A General Overview Of Chemical Peels

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A General Overview Of Chemical Peels

June 21, 2023
A General Overview Of Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are one of the most popular skin care treatments. It reminds you of the tale of Phoenix. The mythical bird that burns down and reemerges more beautiful and glorious from its ashes. Chemical peels are the same. You use chemicals to burn off old skin and reemerge with glowing younger skin. 

However, many people are somewhat uncomfortable when they hear about the procedure. Well, it’s understandable. Burning old skin with chemicals sure sounds unsettling. But that’s because you don’t fully know the situation. Learn more about this amazing treatment so you don’t miss out on its benefits. 

What Are Chemical Peels?

A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment. It helps you get skin that feels and looks young and smooth. 

The name of the procedure says it all. The cosmetic specialist applies a chemical solution to the target skin area. Usually, the solution contains some mild to strong acids. They blister the skin and make it peel off. As a result, new skin grows back, healthier, and more appealing than the old one. 

If your skin has become damaged from disease or sunlight, chemical peels can help you rejuvenate it. The treatment is also effective for wrinkles.

Brief History of Chemical Peels 

Chemical peels are one of the oldest cosmetic treatments in the world. People in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece had experimented with the potential of acidic substances to improve skin quality. 

One of the earliest examples is Cleopatra, who used sour milk to retain her youthful appearance. Sour milk contains Lactic Acid, which helps to exfoliate the skin’s surface. 

In the modern centuries, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, phenol, alpha-hydroxy acids, and beta-hydroxy acids are used for chemical peels. Dermatologists, plastic surgeons, or trained skin care specialists deliver the treatment. 

Chemical peels have managed to stay relevant for centuries for their convenience. It is a treatment that works on a simple principle.

Most people experience little to no side effects from the procedure. It is more affordable and less invasive than most other skin rejuvenation procedures.  (1,2,3)

How Do Chemical Peels Work?

During a chemical peel treatment, your skin experiences a controlled injury. In response, the body tries to compensate for the damage by creating new skin. So, Chemical Peels are a combination of exfoliation and wound healing. 


Unhealthy or scarred skin is made up of dead and damaged skin cells. You have to get rid of them if you want to improve the quality of your skin. And that is known as exfoliation

Applying the chemical to the target area dissolves the bonds among the old skin cells. As a result, the surface loses its integrity and detaches from the rest of the skin. To our eyes, this manifests as the skin peeling off. 

The exfoliation process paves the way for new growth. It also helps the skin fight inflammation, unclogs pores, and improves circulation. 

Wound Healing 

So, the skin has peeled off from the chemical attack. Which means your body now has a wound to heal. The target thus goes through proliferation and remodelling. 

In other words, the body created new blood vessels and tissue to fill the gap made by the peel. This process enriches the skin with fresh collagen and elastin fibers. As a result, the skin becomes healthier and younger. 

What Are The Types of Chemical Peels?

There are mainly three types of chemical peels. The classification is based on how deep the skin you are treating. There are superficial, medium, and deep chemical peels. Let’s learn more about them- 

Superficial Chemical Peels

The superficial chemical peels treat only the uppermost skin layer, the epidermis. These are the least invasive of all the chemical peels. Therefore, the process is simple and takes less time. Plus, the patient experiences little to no pain and side effects. 

Mild acids, such as Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Beta Hydroxy Acids, are used in superficial peels. The procedure works best for fine wrinkles, mild sun damage, melasma, and minor scars. 

Superficial peels are suitable for all skin types. Since they don’t penetrate the skin too deeply, you don’t have to worry about abnormal pigmentation and other side effects of stronger peels. This also makes superficial peels the safest ones. 

You won’t need to be anesthetized or sedated during a superficial peel. You can be done within 15-30 minutes and recover fully within a week. However, it is the least permanent of all the chemical peels. So, you might have to visit your cosmetic specialist every 2-4 weeks to maintain the results. 

Medium Peels 

If the cause of the skin problem lies deeper than the epidermis, you need medium peels. With this procedure, you can go beyond the epidermis and attack the middle layer or upper dermis. 

Since medium peels penetrate the skin further, it requires a stronger acid. So, Trichloroacetic Acid (stronger than AHA and BHA) is the choice for the dermatologist in this case. 

You can treat moderate wrinkles, acne scars, and deep sun damage with medium peels. They are also useful in the correction of uneven skin tone and texture. However, you may not be the right candidate for the procedure if you have sensitive or dark skin. 

The procedure can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes. And you might need to be locally anesthetized and sedated since the acid penetrates deeper into the skin. 

Expect recovery within two weeks. During this recovery period, you might experience some swelling and redness in the area. 

Medium peels are more permanent than superficial peels. The results of the procedure can keep good for several months. On average, one or two yearly visits to your dermatologist might be enough. 

Deep Peels

These are the most invasive chemical peels. It can penetrate deep into the lower dermis. As a result, deep peels are the most effective, long-lasting, and also the riskiest. 

