Chemical Peel

Latest update: July 14, 2024
Medically reviewed by: Jennifer Trent MD, FAAD


Chemical peels are skin resurfacing treatments that remove layers of the skin to encourage new cell growth. Used by trained professionals, these solutions cause a type of controlled injury. The depth and potency of the peels define the results. Peels can target a range of skin issues. These include acne, scarring, age spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, textured skin, sun damage, and wrinkles.

Chemical peels are commonly applied to the face. They can also be used on the neck, chest, and hands to even out the complexion. The most common peels use glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, or Jessner’s solution.  Jessner's solution consists of a combination of lactic acid, salicylic acid, and resorcinol.

Chemical peels are highly customizable. 

Professionals can adjust their strength according to their skin type and concerns. Peels are cheaper than laser treatments but may not be suitable for everyone. They can cause hyperpigmentation and burns for those with sensitive skin or darker complexions. 

Chemical peels are categorized into three main groups: superficial, medium, and deep. Superficial peels are not as intense and are great for beginners and those with sensitive skin. They usually contain lactic, salicylic, or glycolic acid. After several sessions, practitioners can smooth out rough skin and treat acne with superficial peels. Medium peels use trichloroacetic acid, Jessner’s solution, and a higher percentage of glycolic acid. These can reach the deeper layers of the skin to treat uneven skin tone, acne scars, and sun damage. Deep peels target deep within the skin using a phenol-based formula. This treatment focuses on severe sun damage and scarring. It requires an anesthetic and maybe sedation as it can be painful.

Chemical peel treatments begin with cleansing the skin. The next step is the peel application. It is left to absorb from a few minutes to an hour, depending on the potency of the peel solution and the sensitivity of the skin. Light peels need a downtime of 1-7 days, medium peels need 7-14 days, and deep peels require 14 days. Residual redness may last for months after the skin has healed from a deep peel.  Since the skin becomes highly sensitive after reatment, patients must apply moisturizers and sunscreen. Chemical peel results can last several months to 10 years, depending on the strength of the 
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Performing a Glycolic Acid Chemical Peel! | Dr. Bartos Dermatology

Simona Bartos, a dermatologist in Hollywood, Florida, talks to us about Chemical Peels. She explains the circumstances that would make a chemical peel the correct solution for a person. She gives details on the different types of peels and talks about what needs to happen before the peel. The video shows her performing the procedure using glycolic acid on a patient. She explains the steps from beginning to end.

Why I Love Chemical Peels: How You May Be Missing Out on an Anti-Aging Treatment

Dr. Daniel Sugai, a dermatologist in Seattle, Washington, talks about why he loves chemical peels. He explains the importance of doing sequential peels and talks about how a single peel is not enough. He describes the benefits of doing chemical peels. He highlights the value of going to a professional to have your peel done instead of doing the procedure at home.