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  • TCA peels are cosmetic treatments that use trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to improve your skin’s appearance.
  • The peels come in a variety of strengths or concentrations of acid.
  • A TCA peel works by removing dead skin cells and stimulating new skin cell growth.
  • People use TCA peels to try to get younger looking skin, and to treat certain skin conditions, like melasma and acne scarring.


  • Nearly 130,000 chemical peels were performed by dermatologists in 2018, many using TCA.
  • The TCA peel application process sometimes causes temporary side effects such as burning and discomfort.
  • After a chemical peel, you may experience redness and skin sensitivity. In rare cases, there is a risk of scarring and infection from a TCA peel.
  • Finding a licensed and certified health practitioner to perform the TCA peel will lower your risks of negative side effects.


  • The peel itself typically takes about 30 minutes to apply.
  • You can resume your regular activities after the peel has been applied, but protecting your skin from the sun is essential as you heal.
  • This procedure is available through dermatologists trained in the procedure.


  • TCA peels aren’t typically covered by insurance.
  • The average cost of a full-face TCA chemical peel is $693. This cost varies according to your region and provider.


  • TCA peel results vary according to the results you expect and the reason you’re using the peels.
  • Studies show that peels containing TCA have been found to be effective for the treatment of acne and melasma,

A TCA peel is a noninvasive skin treatment used to treat skin discolorations, scarring, and wrinkles. These peels get their name from trichloroacetic acid (TCA), which is used to clear away dead skin cells to reveal the newer and smoother skin layers below.

TCA peels are part of the group of skin treatments called chemical peels, which are used to exfoliate your skin by using different strengths and combinations of nontoxic acid ingredients.

Chemical peels can be superficial, medium, or deep strength. TCA peels are considered medium strength, meaning they should only be applied by a certified skin care professional. The ideal candidate for a TCA peel:

  • is not breastfeeding or pregnant
  • does not have a skin condition such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea
  • does not have a job that requires them to be outside
  • has no history of keloids or poor wound healing
  • will be counseled by the doctor beforehand about realistic expectations of the results

People who have taken the acne medication isotretinoin (Zenatane, Amnesteem, Claravis) should avoid chemical peels for a period of time after completing treatment.

The cost of a TCA peel is determined by the size of the application area as well as the expected results. In 2018 a chemical peel application cost an average of $693, according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Keep in mind that the cost of a TCA peel won’t always be limited to the treatment itself.

After a TCA peel, it’s recommended you use additional moisturizing products to protect your face while it heals and rehydrate your skin.

These skin care products can get expensive, and the quality of the products you purchase can impact the overall result of your chemical peel as well as how long the results last.

If you work in an office setting or spend most of your time indoors, you probably won’t need to take time off from work after a TCA peel. Immediately after the peel is applied, your skin will appear extremely red and irritated.

Like other chemical peels, TCA peels are considered an elective procedure. That means that they are not covered by health insurance.

A TCA peel dissolves cells in the top layer of your skin (epidermis). As the skin that’s been affected by TCA application peels off, new cell growth is encouraged underneath.

Once that top layer of skin has peeled off, a layer of brand-new skin cells becomes visible. Often, the new layer of skin is smoother and less affected by “imperfections” such as wrinkles and acne scarring.

The TCA peel treatment itself will probably take around 30 minutes. You will be instructed to lie down as the dermatologist applies the TCA solution to your skin.

Most people feel a burning sensation for the first few minutes of the procedure, followed by a stinging pain as the acid exfoliates and clears away the top layers of your skin.

The procedure is done in a single session. It may be recommended that you prepare your skin with certain products prior to a TCA peel to achieve better results.

If you are looking to achieve a certain result, multiple sessions may be required. It’s advised that you wait several months between chemical peels to allow your skin to fully heal.

You may be sedated during the TCA peel, according to what you and your dermatologist decide.

TCA peels are typically applied to your face. They can also be used to improve skin’s smoothness and tone on other areas of your body, such as:

  • back
  • chest area
  • neck
  • shoulders
  • upper arms

There are some risks and side effects for the procedure. Common side effects include:

  • redness that lasts for several days or even weeks
  • herpes flare-up if you have the herpes simplex virus
  • changes in skin color

Rarely, a TCA peel can cause:

  • a bacterial or fungal infection
  • organ damage due to chemical exposure

People with darker complexions may be at a higher risk for hyperpigmentation after a chemical peel. Hyperpigmentation causes the layer of skin exposed by the chemical peel to appear darker or uneven.

Speak to your doctor about specific risks for your skin type before getting a chemical peel.

After your peel, if you experience excessive redness, swelling in your peel, oozing, blisters, or pus formation on your skin, contact your health provider immediately.

After a TCA peel application, you may notice some changes right away. It could also take three or four days before you see the full effects develop.

After the initial redness fades from your skin, you’ll notice that your skin begins to feel tight. Throughout the next three days, the affected area will shed the skin that has been exposed to the TCA treatment. It’s normal for the peeling skin to come off in patches over the course of several days.

Avoid scratching your skin or peeling it off with your fingernails. After the skin comes off completely, the skin underneath may appear firmer, smoother, brighter, and more youthful.

During the period that your skin is peeling, make sure to wear sunscreen and protect your skin from sun each day. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser to prevent stripping your skin of additional moisture.

You may plan another chemical peel in three to nine months if you like the result.

After your peel, continue applying sunscreen daily. Avoid excess exposure to UV light. You may also need to change your grooming habits: waxing and sugaring the hair where you have a TCA peel could injure your skin in the weeks afterward.

Prior to a TCA peel, you may need to switch up your skin care regimen.

Your health care provider may give you instructions to “prime” or prep the skin in the weeks prior to a TCA peel. Sunscreen and retinoic acid may be part of the skin priming process.

The Mayo Clinic suggests applying sunscreen daily for at least four weeks before any kind of chemical peel. This can help you achieve an even skin tone after the peel.

It’s recommended that you stop using any skin care products containing retinoids in the three days leading up to your TCA peel appointment. Retinol ingredients can thin the skin layer, making damage from chemical exposure more likely.

Sometimes TCA is combined by dermatologists with other ingredients and acids to create different kinds of chemical peels.

Jessner Peels and glycolic acid peels may give similar results to TCA peels. In one small study from 2010, glycolic acid peels and TCA peels (both combined with pre-peel preparation routines) were found to have similar results for women who were trying to improve symptoms of melasma.

Some milder chemical peel options are available and can be performed at home. These at-home peels often contain lactic acid, glycolic acid, or citric acid.

While these peels may not offer the same dramatic results as a chemical peel done by a dermatologist, they are a more affordable option and they carry a lower risk of side effects.

Shop for facial peels online.

If you’re interested in trying a TCA peel, schedule a consultation with a doctor who performs them. Results may vary according to your skin type, age, and other factors. Your provider should speak with you about realistic expectations for the procedure, as well as risk factors and potential side effects.

The American Academy for Dermatologic Surgery offers a directory of dermatologists who have been trained in applying chemical peels to help you find a skilled and experienced practitioner.