Strong substances like Phenol is the choice for deep peels. Since Phenol can easily burn or irritate the skin and other human tissues, you must be extremely careful. 

Also, due to the use of such strong substances, you must be properly anesthetized or sedated during the procedure. 

Deep peels can treat skin problems that lighter peels can’t. Such as severe wrinkles, skin irregularities, discoloration, and deep scars. The treatment is also effective for the removal of precancerous growth. However, sensitive and dark skin tones can develop pigmentation problems after this treatment. 

The procedure should take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Since it is the most invasive chemical peel, it takes the longest to heal. It can take up to four weeks for a complete resolution.

The good news is- deep peels are essentially permanent. So, once you have pushed through it, you probably won’t have to do it again.  (1,2,3)

How Does A Chemical Peel Session Go?

Before anything, your doctor will ensure you are fit for the chemical peel session. If you are pregnant or on oral acne medication, it’s a no-go. You are also at risk of severe side effects if you tend to develop scar overgrowth or are prone to cold sores. So, that kind of medical history makes you ineligible for the treatment. 

If your medical history checks out, you will be given a date for the session. Consider the time in between as the preparatory stage for the treatment. During this period, there are certain things to avoid. 

What To Avoid Before Chemical Peels?

You must completely refrain from microdermabrasion or chemical treatment two weeks before your session. Avoid waxing and similar procedures as they challenge your skin’s fitness for the procedure. 

Also, avoid tanning booths and spend as little time as possible under the sun. So, wear appropriate clothing and sunscreen during this time. And remember not to use skin products containing AHAs or BHAs 48 hours before the procedure. 

What To Do Before Chemical Peels Session?

Your doctor might prescribe a bleaching agent like Hydroquinone. Apply it according to your doctor’s recommendation during the days leading up to the procedure. This is especially necessary if you have a darker skin tone. 

A retinoid cream is also recommended during this period. It prepares your skin for exfoliation and better penetration of the chemical solution. Before the treatment starts, wash your face with an appropriate cleanser and dry it with a towel. (1,2)

Chemical peels are usually performed at an outpatient facility or a doctor’s office. So, normally you don’t require any hospitalization after the treatment. 

However, it will be difficult for you to drive home due to the aftereffects. So, you must bring someone to help you return home after the session. 

What Can You Expect During A Chemical Peel Session 

Chemical peels are commonly performed on the face. You might also treat the skin of your neck or hands if necessary. After cleaning and drying your face, the doctor might use a cap or cover and goggles to protect your hair and eyes from the effect of acid. 

If you get a medium or deep peel, the doctor might give you painkillers and numbing agents. During deep peels, you should also be ready to receive IV fluids. 

Once the set-up is complete, the doctor will apply the chemical solution to your skin with a sponge or cotton ball. Some specialists might also prefer a brush. 

Superficial peels don’t sting much. But with medium and especially deep peels, expect some burning sensation. The stinging and burning can last from five to ten minutes.  Thanks to the numbing agents, the pain will be tolerable. 

Superficial peels are allowed to sit on the face for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the doctor might keep the solution on the skin for 10-15 minutes for medium peels. 

In response to the treatment, your skin shall become whiter, paler, or slightly grey.

With deep peels, the solution doesn’t stay on the skin for long to minimize exposure to strong acids. Instead, the doctor will apply the solution at 15-20 minutes intervals. That’s why deep peel sessions are so long. 

Once the chemical has done its job, the doctor might use a neutralizing solution to wash it off. You will also receive cold compression to soothe the skin. 

What Happens After a Chemical Peel?

You can expect redness and irritation of the skin after receiving a chemical peel treatment. Your skin will feel tight and might swell up. 

These symptoms aren’t much severe in superficial chemical peels. However, they are unavoidable if you have undergone a deep peel. 

In fact, the area around your eyes might swell up so much after a deep peel that you might not even be able to properly open your eyes for a couple of hours. That’s why it is important to bring someone to drive you home. 

The deeper your chemical peel treatment is, the longer it will take for the symptoms to subside. And after most invasive peels, the new skin that grows back might be darker or lighter than your normal skin. 

How To Take Care Of Your Skin After A Chemical Peel?

Strictly follow your doctor’s prescription after a chemical peel. You have to apply protective ointment on the affected area regularly. Also, do not pick or scratch your skin as it starts to peel off in the following days. 

During the healing phase, avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. Wear sunscreen whenever you go out. Remember, your skin is wounded and is recovering. So, you must keep it as clean as possible to prevent infection. 

You might use ice packs to help with the burning and stinging. You can also take OTC painkillers to relieve the discomfort. 


Chemical Peels are one of the best ways to regain your skin’s youthful qualities. However, the procedure can become a disaster in the hands of an unqualified cosmetician. Therefore, you must pick the right doctor for the job. Follow us to learn how you do that. 

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