Social media can be a place where misinformation runs rampant, with many unqualified users spreading skincare tips and tricks that can do more harm than good. It is also a place where users can spread the word about what went wrong in their experience to serve as a cautionary tale to others. In the case of TikTok user Michelle Heath, who visited an Atlanta beautician to treat her chronic breakouts, the warning means getting a chemical peel in the wrong hands.
After undergoing a dermaplaning treatment to remove dead skin cells and peach fuzz, Heath was then treated the same day with a heavy-duty chemical peel that burned her face and scarred her face. Many TikTok commenters noted that the combination of dermaplaning, which is an exfoliating treatment, 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 such an outcome, we reached out to the pros who say it should never happen to anyone.
What went wrong?
According to Washington DC dermatologist Tina Alster, MD, this highlights a bigger problem than the steps that led to these unfortunate results. The dermatologist shares that medium to deep peels performed by professionals should be administered under the supervision of a qualified doctor. “People should avoid having chemical peels at any spa without the supervision of a dermatologist,” she says. “Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation will take a long time to improve and will require expert care by a dermatologist with expertise in wound repair.”
Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH, is skin discoloration caused by inflamed wounds. PIH can be more severe and long-lasting in people with medium to dark complexion, which is why doctors recommend a gentler approach to treatment to avoid inflaming melanin-rich skin.
“This case is an unfortunate example of why an esthetician should not perform a deep chemical peel such as this patient’s 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 burns and PIH permanent?
Unfortunately, our experts say there is no quick fix for PIH. The good news is that usually the scarring and darkening of the skin is not permanent. It can take a long time for the skin to return to normal, but with the proper care and treatment, it can be resolved in six to 12 months or more.
What can help heal now?
Dr. Haven says treatment options vary and depend on each individual case, but strict avoidance of the sun is rule number one. “Treatment options include sunscreen, lightening topicals, and possibly lasers such as Picosure Focus to improve pigmentation.” Whatever the approach, anything done to help correct PIH will need to be slow and steady. “All treatments should be very conservative and gradual,” she shares. “However, the condition should be treatable over time.”
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