What is a chemical peel?
A chemical peel uses an acidic solution applied to the skin to speed cell turnover, remove damaged top layers, and boost collagen growth for a brighter, more even-toned complexion. Peels can effectively treat issues like acne scars, age spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, rough skin texture, sun damage, fine lines, and wrinkles. Popular chemical peels include glycolic acid, TCA (trichloroacetic acid), and Jessner’s solution (a medium-depth blend of lactic acid, salicylic acid, and resorcinol).
Optimal candidates have some degree of sun damage or acne scarring. The strength and depth of the peel depend on the condition being treated and your skin type. Those with sensitive skin or dark complexions should generally avoid deeper, more intense peels since they could suffer burns, scars, or hyperpigmentation.
What does a chemical peel do?
Ideal for first-timers and those with delicate skin, these mild peels lightly exfoliate—typically with low-strength lactic, salicylic, and/or glycolic acid—to clear pores, smooth the skin, and give a glow. We often suggest booking a series or even ongoing monthly appointments, for best results.
Affecting not just the epidermis (surface layer of skin) but also the upper layers of the underlying dermis, these peels are best for pigment irregularities; acne scars; and moderate sun damage, including deeper wrinkles. TCA, Jessner’s solution, and higher percentages of glycolic acid are frequently used for medium-depth peeling.
These phenol-based formulas can penetrate down to the lower dermal layers to address severe sun damage and scarring. Deep peels usually demand a local anesthetic plus sedation. They also come with more extensive downtime—about two weeks of swelling, peeling, crusting, oozing—but the results can be transformative. Strict sun avoidance post-peel is a must. We may ask you to pretreat skin with a topical retinoid for a number of weeks prior to a phenol peel, to help enhance penetration. If you have a heart condition, talk to your primary care physician before signing up for a deep peel; phenol can damage the heart muscle, and cause irregular heartbeat.
What should you expect after a chemical peel?
In the first few days afterward, your skin may look sunburned and feel dry and sensitive. While light to medium peels may require just two to four days of recovery, downtime for deeper peels can last from 7 to 12 days, with additional redness and flaking. Follow your provider’s aftercare instructions for keeping skin moist and sun-protected and reducing the risk of infection or scarring.
When will you see results? You should begin to see improvements in skin tone and texture as post-peel symptoms subside. Your complexion will continue to improve over time, with final results visible at about three months. Depending on the strength of your peel and your subsequent suncare habits, your results could last anywhere from several months to years.
How often should you get a chemical peel?
Mild peels can be repeated every few weeks until you get the results you’re after. Medium peels require more downtime in between, but follow-up treatments can both improve and prolong results.