As someone who has been getting chemical peels for a while now, I have gotten a lot of questions about what they are, how they work, what the different types of chemical peels are, and how often you should get them.
In this article, I will try to answer the most common questions about chemical peels.
A little throwback: I’ve had bad cystic acne since I was 29 and have had many scars and blemishes. I’ve been getting tretinoin and then peels (I’m now 45).
And my skin thanks me every day for it!
In combination with the use of tretinoin, a chemical peel is very effective in eliminating scars and blemishes and, depending on the type, even medium-deep wrinkles and sun spots to counteract aging.
Given my satisfaction with these treatments, I decided to write this article to make you consider chemical peels your number one beauty ally!
What are chemical peels?
Before we get into the different types of chemical peels and their benefits, let’s talk about what a chemical peel is. A chemical peel is a procedure where a chemical is applied to the skin to treat various conditions.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AADA), dermatologists use a chemical peel to treat conditions such as:
- Acne scars
- Wrinkles and aging, sagging skin
- Sun damage
It can also help reduce various signs of skin aging on the face, hands, neck, and chest.
In fact, after regularly getting chemical peels for years, my skin looks way better than ever before since I was 29 when I constantly sunbathed, which caused my skin to become sun-damaged with premature wrinkles and a dull, uneven complexion.
Benefits of chemical peels and how they work:
Let’s see how the skin reacts to chemical peels:
Chemical peels work by creating a controlled chemical burn, and depending on the type of peels, it penetrates the first layer of the skin or, with medium-deep peels, to the dermis. As a result, the burned skin on top will peel, showing the new, improved skin.
The process of peeling from the chemical burn stimulates the growth of new skin cells, giving a smooth and youthful appearance both in the short and long term (depending on the type of chemical peel used and the concentration)
How deep a chemical peel goes also depends on your type of peel. The deeper the peel, the more it penetrates the dermis, stimulating the production of elastin and collagen, necessary for youthful skin and preventing aging.
There are many chemical peels; I tried almost all of them, so let’s check them out together! 🙂
Types of Chemical Peels
Face peels are “chemical exfoliants” (as opposed to “mechanical” ones), and there are different types. Let’s check them all out!
Superficial chemical peels
These are the chemical peels known as “light peels.” They contain a lower acid concentration and only penetrate the skin’s superficial layers (hence their name). There are still different types of superficial chemical peels, depending on the concentration and the type of acid used.
AHA Types Of Chemical Peels
AHA- known as Alpha Hydroxy Acids- are the most common types of superficial chemical peels. The most known ones are:
GLYCOLIC ACID PEEL
Skin Type: Normal, Ageing skin, Acne-prone skin. Not suitable for sensitive skin and rosacea.
The glycolic acid peel is the greatest for exfoliating because, due to its small molecule size, it penetrates well the skin barrier, reaching a deeper layer of the skin (the lower epidermis) compared to the other AHA, as suggested in this scientific study. As a result, the skin is smoother with clearer pores and a gorgeous complexion.
It works well for rejuvenating the appearance of the skin and for hyperpigmentation. Also, light acne responds well to glycolic peel at-home treatments.
Glycolic peels come in a variety of strengths, each one giving you different outcomes and different recovery times.
The glycolic acid used in low concentrations (20%) will make you peel mildly at best or not at all, so the recovery is immediate. Expect light flaking and dry skin for 2-3 days post peel.
The highest the strength, the more you’ll peel. I recommend starting with the lowest concentration and building your way up.
It’s always best not to use it every day. The skin needs to regenerate, and according to many dermatologists, it might take up to 2 weeks before you can have another peel.
For better results with Glycolic acid, you should perform a series of 6/8 peels, once per week or every other week, depending on whether or not your skin is strong enough for the acid.
Safety & At Home Usage:
Glycolic acid peels are generally safe for the majority of people, even for pregnant women. They are, however, not without potential adverse effects, especially irritation and photosensitivity. Smoking and sun exposure before and after a peel may worsen side effects.
This peel is safe to use at home at concentrations up to 30/40%, but remember that glycolic acid peels are the strongest in the AHA family and have side effects if overdone or performed at excessive concentrations.
