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How Do Chemical Peelings Work?


Chemical peels work by exfoliating away dull surface skin cells and replacing them with fresh new cells that appear fresher and younger. This resurfacing helps smooth out texture and boost natural hyaluronic acid production while clearing out blocked pores and lessening acne severity and post-acne scarring. What do you need to consider about chemical peelings?

Shedding the outer layer of skin forces your body to increase collagen production, tightening and improving the skin’s elasticity to help minimize fine lines and wrinkles.


Light chemical peels, also referred to as lunchtime peels are ideal for individuals suffering from mild skin imperfections that don’t require extensive downtime. During this treatment, the top layer of skin is gently stripped away to reveal brighter and fresher-looking skin underneath – providing lasting improvement for acne, melasma, fine lines and wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, or other conditions. This type of chemical peel may even improve acne scars!

At first, you may experience slight stinging as the peel is applied to your face. Once neutralized with the solution, your practitioner will wash off the solution and apply moisturizer. Light chemical peels may cause redness, itching, and flaking of skin in the treated areas; these effects should subside within several days after treatment. However, darker skin tones could experience hyperpigmentation following treatment; to minimize this risk, avoid sun exposure after receiving your peel and always wear high-factor sunscreen when going outdoors.

If you have deeper-set scars, enlarged pores, or other severe skin conditions, undergoing a medium or deep chemical peel could be the solution. These more intensive peels typically result in more dramatic and noticeable improvements. A physician should perform this treatment, and phenol-based solutions are often applied during this treatment session.


These lunchtime peels, named so due to minimal downtime, remove only the outermost layer of skin. Used to address fine wrinkling, acne scarring, uneven skin coloring, and rough, sun-damaged areas, as well as help brighten complexions, they include peels utilizing mandelic, lactic, and low-strength salicylic acids as solutions.

Medium-depth chemical peels (commonly referred to as Jessner’s or TCA peels) penetrate both outer and some middle skin layers, treating moderate skin issues such as acne scarring, freckles and scars, actinic keratosis patches, and dark patches caused by pregnancy or birth control pills. They can also improve scars and wrinkles and fade age spots or precancerous growths.

At first, after receiving a medium peel, your skin may swell slightly and turn whitish as it heals over the next several days—this is entirely normal and signifies its success. Some individuals may be more prone to cold sore outbreaks after this treatment; if susceptible, antiviral medication should be taken prior to and post-peel to protect from cold sore formation. Furthermore, sunscreen must remain part of your skincare routine, even more so after receiving such treatments.


Deep chemical peels remove the top layer of skin to treat scarring, dark spots, imperfections, and other moderate to severe skin conditions. They are typically administered by plastic surgeons or dermatologists and often require sedatives or numbing medicines. One chemical called phenol is usually employed during these peels – however, its excessive use could potentially damage the heart, kidneys, and liver organs, so doctors generally apply small portions over 15-minute intervals across their patients’ faces.

As your new skin develops, this type of peel may cause redness, swelling, throbbing, and pain for several days. It’s essential to follow doctor instructions regarding cleansing, moisturizing, and protective ointment applications – and use ice packs as necessary – while taking OTC pain relievers such as Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may provide comfort as directed. You will need several follow-up appointments so your doctor can monitor healing.

Assuring you choose the appropriate chemical peel is of utmost importance; speak to a skincare expert regarding various kinds of chemical peels before going under any type. Tell your physician about any past cold sores or herpes outbreaks, open skin lesions or sunburns you have had, medications you are currently taking, or any rashes you are presently suffering from before proceeding with any chemical peel procedure. Finally, ensure the physician you select is board-certified through either the American Board of Dermatology or Plastic Surgery websites, as they both offer verification services.

Side Effects

Professionals using brushes, cotton balls, or gauze to apply chemical solutions such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid will use light peels on skin that whitens while you experience some slight stinging sensations; once removed through washing or other means, the chemical will begin healing in its place. Medium and deep peels typically require doctors to administer an anesthetic before administering treatment to avoid discomfort in treatment areas.

After receiving a light peel, it’s normal for skin to appear red, tight, and irritated for one or two weeks following treatment. A protective ointment may help soothe this sensitivity; pick-picking or rubbing of new skin should also be avoided to avoid scarring and delay healing; wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure also can help prevent darkening of the skin.

Chemical peels for medium and deep levels often leave skin swelling, crusts, or brown blotches behind before unveiling new skin underneath. Although results from these treatments should become evident shortly thereafter, full results could take several months to become evident and return to normal.

Chemical peels may lead to rare side effects, including herpes outbreak and bacterial or fungal infection. Furthermore, deeper chemical peels using phenol can damage heart muscles, causing irregular heartbeats; additionally, phenol can harm livers and kidneys as well.