Salicylic Acid Peel Risks and Complications

Salicylic acid is a gentle beta hydroxy acid (BHA) used across the beauty industry to control acne and maintain skin’s appearance. Salicylic acid chemical peels can be effective for controlling acne breakouts, reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and scarring, and lightening skin. But, like any medical procedure, salicylic acid peels carry risks and complications.

One of the primary risks specific to a salicylic acid peel is the risk of allergic reaction due to salicylate hypersensitivity. Many people are allergic to salicylates, such as aspirin or salicylic acid. You shouldn’t use salicylic acid if you’re allergic to aspirin or other salicylates. You could experience anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction.

You shouldn’t use salicylic acid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, either. The acid’s penetrative properties mean that it can seep into your bloodstream through your skin. If used during pregnancy, salicylic acid chemical peels can cause birth defects in your unborn baby. Nor should you use them while breastfeeding, since salicylic acid can pass through your milk and into your developing baby’s body.

People with certain skin conditions should use caution with salicylic acid peels. If you have oral or facial herpes or cold sores, a salicylic acid peel could cause a flare-up of your condition. If you have eczema or rosacea, salicylic acid could irritate your skin more than it otherwise would, and even cause injury. Salicylic acid is widely used to treat melasma; nevertheless, salicylic acid peels can sometimes worsen melasma, if they’re not done properly by a professional.

Salicylic acid peels also carry the same risks as other chemical peels. The deeper the peel, the higher the risk. Your skin could turn out lighter or darker than it was before. You could have demarcation lines around the treatment area. Infection and scarring can also occur when chemical peels are improperly performed or when recovery is mismanaged.

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