Chemical peels for skin treatment

Fantasizing about a refreshed and rejuvenated skin is culture, which is why chemical peels are a mainstay in an aesthetician’s collection. But, you'll need to go through this article to find out how exactly chemical peels work and if they are safe for you.

Hero image of a woman getting a chemical peel for skin treatment

Key takeaways

  • For every skin type, there is a chemical peel—you need the help of an aesthetician to find yours.
  • There are three types of chemical peels; the superficial peel, the medium-depth peel, and the deep peel and they are all useful for treating the skin.
  • You need the expertise of an experienced aesthetician to get your chemical peel procedure done. 

What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is a solution applied to the face, neck, or hands to remove dead cells from the skin's surface and stimulate the growth of new cells.

Due to their exfoliating properties, chemical peels treat skin color changes, acne, and mild skin discolorations by removing a predictable, consistent thickness of damaged skin.

Combining chemical peels with other skin rejuvenation procedures can give the most effective result.   

Are chemical peels safe?

Just like every other cosmetic procedure, chemical peels are generally safe when done under the supervision of an experienced dermatologist or aesthetician. However, it can increase the risk of scarring and infections on rare occasions. 

Chemical peels can also cause mild side effects, such as skin redness and burning. It is often best to discuss everything about the procedure, including the benefits and possible side effects, with your skincare expert before you make up your mind to go for it. Also, always let your aesthetician know about any medical conditions for your safety. 

Types of chemical peels

Depending on the depth of the wound created, chemical peels are grouped into three categories, and they are;

  • Superficial peel
  • Medium-depth peel
  • Deep peel

Superficial peel

Superficial peels work only on the skin's surface, which is the epidermis, by removing the topmost layer of the skin.

Because it deals with surface skin problems, it boosts dermal collagen and helps achieve bright and glowing skin. Also, it treats conditions like acne, mild skin discolorations, and post-inflammatory pigmentation.

The most popular acids used as superficial peels are;

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids such as glycolic (30–50%), lactic (10–30%), or mandelic acid (40%).
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids such as salicylic acid (30%)
  • Alpha Keto Acids such as pyruvic acid (50%)
  • Salicylic acid (>30%, multilayer application).
  • Glycolic acid (70%, with or without pretreatment primer such as Jessner’s solution).

After you get a superficial peel, it takes about 3-5 days for your skin to heal and regenerate, and during the process, shedding might occur, but this is tolerable.

The skin tolerates superficial peels, making it a good option for all skin types.

Medium-depth peel

Medium-depth peels allow penetration into the superficial (upper) and middle layers of the skin. 

This procedure has shown promising results in treating problems like irregular skin discolorations, superficial acne scars, pigmentary disorders, and textural changes.

Due to the high level of pain associated with this type of peel, mild preoperative sedation or NSAIDS are often used.

The chemicals used for medium-depth peels are:

  • Glycolic acid (70%) and TCA (30–50%). (with or without complementary combination products like Jessener solution)
  • Multiple layers of 20–40% salicylic and pyruvic acid.

Although the medium-depth peel does more than the superficial peel, the healing process is longer, so your aesthetician might recommend a sun protector for several weeks.

One demerit of the medium-depth peel is the risk of prolonged hyperpigmentation, which has proven to be an issue in patients with dark skin, so apply cautiously.

Deep peel

As the name implies, deep peels are a one-off treatment that goes deeper into the skin and can treat cases of; severe photoaging, deep or coarse wrinkles, scars, and sometimes precancerous skin lesions.  

The two commonly used deep peels are:

  • 50% TCA and 
  • phenol in combination with Croton oil

However, high-concentration TCA peels have fallen out of favor and are not frequently used due to frequent complications and high scarring incidents.

Deep peels take much longer to heal—usually two months or more—but they last longer, and sun protection is highly recommended. 

What are chemical peels used for?

Therapeutically, chemical peels have proven to serve many purposes to enhance lifestyle and aesthetically improve skin appearance. The type of chemical used varies depending on the severity of the condition, type, and the patient’s wish.

Some uses of chemical peels include treating;

  • Pigmentary disorders (e.g., melasma, lentigines and ephelides)
  • Inflammatory disorders (e.g., acne and rosacea)
  • Chronoaging (e.g., superficial and medium-depth rhytides)
  • Scarring (e.g., traumatic scarring, acne scarring, and surgical scarring)
  • Pre-cancerous lesions. (e.g., actinic keratoses)

Is a chemical peel safe for all skin types?

Usually, superficial peels are mild enough to be used on all skin types; even if your skin is an exception, your dermatologist can ascertain that.

But if you have dark skin and require a medium-depth peel, you should consider that there is a higher risk of prolonged hyperpigmentation in patients with dark skin.

Always consult a dermatologist or an experienced aesthetician to confirm whether a chemical peel suits your skin tone and to avoid complications. 

The side effects of chemical peels

Although chemical peels are valuable, they come with side effects, some of which are rare and some of which may be inevitable.

Side effects you might experience with the different peel types include; 

For superficial peels and medium-depth peels:

  • Skin burning
  • Skin redness
  • Irritation
  • Skin peeling

For deep peels:

  • Pigmentary demarcation. (A transition line that demarcates lighter and darker skin areas that typically occurs with medium-depth peels) 
  • Pigmentary changes
  • Infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Improper healing
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Worsening of existing skin condition.

What to expect before, during, and after a chemical peel

Before a chemical peel, you should:

  • Choose an experienced aesthetician for your safety.
  • Prepare your body for the chemical peel; your aesthetician might give some instructions that you must adhere to for a safe procedure. 
  • Choose the correct peel for your skin type or tone with the help of your aesthetician.
  • Discuss any existing medical condition with your specialist.
  • Do not use home exfoliants, and stay hydrated.

During a chemical peel, you may experience the following:

  • Burning sensation
  • Redness, and 
  • Skin irritation. 

After a chemical peel, you may also experience the following:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Dryness 
  • Skin peeling 


After a chemical peel procedure, the recovery phase is an essential part. Everything you do in this phase matters to ensure a smooth and fast healing process.  

Your aesthetician might lay out some instructions to ease your healing journey, and it will be best if you adhere to them. 

Some precautions for a smooth recovery include:

  • Use protective coverings when going under the sun.
  • Use sunscreens after a chemical peel.
  • Avoid using hot water on the skin.
  • Use gentle cleansers and hydrating moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid and ceramides to help soothe the skin.
  • Use NSAIDs and soaks with dilute bleach or vinegar, and a cool compress with ice packs for the first 24 hours.
  • Avoid peeling or scratching the area.
  • Use an antibiotic ointment

Wrap up

The result you achieve from a chemical peel may not be dramatic or drastic, but it gets better with more sessions. And if you’ve been scared of getting a chemical peel, this may be a sign to book that appointment and get your skin popping and glowing. 

With that being said, always try to double-check with your aesthetician before any chemical procedure for your safety. 


  1. Marta I. Rendon, (2010). Evidence and consideration in the application of chemical peels in skin disorders and aesthetic resurfacing.
  2. United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS). (2022). Chemical peels.
  3. Soleymani, T.,, (2018). A practical approach to chemical peels.
  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (n.d.). Chemical peel.