What is a Chemical Peel?

A chemical peel is pretty much what it sounds like. Chemical solutions are used to cause damage to the skin, to varying depths, which will cause the skin to slough off.

This will force brand new fresh skin to the surface and in turn, you will have tighter brighter skin and smaller pores.

A more youthful appearance, yup that sounds about right after peeling layers of skin!illustration of chemical peel

Types of Chemical Peels

First, there is the light peel. This one removes the outer layer of skin. Fine lines and wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, and dryness will all be improved.Image before and after light peel

Next, there is the medium peel. Skin cells are removed from the outer layer of skin and portions of the upper part of your middle layer of skin. This improves wrinkles, acne scars, and uneven skin tone.Image before and after medium peel

The third option is the deep peel. These are usually done in an outpatient setting and performed by a physician because of the depth and kind of solution used, which I will explain later. What will be treated are those deeper wrinkles, scarring, and even precancerous growths.

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Image before and after deep peel

How are Chemical Peels Performed?

The professional will use a brush, gauze, or a sponge to apply the solution. Glycolic or salicylic acid is what will be used for this type of peel, and there will be a burning sensation. To relieve the burning a cold compress can be applied or the use of a fan. A neutralizing solution is used to wash or remove the treatment.Before and after light peel

For the medium peel, trichloroacetic acid solution, sometimes combined with glycolic acid, is applied with a brush, gauze, or a sponge. The stinging and burning can last up to 20 minutes. A cold compress and fan can be used to relieve this. It will be neutralized with a cool saline compress.before and after medium peel

The deep peel is going to be a bit more intense. A cotton-tipped applicator is used to apply carbolic acid (phenol). The doctor does this in portions for 15 minutes at a time. You will be receiving IV fluids and your heart rate will be closely monitored. You will also be given a sedative and a local anesthetic. This one is neutralized with water.before and after deep peel

Risks and Recovery

If you have the herpes virus that causes cold sores, it can cause a flare-up. They can lead to bacterial or fungal, but this is rare. There is also a chance of heart, kidney, or liver damage.

With all of them, you are going to have red, dry, and somewhat irritated skin, but you will have different post-treatment instructions with each type.

Light– The side effects will get milder with each subsequent treatment. You will be applying petroleum jelly to help soothe the skin. Healing time is about 1-7 days.

Medium– Your skin is going to be red and swollen and stinging. Petroleum jelly will be applied to help soothe. If you still have discomfort, you can use ice packs and over-the-counter meds. Healing is 7-14 days and a crust will form soon after the treatment, but the redness may last for a while.

Deep– You will have severe redness and swelling, burning and throbbing, and your eyelids may even swell shut. The doctor may apply a surgical dressing but you will be prescribed painkillers. You will be instructed to soak and apply ointment several times a day for about 2 weeks, which is about how long the swelling may last. The redness with this one can last for months. Your skin may turn out darker or lighter than normal and can lose the ability to tan.

You will definitely need to wear sunscreen after any of these treatments. Some procedures or post-treatment instructions may be different depending on the doctor or professional that you use.

There may also be some pre-treatment instructions, especially the deep peel.

Are At-Home Peels Safe and Effective?

Well, the good news here is that they are safe and effective, just not as potent. First, you the glycolic and lactic acids that will dissolve and exfoliate the top part of the skin. Some may contain both acids.

Next, you have salicylic acid that will unclog those pores. The enzyme home peels are mainly meant for exfoliating.

These at-home peels will help improve acne and early sun damage. They will also temporarily improve skin texture and tone.

If you do decide to try an at-home peel, as with anything new, test a small patch of skin first!


I know I learned a few things in doing the research for this blog. The question I ask myself is “do people really still do this?” A medical-grade chemical peel, especially the deep one, just seems too painful! I mean does beauty have to be this painful?

Read a more recent post about chemical peels you can do at home.

If you are like me and a little iffy about a medical chemical peel, check out my post on How to look younger without injections or surgery.

Feel free to leave any questions or comments below and thanks for visiting!

4 thoughts on “What you Should Know About Chemical Peels

  1. I have never tried a chemical face peel because it sounds scary to me. I’ve seen great looking products out there but I’m always debating on whether I should trust them or not. I think that the best way to go is having a professional do it, and even that sounds like a whole surgical procedure. If it wasn’t for this article I wouldn’t have a clearer and more compact idea of this procedure. 

    1. Thank you for your comment. You should always test a small area of skin whenever trying something new, especially if you have sensitive skin.

  2. This has been a very interesting article. I suffered from acne as a teenager. And it has left some marks on my face. I would like to give this chemical peel a try. I didn’t know we could achieve results as those shown here. And it’s a very convenient method. I normally don’t get exposed to the sun, so that would help.

    1. While I was doing the research and looking at all the images I could find, it was surprising to me also. I know that I am definitely going to try the home peels, but I am a little apprehensive about a professional one. I am not a big fan of something burning and stinging, lol.

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