Always practice caution and common sense when it comes to peelings. Go slow, and increase the concentration, frequency, and strength over time for optimal results.
Where & What To Buy:
You should buy Glycolic acid peels only from reputable suppliers, as with any skincare products you use. A good quality product is not only more effective but also of better quality, with no dilution, at the correct strength, and safer on your skin.
Products I’ve used and recommend:
- The Glycolic Acid peel by The Ordinary(it also contains a small % of BHA)
- The Glycolic Acid peel by Platinum Skin Care
Another way to use glycolic acid is to incorporate it into your routine using The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toner Solution.
MANDELIC ACID PEEL
Skin Type: Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin and skin with rosacea.
Because of the large molecular structure, which allows for minimal skin penetration, the skin peel is milder than the glycolic acid.
The mandelic acid peel is a go-to peel for people with sensitive skin, and it’s one of the few types of chemical peels approved for rosacea (strength at max 20%). It’s also perfect if you are starting out using chemical peels. Its benefits range from:
- Skin complexion
- Hiper Pigmentation and melasma
- Light sun damage (fine lines, not deep wrinkles)
- Light, inflamed acne and superficial acne scars
- Usage on sensitive areas like the neck, chest, and hands
For better results, I do cycles of mandelic acid peels at 40% weekly (my skin is not sensitive and is used to much stronger acids). If this is not your case, use a lower strength (20%) and initially do it every other week.
Mandelic acid is a light peel, so the recovery time Is almost immediate. You might not even see exfoliation every time, but just dry kin for 2-3 days after peeling. This doesn’t mean the peeling is not effective. It’s just mild, but it’s doing its job correctly.
Safety & At Home Usage:
This peel is safe and can be used at home and during pregnancy because its systemic absorption is negligible. Side effects are minimal, but the skin is photosensitive, so, like with the use of any other exfoliant agent, sunscreen is a must.
Where & What To Buy:
Again, if you buy it online, you either know the company and have already tried their products or buy peels already tested by others for an extended time. My to-go Mandelic peeling favorites are:
- 10% The Ordinary Mandelic Acid (very mild strength, great for newbies)
- 22% Platinum SkinCare Mandelic and Azelaic peel
- 40% Platinum Skincare Mandelic Acid
LACTIC ACID CHEMICAL PEEL
Skin Type: Dry skin, aging skin, skin affected by hyperpigmentation. Suitable for sensitive skins.
Lactic Acid Benefits:
This is the one for you if you want a very superficial and virtually zero downtime chemical peel. You can use it 1-2 times per week to gently exfoliate and improve skin moisture due to its hygroscopic properties. You would need to use this acid regularly to reap the benefits.
The main ones I noticed using the buffered 50% Lactic acid were a brighter complexion and smoother skin.
It works well for sun spots if used constantly because it blocks an enzyme (tyrosinase) responsible for melanin production. Excellent for sensitive skin and usage in sensitive areas.
In my experience, it doesn’t do much for wrinkles; better to use another type of peelings for that issue (TCA + Jessners, high strength glycolic, or a series of 40% Mandelic acid).
The lactic acid peel will give you minimal, almost invisible flaking for 2-3 days after the peel (if anything). It’s the most gentle of the AHA peels.
Safety and at-home usage:
Like glycolic acid and Mandelic acid, Lactic acid is also deemed safe to use during pregnancy, and being very mild doesn’t cause any side effects. Still, because of the exfoliating effects, your skin will be more exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Thus sunscreen is essential.
Where & What To Buy:
You can find lactic Acid peels almost everywhere; my favorite one is the 50% Platinum Skincare Lactic acid. I always keep it at hand when I can’t use my retinoic acid.
I also tried The 10% The Ordinary Lactic acid + Hyaluronic Acid, and it works well for adding some hydration to the skin and gently exfoliating it.
BHA Chemical Peel (Beta Hydroxy Acids)
Oily skin, acne-prone skin, clogged pores. Normal skins with hyperpigmentation, post-inflammatory Hyperpigmentation (PIH), and sun damage. Suitable for sensitive skins (at the proper strength). If you have sensitive skin and rosacea, please consult a dermatologist before using a Salicylic Acid peel or any type of peel.
