The efficacy of EMLA versus ELA-Max for pain relief in medium-depth chemical peeling: a clinical and histopathologic evaluation

Dermatol Surg. 2000 Jan;26(1):61-4. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.2000.99211.x.


Background: Medium-depth chemical peels are an effective and popular treatment for actinic damage, fine wrinkles, and pigmentary dyschromias. However, they are also uncomfortable. A previous attempt to study the effectiveness of a topical anesthetic gel in 35% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peeling found a reduction in discomfort but an increased depth of penetration and delayed healing.

Objective: To evaluate both the efficacy of two topical anesthetic agents in medium-depth combination peeling as well as the histologic result from chemical peeling combined with topical anesthesia.

Method: Seventy percent glycolic acid (GA) was applied to the entire face of 10 patients and diluted with water after 2 minutes. This was followed by the sequential application of EMLA cream (lidocaine 2.5% and prilocaine 2.5%), ELA-Max cream (lidocaine 4%), and placebo to selected areas on the face for 30 minutes without occlusion. These agents were then removed and 35% TCA was applied to the entire face. The level of discomfort felt by the patients during the TCA peel was recorded, clinical photographs were taken, and bilateral preauricular biopsies were performed at baseline, 48 hours, and 90 days postoperatively.

Results: Clinically there was a statistically significant decrease in pain felt during the 70% GA-35% TCA peel with topical anesthesia when compared to the control. There was no statistically significant difference in efficacy between EMLA and ELA-Max. There was also no difference in either the clinical or the histopathologic appearance between the medium-depth peel combined with topical anesthesia and the medium-depth peel with control.

Conclusion: Both EMLA and ELA-Max decrease the discomfort felt during medium-depth combination chemical peeling without influencing either the clinical or the histopathologic result.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Combined / therapeutic use*
  • Anesthetics, Local / therapeutic use*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Chemexfoliation / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Glycolates
  • Humans
  • Lidocaine / therapeutic use*
  • Lidocaine, Prilocaine Drug Combination
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Prilocaine / therapeutic use*
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / pathology
  • Trichloroacetic Acid / adverse effects


  • Anesthetics, Combined
  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Glycolates
  • Lidocaine, Prilocaine Drug Combination
  • Prilocaine
  • glycolic acid
  • Trichloroacetic Acid
  • Lidocaine