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What is Trichloroacetic Acid?

By J.S. Metzker Erdemir
Updated May 21, 2024
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Trichloroacetic acid is a chemical that is commonly used for cosmetic skin peels and removal of warts, skin tags, moles, and tattoos. It works by removing the top few layers of skin, allowing new skin cells to appear. Peels with this acid are considered medium-deep, as compared to alpha-hydroxy acids with are more shallow and phenol peels which are much deeper.

Cosmetic skin peels with trichloroacetic acid are generally performed by dermatologists or plastic surgeons because the solution is too caustic to be safe for home or salon use. After several weeks of pre-treatment with alpha-hydroxy gels and anti-viral medications, the doctor performs the peel during a one-hour visit. Following the peel, the skin looks severely sunburned, and crusts and scabs may form. The recovery time for a peel is at least two weeks, though it might be longer for some people.

Chemical skin peels are cheaper and less invasive than plastic surgery, but they can yield similar results. Fine wrinkles, age spots, and discoloration caused by sun exposure or other environmental factors are removed in a chemical peel. Trichloroacetic acid peels can also remove many types of pre-cancerous lesions on the face. Many patients opt to have this treatment done every two or three years to maintain its effects.

Wart, mole and skin tag removal are another common uses of trichloroacetic acid. For these blemishes, a doctor applies a 50% solution of the acid directly to the area. In general, the blemish comes off within a week. For genital warts and HPV, doctors regularly use trichloroacetic acid to treat external outbreaks of warts that are suspected of being pre-cancerous. This type of treatment is less painful than freezing or cutting off the warts, but some patients require several treatments to completely remove an outbreak. Trichloroacetic acid can't be used on internal genital warts.

Trichloroacetic acid might also be used to remove or fade tattoos, although there are no clinical standards for this use. The concentration of acid used for tattoo removal is higher than that used for the face. In order for this treatment to be effective, it should be performed by a physician. Home treatment kits are available, but these can be ineffective at best, or damaging to the skin at worst. A chemical peel may not be able to remove a very large or deep tattoo, but in most cases, the tattoo significantly fades after several treatments.

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Discussion Comments

By anon301726 — On Nov 05, 2012

Any idea if anyone has tried that on psoriasis?

By anon241751 — On Jan 20, 2012

I don’t know when you posted this, but I would start on glycolic peels (about 15/20 percent for the first couple of go's. Don’t apply near the eye (I did and it left me with a brown mark which took ages to remove)

After you have mastered this strength go to 30 percent glycolic for a few weeks. I know you probably shouldn’t, but I did these peels almost once a week (I had terrible acne and had exhausted all other options), it stopped my acne and was clearing up the marks. I had a couple of weeks’ skin rest in between doing the 15 percent and the 30 percent.

When you feel confident enough, you can try the TCA peel (MUAC has a good one and ship to other countries if you’re not USA based. I’m from the UK and it was fast delivery).

I ordered two bottles -- a 12.5 percent and a 21 percent. I am still happily on the 12.5 percent one - I did my first TCA peel by applying just one layer and leaving it on for 5 minutes then neutralizing it with basking soda and lukewarm water. Don’t expect much from the first TCA peel. It’s just to prepare your skin. For the second peel, apply several layers in time slots of every 4-5 minutes (don’t wash off after each layer) wait for the skin to start turning white (*frosting) then neutralize. Apply savlon cream or equivalent (antiseptic). Hope this reached you in time. --Rachel

By aviva — On Jun 29, 2011

@babylove - Trichloracetic acid burns through the top layers of the skin. You need to prepare your skin at least four weeks prior to the peel to minimize the risk of any complications.

Before you buy the trichloroacetic acid, I would advise that you make a quick trip to the dermatologist just to determine what kind of condition your skin is in, and to get some professional advice on the treatment, preparation and recovery tips.

I worked in a dermatologist's office for two years so I know how shocking a chemical peel can be to the skin. It's very important that you get it ready by using products containing glycolic acid and retinoic acid.

Only a trained professional can inform you which concentration level of acid is right for your skin type.

By babylove — On Jun 29, 2011

Three of the girls I work with all had a professional chemical peels done at the same time over a long holiday weekend last month.

When they returned to work on the fourth day, two of them were still peeling and all three of them looked badly sunburned but none of them were experiencing any pain and today their skin looks fantastic.

I have health insurance but it doesn't cover dermabrasions or chemical peels and I can't afford the three hundred dollar procedure their Dermatologist charges. I've been researching TCA chemical peels that are designed for home use and I found a product I'm really interested in that has a lot of positive reviews..

I've never had a chemical peel done on my face or any part of my body before but I'd love to get rid of the wrinkles and damage from all the years I'd spent sunbathing.

Have any of you ever used home chemical peels with TCA acid before? Can I start with the medium depth, since that one is specifically for sun damaged skin, or should I start out at the lowest level?

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