Salicylic Acid Benefits (for Acne and more):
Salicylic Acid is the only acid that, because it is lipid/fat-soluble, can penetrate and break down the skin’s oil barrier. That’s why it’s the preferred choice to treat inflamed active acne, clogged pores, and acne-prone skin.
If you have acne and oily skin, salicylic acid reduces inflammation and redness and prevents the growth of bacteria that causes acne due to its antiseptic properties.
Some important scientific studies revealed that Salicylic Acid is also an excellent chemical peel for skin hyperpigmentation and reverse photo-aging.
The flaking/peeling (depending on the strength) can be light to moderate for 2-4 days, and you can use the salicylic acid peel (at 15/20%) once per week or once every two weeks, depending on your skin reaction.
Safety & At-Home Usage:
Low strength Salicylic acid peel (3-5-15%) is safe as an-home treatment if done correctly by assessing and priming the skin before the peeling.
Although the scientific community is not unanimous, Salicylic acid peels should be avoided during pregnancy as they found a correlation between systemic absorption and fetal growth retardation.
If you’ve used Accutane (Isotretinoin) for acne 3 to 6 months before the peeling, you should wait and ask your doctor before applying any type of peels.
Where & What To Buy: I love the Salicylic acid peels and products by Platinum Skin Care, and The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% (useful not as a peel but to reduce acne inflammation)
- Platinum Skin Care
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% (useful not as a peel but to reduce acne inflammation).
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A, a group of molecules including the famous retinoic acid (known as tretinoin or Retin A) and the milder retinol.
Although they cannot be considered “chemical peels” in their own right, they still exfoliate the surface layer of the skin, so I have included them in chemical peels because they have similar effects.
Not to mention that dermatologists highly recommend them to prime the skin weeks after the peel itself.
Retinoids are mainly used to treat acne, and as a “side effect,” they help accelerate cellular turnover to help prevent and fight aging skin and wrinkles.
I speak in depth about tretinoin/Retinoic acid for wrinkles in my Retin A Article.
Medium Depth Peels
As the word suggests, a medium-depth peel goes to the deeper layers of the skin. It is more likely to cause irritation, redness, and other side effects. However, it is also very effective in treating uneven skin tone, much deeper wrinkles, and acne scars.
This chemical peel penetrates the top layer of skin and the rest of the deeper layer (the dermis).
According to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons, Jessner’s solution, glycolic acid, and TCA (trichloroacetic acid) are common chemicals used for a medium-depth chemical peel.
If you have severe acne or deep wrinkles and sagging, aging skin, a medium-depth peel may be more effective than a superficial peel.
The most common medium-depth peels are the Jessner’s Peel in combination with TCA peel at a concentration/percentage of 7-15%.
TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) face peel
Skin Type: Normal, aging skin, wrinkled skin, sun-damaged (Hyperpigmentation). NOT Suitable for sensitive skin, people using Accutane one year before the peeling and pregnant women. Use only after consulting your dermatologist if you are dark-skinned.
The benefits, especially after a series of TCA peelings, are extraordinary.
Trichloroacetic acid, or TCA, is my favorite chemical peel for the face and body. I have been using it regularly for almost nine years, first at the dermatologist and now at home. In my article, you can read about my experience with TCA peeling at home (including before and after photos).
TCA is the best choice for everything that a superficial peel can’t do: reach the dermis. Light peels can only get the epidermis (and not even all of them).
A TCA peel is beneficial for:
- Wrinkles (light, medium, and deep ones depending on the strength used/frequency of use)
- Sun damage /sun spots
- Youthful and supple-looking skin
- Incredibly even and bright complexion
- Deep acne scars
A TCA peel can do everything a superficial peel does, but a superficial peel cannot do what a TCA peel does for wrinkles and overall anti-aging effect.
If you are new to peels, you might not take the TCA peel well. You should first accustom your skin to lighter peels, like the AHA and BHA, and regularly use tretinoin to prime the skin before applying strong peels.
After a while, you can start using the lowest % of TCA (7% or 10%) and slowly build up your skin’s resistance to this excellent acid.
