Everything You Need To Know About Chemical Peels

Samantha Jones gave chemical peels a bad rap when she got one on Sex and the City, but rest assured, that was Hollywood exaggeration at its finest. When applied by an experienced aesthetic professional, a chemical peel can help you achieve radiant, clear, and healthy skin. Of course, if you’ve never had one before, it’s understandable to be a little skeptical. So, what exactly is a chemical peel, and how does it work? 

Even the procedure’s name — chemical peel — might sound intimidating to some, but the process is actually quite simple. A chemical peel is a form of exfoliation involving a chemical agent that removes the top layer(s) of your skin. The result? A brighter, smoother complexion. Chemical face peels can help treat wrinkles, acne, discoloration, and even scars.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, read on for more info or schedule a consultation with a SkinLocal skin expert to learn more!

What Are Chemical Peels?

There are three different types of chemical peels to choose from, each utilizing different chemicals to achieve different results. You can work with your esthetician to determine which one is best for you based on your preferences and goals:

  • Light chemical peel: This kind of peel only removes the top layer of the skin and is usually used to treat textured skin, surface wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, and dryness. Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid or lactic acid, are often used in light chemical peels because they stay on the outer layer of your skin and gently cause it to peel. If you have acne, your aesthetician may use salicylic acid to penetrate your pores and give them a “deep clean.” If you want glowy and radiant skin, a light chemical peel is the perfect treatment.

  • Medium chemical peel: Medium chemical peels remove the top layer and penetrate the middle portion of your skin to treat signs of extensive sun damage, deeper lines, and uneven skin tone. Estheticians usually use trichloroacetic acid (TCA) with other chemicals to target areas of concern. A medium face peel is a suitable choice for those who want a more noticeable outcome, such as smoother skin or a more even complexion.
  • Deep chemical peel: This is the most intense kind of chemical peel since it penetrates the skin much deeper than the others. Your esthetician may recommend this treatment to treat severe sun damage, wrinkles, scars, and even precancerous growths. A cocktail of chemicals including TCA and phenol is often used to uncover new, youthful, smooth skin. If you’re up for a dramatic change and don’t mind a little recovery time, a deep chemical peel may be right for you.

What’s The Process For A Chemical Face Peel?

Chemical peels are typically performed in-office with a trained professional. Your aesthetician will help you tie back your hair, clean your face of all products, and give you eye protection. Sometimes, topical anesthetics are used to numb the treated areas to avoid discomfort (talk to your provider about whether this is the right option for you). Then it’s time to lie down and get comfortable — after all, this is your pampering day! 


Then the fun really begins.

Light chemical peel: A gauze, cotton ball, or brush is used to spread the chemicals (usually salicylic acid or glycolic acid) on the skin. The treated area will start to lighten, and you may experience skin tightening or stinging — that means it’s working. After a while, your provider will apply a cold compress to soothe the treated skin, and then neutralizing agent to remove the chemicals.


Medium chemical peel: Your aesthetician will use a swab to apply trichloroacetic acid and glycolic acid to the skin. The treated site will start to whiten, and then you will get a cold compress to soothe the skin. You might experience a burning or stinging sensation about 20 minutes into the treatment, but this is very common and not a reason to stress!


Deep chemical peel: You can expect a topical anesthetic as well as a sedative for this one. Once you’re numbed, your provider will spread phenol on your desired treatment areas and it will sit for about 15 minutes max. (Note, only a few, small parts of your skin will be treated at one time.)


What Should I Expect After Peel?

It’s important to remember that all acids vary in strength, and not everyone can tolerate the same level of potency, so be sure to chat with your aesthetician about your needs. Depending on which type of chemical peel you get, you can expect your skin to have varying degrees of redness and irritation, and you may experience some discomfort. But don’t worry — the results are totally worth it!


Light chemical peel: Immediately after your light peel, you’re free to resume your day with refreshed, supple skin, although it’s totally normal for your skin to be slightly red, irritated, dry, and tight. These symptoms usually become milder after a few sessions, as your skin builds up a tolerance to the products. Some aestheticians apply Vaseline to soothe the skin. If you wish, you can wear makeup the day after your treatment. 


Medium chemical peel: You can expect redness and tenderness in the treated areas. Using healing ointments after medium face peels is vital to alleviate pain and stinging and avoid dryness. You can also use packs of ice and ibuprofen if you feel any discomfort. Recovery time is around five to seven days, although some redness may be expected even after that. Check-ups are essential for your healing, so make sure to visit your aesthetician to go over your results and healing process. You will likely be advised to repeat this procedure multiple times to reach your desired goal. 


Deep chemical peel: Since this treatment is by far the strongest, you can expect severe swelling and redness after your appointment; some patients also experience some throbbing and burning in the hours following. After the peel, your facialist will put a surgical dressing on the skin; removal should be discussed with your provider. You can use over-the-counter pain meds to manage the discomfort if you wish. You may have peeling, crusting, redness, and discomfort as new skin starts to develop, which will happen around two weeks after your treatment. Redness may persist for months, but seriously, don’t be alarmed — this happens to almost everyone and can be easily covered with makeup. Patients can usually return to their everyday activities and work after two weeks. Be sure to have regular check-ups with your aesthetician so they can observe your healing. 


Above all, be sure to follow your provider’s advice regarding aftercare, which involves sun protection, moisturizer, and healing ointments. As tempting as it may be, please don’t pick at, scratch, or rub your skin. Sometimes, it can take months to see the final result, but trust the process!

Should I Get A Chemical Face Peel?

Our patients swear by chemical peels, and it’s so easy to see why! Chemical peels work on a variety of skin types, doesn’t discriminate based on age, and targets a wide range of concerns, including:

  • Wrinkles
  • Texture
  • Acne
  • Discoloration
  • Scars

However, we at SkinLocal know that every face is unique, and that means not everyone is a suitable candidate for all peeling treatments. Your provider may advise against certain peels if you:

  • Have a personal or family history of keloids or overgrowths
  • Have ingested the oral medicine for acne called isotretinoin (Clavaris, Myorisan) in the past few months
  • Have severe or frequent outbursts of cold sores
  • Are pregnant

Chemical peels are extremely popular for a reason, and if you’re ready to see for yourself how they can help you achieve the best skin of your life, schedule a consultation with a dedicated SkinLocal skin expert to start your journey to a fresh face now.