There’s nothing like the luxury of having clear, dewy skin. While investing in the best foundations is a thrill in itself, ultimately, having a flawless canvas to begin with is really where it’s at. However, if you’ve ever struggled with acne, you know that half of the battle is the acne itself, while the other half are the scars it leaves behind.

There are a multitude of ways to address acne scars and hyperpigmentation, depending on the severity. If you’re the victim of a really intense case, you may even be considering a chemical peel, including the controversial yet miraculous phenol peel. But are they safe for dark skinned women? 

What Is the Phenol Peel?

A phenol peel is the most aggressive chemical peel there is. Going deep under the dermis to treat the most severe cases of sun damage, wrinkles, fine lines, freckles, hyperpigmentation and acne scars, this procedure is incredibly effective. With that in mind, it’s also costly, requires a sedative or IV anesthesia to be administered, and is accompanied by a long, painful recovery.

Also known as carbolic acid, phenol exfoliates so deeply that it removes the outer layers of skin, essentially creating a controlled wound. During the procedure, following several steps of sedating and numbing, a board-certified plastic surgeon or dermatologist will thoroughly cleanse your skin, applying the phenol solution to your full face in cycles, for as long as 90 minutes. They’ll then neutralize the chemical solution with water and lather your face with a petroleum-based ointment.

There’s a lot of risk and sacrifice involved, both during and following your peel. “The procedure is performed in a clinic-based setting, with monitoring of vital signs due to the potential effects that phenol can have on cardiac function in an overdose situation,” says Dr. Tanuj Nakra, a double board-certified facial and ophthalmic plastic surgeon in Austin, Texas. For this reason, many practices don’t even offer the procedure.

After your peel, you’ll lose the ability to tan on your face and are told to avoid the sun at all costs. Prescribed pain medication will help the face through swelling and throbbing, as it oozes, scabs over and peels. However, once you’re finally healed, your face will beam with a smoother, more youthful layer of skin, lasting as long as 10 years. The phenol peel can cost anywhere from $850 to $7,500. 

Does the Phenol Peel Work for Dark Skin?

When it comes to chemical skin treatments, we always want to do everything in our power to avoid things going wrong, and that includes phenol peel complications. Having melanated skin means it’s important to vet every procedure before potentially doing something that will harm rather than heal.

So, is the phenol peel effective for brown and black skin? Upon investigation, the phenol peel can have a significant bleaching effect. This is why it’s actually a risk for people with darker skin tones. Dr. Nakra would not recommend a phenol peel to anyone with a Fitzpatrick III skin type or higher; in fact, the phenol peel is said to only be suited for those with a Fitzpatrick skin type of I-III.

Along with the other potential side effects of chemical peels, people with dark skin are at a higher risk for developing or worsening their hyperpigmentation. “A major risk of chemical peels for Black skin is worsening of dark spots,” says Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. “Because this risk of skin discoloration is much greater in dark skin, it is very important that you see a dermatologist with expertise in the use of peels in Black skin. Before your peel, be sure to discuss all of your skincare products, both over-the-counter and prescription skin medications, with your doctor.” 

Luckily, there are plenty of lasers that can provide just as effective results for dark skin. Non-ablative, or non-wounding, lasers can leave your skin refreshed and glowing, without risking major damage. Picosecond and Q-switched lasers are highly recommended for darker complexions. For wrinkles and scars, microdermabrasion can be helpful, as well.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, what’s most important is to work with a specialist who understands how to treat melanated skin. While phenol peels may not be the most suitable, there are many ways to achieve youthful, vibrant skin. Just be sure you’re within the hands of an informed, trained and cautious professional.