A chemical peel involves the application of a solution of chemicals to the skin. People often use chemical peels to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, scars, and other blemishes on the skin.

Freckles are tiny, light brown spots that appear on the skin. They often develop during childhood and start to fade as a person ages.

They often become more apparent in the summer and less noticeable in the winter months. Freckles can indicate that a person may be more susceptible to sunburn and damage from the sun. However, they do not in themselves pose any health risks.

Although some people may like the appearance of their freckles, others may wish to make them less visible. In such cases, a person with freckles could use a chemical peel to help reduce the appearance of their freckles.

Keep reading to learn more about how chemical peels can work on freckles.

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A chemical peel is a procedure in which a plastic surgeon or dermatologist applies a chemical solution to the face or another area of the skin. The peel can help with:

  • reducing the appearance of wrinkles in the skin
  • reducing sunspot discolorations
  • lightening the appearance of scars

Peels contain different acids, each of which has a different strength. A doctor can make recommendations on what will work best for a person’s skin based on their skin and their reason for wanting the peel.

Freckles are a type of irregular skin pigmentation that occurs when melatonin produces localized changes in skin color.

Chemical peels can help with evening out the skin’s color, which means that a person could use the procedure to remove or reduce the appearance of their freckles.

An older study from 2012 that compared two types of chemical peels found little difference in effectiveness between peels that contain 70% trichloroacetic acid and those that contain 80% phenol. The authors conclude that both peels can effectively reduce the appearance of freckles.

A more recent study from 2018 examined how a modified phenol peel worked on 896 Chinese people. The researchers used medium and deep peels and found that 26% of people saw a reduction in their freckles. About 99.6% of the participants had an improvement of more than 50% in the appearance of their freckles.

Although there are limited studies on using chemical peels to treat freckles, existing research does note the use of phenol or trichloroacetic acids. These acids are relatively strong, and doctors generally consider them to represent a deep peel.

These types of peels penetrate down to the lower dermal layer. A person will likely need a local anesthetic and a sedative to help manage pain or discomfort.

However, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery notes that doctors often use a medium peel for freckles and discoloration. These peels also use trichloroacetic acid, but they tend to have faster recovery times because the chemical only penetrates the outer and middle layers of the skin.

A person should talk with a doctor about the best peel for them based on the location of the freckles, as well as other considerations.

A person’s doctor will likely recommend the use of a deep chemical peel. These types of peels often require up to 8 weeks of pretreatment with retinoic acid cream, which will help the chemicals penetrate deeper into the skin. A person should stop using the retinoic acid cream several days before their chemical peel.

Although the procedure may vary among clinics, a person can usually expect it to involve the following steps:

  • The individual will receive a sedative and a local anesthetic to numb the face.
  • The dermatologist will brush on the acid and then neutralize it with water
  • The dermatologist will apply a thick coating of ointment and bandages as necessary.

The results from using chemical peels for freckles can vary, but studies have shown some positive outcomes.

A person can often return to work and many of their other usual activities within 2 weeks of the treatment. As they heal, a person can expect:

  • redness or other skin discoloration
  • peeling
  • discomfort
  • crusting
  • swelling

A person will also need to take care of their skin and follow all of the post-procedure instructions to help with recovery.

A doctor may sometimes prescribe pain medications to help the person manage discomfort during recovery. Although most symptoms should go away within 2 weeks, skin discoloration can last for several months.

A person can expect the results to last for up to 10 years for most applications.

Chemical peels, particularly moderate or deep peels, have some associated risks. Some common issues include:

  • the skin lightening too much
  • extra sensitivity to light
  • health risks for people living with heart disease

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of a chemical peel in the United States in 2020 was $519. Costs for chemical peels can vary due to differences in the costs associated with:

  • the facility
  • the use of anesthesia
  • prescription medications associated with the peel
  • the skill and experience of the surgeon

Insurance does not typically cover the cost of chemical peels. Insurers often consider chemical peels elective procedures.

Chemical peels may effectively remove or reduce the appearance of freckles, but they are not a person’s only option.

Cosmetic laser treatments can help with reducing the appearance of freckles and other sun-related discoloration.

Some other potentially helpful treatments include:

  • cryosurgery
  • retinoid cream
  • fading creams
  • use of sunscreen
  • natural remedies, such as applying lemon juice

Anyone who has concerns about their freckles and is interested in removing them should speak with a doctor, who may be able to recommend an appropriate treatment.

Chemical peels can help effectively remove or reduce the appearance of freckles. Chemical peels are generally safe, but they can cause various side effects, including pain, swelling, and discoloration of the skin.

A person can expect to recover in about 2 weeks and to see long lasting results.