-Skinned Patients. Dermatologic Surgery, 43(5), 651–656. doi:10.1097/dss.0000000000001036
  6. Agarwal, N., Gupta, L. K., Khare, A. K., Kuldeep, C. M., & Mittal, A. (2015). Therapeutic Response of 70% Trichloroacetic Acid CROSS in Atrophic Acne Scars. Dermatologic Surgery, 41(5), 597–604. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25899884
  7. Bhardwaj, D., & Khunger, N. (2010). An Assessment of the Efficacy and Safety of CROSS Technique with 100% TCA in the Management of Ice Pick Acne Scars. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery, 3(2), 93–96. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.69020
  8. Puri N. Comparative study of 15% TCA peel versus 35% glycolic acid peel for the treatment of melasma. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2012;3(2):109-113. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.96702
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