Recovery Time: It depends on the concentration. It takes around 5 to 10 days for the peel to be completed. My skin is fully peeled on day five, but it varies from person to person.
Safety & At-Home Usage: I have been using TCA peels for years and have never had any scarring or permanent side effects, only because I’m extremely careful at home.
I know a few ladies who did have scarring and other unpleasant results after going to a doctor’s office. So inform yourself on the procedure before committing to a practitioner, and ask questions to evaluate their expertise with TCA peels.
Some dermatologists don’t perform as many TCA peels as others, and where they know the theory, they might lack manual expertise and years of practice. Don’t underestimate it and find an excellent doctor.
I advise you to never use other acids immediately after a TCA peel and in the following weeks. The skin needs to regenerate fully, which might take a month or more. The keyword with TCA is patience.
Furthermore, the skin becomes photosensitive using peels (except Mandelic and very low concentrations of Salicylic Acid). Always use sunscreen without perfumes or skin irritants.
You can read the article about My favorite mineral sunscreens post peeling (I’ll also write an article on those with chemical filters that you can safely use).
Do I recommend using the TCA at home? Yes and No.
YES, only if you have excellent knowledge of how peelings work, you did many at the doctor’s office over many years, you are extra careful and follow the instructions very carefully.
NO, if you are new to chemical peels, want immediate results, or have just had AHA or BHA at home or the doctor. I highly recommend putting your skin in the experienced hands of a professional.
Where & What To Buy:
Years ago, I would buy the TCA peels on Amazon (from reputable companies). Now you can not find them anymore, especially in the EU. It’s impossible. The only (safe) place to buy is from the US. Don’t even think about eBay! You never know if the product is legit or not.
I did my research over the years and finally found one company I trust for buying TCA and other chemical Peels
I have a “collection” of almost every peel they produce at various strengths.
It takes a while to arrive in Europe, and the customs duties and shipping costs are high. But the product’s shelf life is 1-2 years if adequately preserved, so I stock up for my TCA peel cycles to make it convenient.
Jessner’s solution (or Jessner’s peel) is made up of a mix of resorcinol, salicylic acid and lactic acid.
The depth of action depends on how many layers are applied. It is often used a few minutes BEFORE using the TCA peeling to enhance its effect. It is a protocol that some dermatologists like to use, others prefer to separate them.
I tried both ways, and since I already use tretinoin to prepare my skin before the TCA peel, I prefer to do them separately.
The Jessner peel, depending on how many layers are used and the concentration of the compound, can also be considered a medium peel.
The benefits of the Jessner solution are mainly:
- Better skin appearance (radiant and even complexion)
- Skin compactness
Which Jessner peel to buy:
I only use and buy the Platinum Skincare one. If one day I should try other types, I will make special reviews.
Recommendations: Although it is a light and not very irritating peeling, it is better initially to rely on the dermatologist and avoid doing it in the summer months.
Deep Chemical Peels
This is the highest level of peel, the one that most affects the skin, going deep to the dermis and helping tremendously in the production of collagen. It Is also the peel with the most side effects and downtime.
Deep chemical peels use high concentrations of strong acids to remove the skin’s top layer and penetrate deeply.
You can get a deep chemical peel to treat acne and other skin conditions, such as hyperpigmentation, melasma, and wrinkles.
A phenol peel is a deep peel penetrating deeply into the skin to cause significant skin exfoliation.
The results of phenol peeling are significant and, in some cases, almost comparable to a light facelift. This deep peel can repair considerable skin damage.
Effective in treating acne scars, skin discoloration, wrinkles and sun damage. Phenol is a deep peeling agent and Not ideal for people with dark skin . This type of deep peeling is often used only on the face area and not on the neck, trunk or arms.
Due to the long healing times and serious side effects, such as its toxicity, it is necessary to think seriously before trying this peel. Do-it-yourself is prohibited in all cases.
How often should you get chemical peels?
The type of chemical peel you undergo determines how often you can use it. With superficial peels, they can be done weekly or every two weeks.
