Skin Peels Everything You Need to Know

Skin peels, also known as chemical peels, are procedures where a chemical solution is applied to the skin to remove the top layers of the skin to reveal a newer, healthier skin layer. These peels can vary greatly in terms of their depth and the chemicals used. There are generally three types of skin peels: superficial, medium, and deep peels. Let’s break down these categories further:

Superficial Peels

These are the mildest type of chemical peels. They only remove the outer layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, and can be used to treat fine wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, and dryness. Here are some of the common agents used in superficial peels:

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs):
Such as glycolic acid and lactic acid.

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs):
Like salicylic acid, which is often used for acne-prone skin.

Jessner’s peel:
A combination of salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol in ethanol.

Medium Peels

Medium peels penetrate the outer and middle layers of the skin and can treat wrinkles, acne scars, and uneven skin tone. The agents used can be:

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA):
TCA is often used in varying concentrations to achieve a medium-depth peel.

Jessner’s peel followed by TCA:
Sometimes a Jessner’s peel is used before a TCA peel to enhance the penetration and effectiveness.

Deep Peels

Deep peels penetrate several layers of skin and can treat more severe wrinkles, long-term sun damage, and pre-cancerous growths. The agents used include:

This is generally used for deep peels and can offer dramatic improvements, but has a longer recovery time and higher risk of complications.

Baker-Gordon peel
A combination of phenol, septisol, and croton oil, which is a very strong formula used for deep peeling.

High concentration TCA peels
TCA at very high concentrations can also be used for a deep peel.

Maintenance and Light Peels

Apart from the standard categories of peels, there are maintenance or light peels that might not necessarily fall into the classic categories. These include:

Retinoic acid peels
These are often lighter peels and can be done more frequently.

Enzyme peels
These peels use enzymes, often from fruits, to exfoliate the skin gently.

Safety and Considerations

Skin Type and Color
Individuals with lighter skin tones are generally better candidates for chemical peels. In darker skin tones, there is a higher risk of pigmentation changes.

Sun Exposure
It’s important to avoid sun exposure and use sunscreen after a chemical peel as the new skin is very sensitive.

Medical History
Your medical history, including any medications you are taking, can affect how your skin responds to a chemical peel.

Qualified Practitioner
Always have a skin peel done by a qualified practitioner to minimize risks and complications.

After discussing the various types of chemical peels and factors to consider before undergoing a peel, it’s essential to discuss how to care for your skin post-peel and the potential side effects and complications that might occur.

Post-Peel Care

After a chemical peel, you’ll need to take special care of your skin to support healing and achieve the best results. Here is what you might expect:

Initially, your skin might feel hot and look red. Your practitioner might apply a cool compress to help reduce this initial irritation.

Hydration and Moisturizing
Keeping the skin hydrated is essential. You would be recommended a good moisturizer to keep the new skin hydrated.

You will need to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your new skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

Avoid Picking
As your skin heals, you might notice it starting to peel or flake. It’s crucial to avoid picking at your skin during this time to prevent scarring and infection.

Potential Side Effects and Complications

Even though chemical peels are generally safe, there are potential side effects and complications, particularly with medium to deep peels. These include:

Some degree of redness is expected after a chemical peel, but extended redness might occur, particularly with deeper peels.

This can occur, especially with deep peels.

There’s a small risk of infection, including bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, particularly with medium to deep peels.

While rare, scarring can occur, particularly if the skin is not cared for properly post-peel.

Hyperpigmentation or Hypopigmentation
Changes in skin pigmentation can occur, especially in individuals with darker skin tones.

Realistic Expectations

It’s important to have realistic expectations about what a chemical peel can achieve. While they can significantly improve the appearance of the skin:

Multiple Treatments
You might require multiple treatments to achieve your desired results, especially if you are treating deep wrinkles or significant sun damage.

Maintenance Peels
Many people benefit from maintenance peels to maintain their results.

Going deeper into the considerations and post-care, we can elaborate on various facets such as preparation for future peels, lifestyle adaptations, and monitoring results:

Preparation for Future Peels

If you plan to undergo further peels in the future, it is essential to maintain a skincare routine that supports skin health and prepares the skin for subsequent treatments:

Routine Skin Care
Establish a routine with products recommended by your dermatologist that are suitable for your skin type and the concerns you are addressing.

Avoid Irritants
Before subsequent peels, you might need to avoid products that can irritate the skin, including those containing alcohol, retinoids, or alpha hydroxy acids, for a specified period.

Lifestyle Adaptations

Making lifestyle adaptations can enhance the results of your chemical peel and promote healthier skin overall:

Healthy Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet can support skin health. Incorporate foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Drink sufficient water daily to keep your skin hydrated.

No Smoking
Avoid smoking, as it can age the skin and impair healing.

Monitoring Results and Feedback

After your chemical peel, it will be beneficial to:

Photographic Record
Keep a photographic record of your healing process to track your progress. It will also serve as a beneficial feedback tool for your dermatologist.

Feedback and Reviews
Providing feedback on your experience can help your dermatologist tailor your treatment plan for any future peels.

Patient Forums and Support Groups
Consider joining forums or groups where you can share experiences and learn from others who have undergone similar treatments.

Emergency Contact

In case of any complications, ensure you have an emergency contact to reach out to your healthcare provider.

Tailoring to Individual Needs

Finally, remember that everyone’s skin is different:

Customized Approach
Your dermatologist might opt for a different kind of peel or a customized approach based on the feedback from your first treatment.

Combination Treatments
In some cases, combining chemical peels with other treatments, such as laser therapy or dermal fillers, might be suggested for optimum results.


Chemical peels can offer substantial benefits in improving the texture, tone, and overall appearance of your skin. Yet, they require careful preparation and post-care to maximize results and minimize potential complications.

Engaging actively with your skincare routine and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can enhance the results of your peel. Moreover, working closely with your dermatologist to monitor your progress and adapt your treatment plan as necessary can help you achieve the best possible outcome from your chemical peel treatments. It’s all about a well-rounded approach to skincare, taking into account individual needs and responses to treatment.

Pippa Ashton
Pippa Ashton

I'm a fully qualified Beautician and a practitioner of Non-Surgical Cosmetic Procedures. Having worked in the beauty industry since 2011 I have gained a lot of experience and gone on to become a published expert in a wide range of matters concerning health, beauty and nutrition.

Gabbro Health