This Scary Result Shows the Dangers of a Chemical Peel Gone Wrong

This Scary Result Shows the Dangers of a Chemical Peel Gone Wrong featured image
Marsell Gorska Gautier / Getty Images

Social media can be a place where misinformation runs rampant, with many unqualified users spreading skin-care tips and tricks that may do more harm than good. It’s also a place where users can spread the word on what has gone wrong in their experience to serve as a cautionary tale for others. In the case of TikTok user Michelle Heath, who visited an Atlanta aesthetician to treat her chronic breakouts, the warning involves undergoing a chemical peel in the wrong hands.

After having a dermaplaning treatment to remove dead skin cells and peach fuzz, Heath was then treated on the same day with a heavy-duty chemical peel that left her face burned and scarred. Many TikTok commenters noted that the combination of dermaplaning, which is an exfoliating treatment, along with a strong chemical peel left on too long, yet another exfoliating treatment, contributed to Heath’s burns.

To find out what went wrong and how to avoid a result like this, we reached out to the pros who say this should never happen to anyone.


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♬ original sound – Glowmour Beauty Medispa
  • Tina Alster, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in Washington, DC
  •  Lynne Haven, MD is a board-certified dermatologist based in Greenwich, CT

What Went Wrong?

According to Washington D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, this highlights a bigger issue than the unfortunate result. The dermatologist emphasizes that qualified doctors should supervise the administration of medium-to-deep peels done professionally. “People should avoid having chemical peels at any spa without dermatologist oversight,” she says. “The post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH, will take a long time to improve. It will need expert care by a dermatologist who is an expert in wound repair.”

What Is a Chemical Peel?

A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment that removes outer skin layers, revealing a fresher look. It uses various active ingredients like glycolic acid, TCA, salicylic acid and more. Peels can address fine lines, wrinkles, acne and uneven skin tone. However, they involve downtime and may cause redness and sun sensitivity.

What Is Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation?

 Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is a discoloration of the skin that is caused by inflammatory wounds. PIH can be more severe and longer-lasting in those with medium-to-dark complexions. This is why doctors recommend a gentler approach to treatment to avoid inflaming melanin-rich skin.

“This case is an unfortunate example of why an aesthetician should not do a deep chemical peel such as the TCA peel,” adds Greenwich, CT dermatologist Lynne Haven, MD. “This procedure in the wrong hands can cause significant post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, scarring or infection.”

Are the Burns Permanent?

Unfortunately, our experts say there is no quick fix for PIH. The good news is that, typically, the scars and darkening of the skin are not permanent. It can take a long time for skin to heal, but with the proper care. Experts say it can be resolved within six to 12 months or more.

How to Treat It

Dr. Haven says treatment options depend on the case, but strict avoidance of the sun is rule number-one. “Treatment options include sun protection, lightning topicals and possibly lasers such as Picosure Focus.” No matter the approach, treatment will need to be slow and steady. “All the treatments should be very conservative and gradual,” she shares. “However, the condition should be treatable over time.”

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