Medium deep peels such as TCA, on the other hand, should only be performed once every month during the 4/6 cycle or even less, depending on the skin type, because they require a longer healing period.
In a nutshell: the more a peeling “damages” the skin and penetrates deeply, the more the recovery times get longer and you can do it less frequently. If the peeling is delicate you can do it more often.
Most skin peel procedures are performed every 10-14 days, allowing your skin enough time to kickstart the healing and rejuvenation process before enduring another peel. This cycle is repeated multiple times before continuing treatments once a month or less frequently as needed.
The skin will take longer to recover from medium peels because they penetrate a little deeper to target the damage and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and acne scars. As a result, you can get a medium peel every four to six months.
Deep skin peels are typically performed at the start of a lengthy treatment plan, laying the groundwork for success by providing a clean slate to work with. This is why these types of chemical peels are only advised every two to three years. In the interval, you can preserve your results with minor skin peels.
Frequency for surface chemical peels
On average, you can repeat the procedure every 7-14 days, giving the skin time to heal before undergoing another peel. The results are not definitive, and the treatments must be repeated.
- AHA at low concentrations: about 7 days
- AHA at medium-high concentrations: 14 days or more
Frequency of use for medium-depth peeling
The skin will take longer to recover from medium peels because they penetrate deeper. Repeating the peel every 30/60 days is possible, but waiting longer does not hurt.
Better to do it less frequently than to speed things up. The results are not definitive, and the treatment must be repeated over time.
Frequency of use for Deep Peelings (Phenol)
They are performed every 2-3 years at the most. Sometimes, depending on the depth and the result achieved, they are carried out only once or twice because the results are permanent.
Types Of Chemical Peels For the Under Eye Area
The under-eye area is very delicate with thinner skin and few sebaceous glands, and it’s the first to show the signs of time, with wrinkles and skin laxity. Chemical peels are a great way to prevent and, to an extent, fix these issues.
But which ones to use? It depends on the initial state of the skin and the results you want to obtain.
- Few fine wrinkles: Gentle peels with AHAs such as Mandelic and Lactic acids are delicate enough for the under-eye area.
- Deeper wrinkles: You can use a low concentration (5/7%) TCA peel.
TCA Peel treatment under the eyes
You can undergo a TCA peel around the eyes if the damage in that area is visible or to prevent it. This chemical peel gives you a more compact and firm skin around the eyes, smoothes micro wrinkles, and attenuates the deeper ones.
The concentration to apply around the eyes is usually the lower one (5-7%), only rarely you can use one layer of 10/13%
TCA treatment in the under-eyes area should be performed by an experienced dermatologist.
I apply the trichloroacetic acid peeling around the eyes at home because my skin is resistant after years of tretinoin and lighter peels. Know that you are at risk of serious side effects if you decide to do it by yourself.
How to Prepare Your Skin Before a Chemical Peel
The preparation of the skin before a face peeling is as important as skill in the application and post-peeling aftercare.
If the skin is not ready, the acid does not penetrate evenly and deeply, partially nullifying the effect of the chemical peel.
The dermatologist will advise you on the best type of treatment for your skin. But this is too generic, so let’s see what the possible pre-peeling treatments and suggestions are:
- Retinoid products: tretinoin or retinol creams if you can’t stand the retinoic acids. The skin must be exfoliated (the most superficial part composed of dead cells) so as not to hinder the peeling.
- Lightening products: Depending on your phototype (especially olive and dark skin), use creams with substances that lighten the skin to avoid the chemical peel creating spots on the face or hyperpigmentation.
- Avoid sun exposure (even before applying the peeling): to avoid sun damage and spots. Sunbathing without protection when using chemical peels does not make sense because the effects of the peels are canceled out, further damaging the skin.
- Use excellent serums and creams: The more the skin is cared for and healthy, the better it will react to peeling, so pay great attention to your skincare routine!
Things you should do before a chemical peel
To ensure you’re ready for the procedure, I’ve compiled a list of everything you should – or shouldn’t – do before a chemical peel.
Discuss with your doctor your medical issues and any drugs you are taking (especially those that could interfere with the peel, such as Accutane); I also added the link to a source for Accutane and any cosmetic operations you may have undergone.
