Chemical Peels

Types of chemical peels and how they help your skin |

Chemical peels

Chemical peels are one of the best ways to refresh your skin when it's feeling dull and rough. Depending on the kind of chemical peel you get, they can help fade dark marks, even out skin tone, improve fine lines, and treat sun damage.

Because there is so much information on chemical peels, this section is divided into the below four parts:

Part 1: What are chemical peels?

Chemical peels are concentrated acidic solutions that exfoliate the outer layer of your skin, exposing the softer and smoother skin underneath. They are not necessary treatments, but they do give you results faster than, say, using a light alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) serum every night.

Some of the more common chemical peels include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and TCA peels (or trichloroacetic acid), ranging from 10% to 75% strength peels. Which percentage is right for you depends on what your doctor recommends, how your skin responds, what skin issues you are trying to treat, and whether you have gotten chemical peels before.

Here is a breakdown of the different types of chemical peels and what they do for your skin. The below comparison chart will also help you figure out which type of chemical peel is right for you:

Types of Chemical Peels

Type What It Does

Glycolic Acid Peel

Glycolic acid peel
  • Type of alpha hydroxy (AHA) peel
  • Good for fading acne marks and other dark spots
  • Helps with blackheads
  • Deep cleans pores
  • Harsher than lactic acid peels
  • Smooths rough skin
  • Evens skin tone
  • Improves the appearance of light wrinkles
  • Considered light peels
  • Peel solution is usually clear and watery
  • Little to no downtime (unless you use a very high % peel)

    For my experience with glycolic acid peels, check here.

Lactic Acid Peel

Lactic acid peel
  • Type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from milk
  • Good for hyperpigmentation (better than glycolic acid peels for this)
  • Good chemical peel for first time users
  • Good peel to use on all skin types
  • Considered a light peel
  • Smooths skin
  • Gives healthy glow
  • Better than glycolic acid peels for those with dry skin
  • Fades dark marks
  • Improves the appearance of light wrinkles
  • Peel solution is yellowish and thicker
  • Little to no downtime (unless you use a very high % peel)

Mandelic Acid Peel

Mandelic acid peel
  • Type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) derived from the bitter almond nut
  • Less irritating than glycolic and lactic acids
  • Good for those new to chemical peels
  • Considered a "gentle" peel with very little topical discomfort
  • Exfoliates dead skin cells
  • Good for those with acne prone skin
  • Good for those with Rosacea
  • Safe to use for those with darker skin tones
  • Evens out skin tone
  • Helps repair sun damage
  • Improves the appearance of light wrinkles
  • Peel solution is clear and watery
  • Little to no downtime

Salicylic Acid Peel

Salicylic acid peel
  • Type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA) peel
  • Tends to be a deeper peel than alpha hydroxy (AHA) peels
  • Good for oily, acne-prone skin
  • Helps to unclog pores
  • Considered a light peel
  • Little to no downtime
  • Peel solution is clear and watery
  • Must avoid this peel if allergic to aspirin

Enzyme Peel

  • Non-acid type of peel, usually made from fruits
  • Exfoliates the surface of your skin without being as harsh as other chemical peels
  • Good for those with skin sensitive to acids
  • Refines pores
  • Good for all skin types
  • Considered a light peel
  • Little to no downtime

Jessner's Peel

  • Good for those with oily, acne-prone skin
  • Not good for those with sensitive or dry skin
  • Usually based in alcohol, so can be drying for some people
  • Stronger than glycolic or salicylic acid peels, but weaker than TCA peels
  • Peel solution is usually a combination of lactic acid, salicylic acid, and resorcinol
  • Need approximately one week of downtime
  • Skin will frost and physically peel
  • Often recommended for cystic acne

TCA Peel

TCA peel
  • Good for acne marks and hyperpigmentation
  • Helps repair sun damage
  • Improves fine lines and wrinkles
  • Can improve the appearance of very shallow acne scars
  • Can improve the appearance of stretch marks
  • Can improve the appearance of skin tags at high concentrations
  • Medium-depth peel that requires several days of downtime (approximately 7-10 days)
  • Stronger peel than the above chemical peels
  • Skin will physically peel
  • Can be painful during the peel

Phenol Peel

  • Very deep chemical peels, one of the strongest available
  • Reduces wrinkles
  • Removes freckles and skin growths
  • Improves appearance of superficial acne scars
  • Fades hyperpigmentation and skin discolorations
  • Requires local anesthesia during the procedure
  • Requires pain medicine post-procedure
  • Takes at least one month to fully recover
  • Skin will turn red, get swollen, ooze, and crust before turning brown and flaking off
  • Skin will be red for 2-3 months post-peel
  • Must be done by a professional
  • Skin pallor is a potential side effect, so you will see a line of demarcation where the peel is applied
  • Best for those with fair skin
  • Not suitable for darker skin types

Depending on the type and strength of the peel you get, chemical peels can help improve light wrinkles, fade acne marks, reduce scarring and hyper-pigmentation, and improve overall skin tone. They can't get rid of moles (try lasers for those) but they can help minimize the appearance of skin tags. Of course, all of this is dependent upon what kind of peel you get, the strength of the peel, how many times you get the peel done, how your skin reacts, and how you take care of your skin post-peel.

First time peel-users should always start off with the lowest percentage peel and gradually increase as skin adjusts. Using a strong percentage on your skin the very first time can cause burns and potentially permanent damage. You might even be allergic to the particular acid used for the peel, so whenever you're thinking about getting a peel done, be sure you do your homework and read up on it. Don't be afraid to ask questions either. It's better to know what you're getting yourself in to than it is to be blind sided by something you didn't expect because someone forgot to tell you.

Chemical peels are generally used all over the face (except around the eyes) but you can also use them to spot treat other areas of your skin, such as your hands and neck. Keep in mind usually that more than one peel is necessary to get your desired results, so don’t expect a single peel to work any miracles. However, with proper and consistent use, chemical peels can keep your skin looking young and healthy.

Now that you know about the types of chemical peels and what skin issues they can fix, move on to part 2 to find out where you can get them done.

Last updated: September 20, 2012

Next »

Part 2: Where to Get Chemical Peels