How Do Chemical Peels Work?

Chemical peels are skin resurfacing treatments that remove the top layer of damaged skin to reveal healthy skin beneath. Different types of chemical peels can be used to address various skin concerns. In this article, we describe how chemical peels work and what they can do for your skin.

What Are Chemical Peels?

Chemical peels are non-invasive, non-surgical cosmetic treatments that are used to improve the feel and appearance of the skin. They are skin resurfacing treatments that use a chemical solution (acid) to peel away the upper layers of skin, revealing smoother, brighter, younger skin underneath. Chemical peels are usually done on the face, neck, and hands. 

Types of Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are categorized into three main types – superficial, medium, and deep. Superficial chemical peels contain acids like AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) that provide gentle exfoliation on only the uppermost layer of skin. Medium peels contain glycolic acid or TCA (trichloroacetic acid) and can penetrate up to the middle layers of the skin. They are effective in treating aging and sun-damaged skin. Deep peels contain phenol or stronger TCA and can penetrate the middle skin layer fully. They are used to treat more severe skin damage and blemishes.

What Are Chemical Peels Used For?

Your skin can benefit in many ways from a chemical peel. These treatments can reduce fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, hyperpigmentation, brown spots, and acne scars to give you a brighter, smoother, clearer complexion. Chemical peels can also improve your skin tone and texture and reduce redness.

Preparing for a Chemical Peel

During your initial consultation, your medical team will examine your skin to determine the type of chemical peel that is best suited to your skin type. At this time, you should tell your doctor about any medications or supplements you take. For instance, people who have taken the acne medication Accutane must wait at least 6 months before undergoing a chemical peel. If you have a history of cold sores, your doctor may give you a medication to prevent an outbreak. You may also be given special creams or lotions to use after the peel to prevent skin darkening.

In preparation for your chemical peel, you should stop waxing, epilating, or using hair removal creams for a week. You’ll also need to avoid bleaching products, scrubs, and exfoliants, which can irritate the skin.

If you are undergoing a medium or deep peel that will require sedation, you’ll have to arrange for someone to drive you home after the treatment.

What to Expect During and After a Chemical Peel?

The majority of chemical peels are done in an office setting and do not require the use of anesthesia. In preparation for the procedure, your skin will be cleaned, and you’ll be given eye protection if you’re having your face treated. Your doctor may use numbing medicine to reduce discomfort, especially if you’re getting a deep chemical peel.

The chemical peel solution will be applied to your skin with a brush or cotton ball and left in place for some time. It will then be removed or neutralized with another solution. A light chemical peel produces a mild stinging sensation. During a medium peel, you may need a hand-held fan or cold compress for comfort.

Recovery after light chemical peels is quick. Any minor skin irritation typically resolves in 3-4 days. With medium peels, slight redness can persist for up to a month. There may also be some crusting, which will fall off to reveal healthy skin. Deep chemical peels can cause a little swelling and redness that take up to 2 weeks to resolve. Ice packs can help reduce discomfort during this time. The redness can persist for several months. You can reduce the risk of complications by following your doctor’s instructions carefully. 

Are Chemical Peels Safe?

When they’re performed by a trained medical aesthetic provider, chemical peels are a safe and effective skin resurfacing treatment and a convenient and quick way to help you look your best.

The most common side effects of chemical peels are temporary redness, dryness, irritation, and mild swelling, which usually resolve quickly. Some of the more serious side effects of chemical peels include permanent changes in skin color (people with dark skin are at higher risk), scarring, and infections.  Hence, the reason to choose your medical providers carefully.

How Much Do Chemical Peels Cost?

Chemical peels are a cosmetic procedure, and your health plan will probably not cover these treatments, so you’ll have to pay out of pocket. The cost of chemical peels can vary from place to place and also depends on the type of peel you’re getting. Some light peels cost $150, while deeper peels that our doctors use can cost upwards of $1,500.

Which Chemical Peels is Best for Me?

Chemical peels can help you look younger with a clearer, smoother, more radiant complexion. The type of chemical peel that will work best for you depends on several factors, including your skin color, texture, and tone, as well as the severity of skin damage. Our experienced medical team can help you decide the best chemical peel for your skin type.