- Undergo examination of your skin and the area that will receive treatment to determine which type of peel will be most beneficial to you and how your physical characteristics, such as skin tone, thickness, and color type, may influence your outcomes.
- Talk about your goals, objectives, and any concerns with your doctor. Make sure you know your potential treatment requirements, healing time, and possible outcomes.
Use an antiviral medication before and after a chemical peel. You don’t want to enjoy your youthful appearance while nursing a viral infection.
Apply a retinoid cream/lotion a few weeks before treatment to aid recovery. I use the tretinoin (Retin-A) a week or two before my chemical peel and stop a few days before applying the acid. This step is essential, especially in preparation for my TCA peels, not so much for superficial peels. More about Retin-A and how it works here.
Avoid excessive sun exposure; always use sunscreen before, during, and after. It is paramount for the peel to be effective and long-lasting. I avoid the sun as much as possible for a few weeks before and after my peeling.
Sunbathing without sunscreen when using chemical peels doesn’t make sense because it nulls the effects of the peels by further damaging the skin. Here is a list of the sunscreens I use regularly.
Arrange for a ride home, or take a taxi home after the procedure (Just in case). It might be unpleasant but not always super bad to drive home due to the numbing medication, so plan how you can get home safely after your chemical peel.
What To Expect Before a Chemical Peel at The Dermatologist
Whether you have a chemical peel at the dermatologist or at home, here’s a summary of what to expect:
How long does it take to apply the peel:
In my case, the whole procedure takes a short time, a maximum of 30 minutes. Including the preparation of what I need for the TCA at home takes me an hour because I have to be very careful. At the doctor’s, the procedure is quick. It doesn’t last more than 20/30 minutes.
Use of local anesthetic:
The doctor may apply a local anesthetic if desired or if you are nervous, but it is usually only given for deep peels. They have never applied it to me.
The treated area is cleaned with a degreasing solution, such as denatured alcohol. It is a fundamental step because it removes dirt residues and the natural oils of the skin, helping the acid penetrate evenly and deeply.
Protection of sensitive areas:
Usually, the eyes are covered with a small gauze, or petroleum jelly is applied around the eyes, eyebrows, and corners of the mouth to prevent the acid from getting close to these areas. Furthermore, I do not wear makeup or use necklaces or earrings before a chemical peel because they must be removed anyway.
Painkillers, yes or no:
No need for light or medium peels. I have never taken them or heard of anyone who did.
You can take a pain reliever if it’s a medium to deep peel. Even when I do the 20/25% TCA peel, I don’t need it. Rather, when the acid begins to burn a lot, ask the doctor for a fan to cool the area. It will help you withstand discomfort during the application time.
For Phenol peels at 60%, the doctor can administer a sedative to help you relax before the peeling.
What to Expect During the Chemical Peel Application
How the acid is applied:
You or your doctor will apply the acid with a brush, cotton swab, or gauze for all types of chemical peels. I prefer the gauze, properly squeezed to prevent it from dripping because it can be dangerous.
Does The chemical peel burn or hurt?
It always depends on the strength and type of peeling applied.
You may feel a tingling or burning sensation when applying the acid. This sensation can be mild or non-existent for light peels and quite strong for medium-deep ones.
During the waiting time after the application, the doctor will, if necessary, help you to relieve the burning sensation by using a fan or, if the burning increases and becomes unbearable , will immediately neutralize the acid.
The feeling of discomfort and sunburn on the face can last from 20 minutes to a few hours, depending on the type and strength of the acid (even after removing/neutralizing it).
The pain is real with phenol peelings at 60%, so a drip is administered, and the heart will be monitored during the procedure. Doctors apply phenol to the skin at about 10-minute intervals to prevent it from being absorbed systemically. Phenol is toxic to the heart, kidneys, and liver, so caution is necessary.
How to remove the acid:
The doctor uses a damp cloth to remove the acid and applies a neutralizing solution if necessary. Not all peels need to be neutralized (TCA, for example, doesn’t need it), while AHAs and BHAs need to be neutralized.
What To Expect After a Chemical Peel
Expectations vary depending on the type of skin and its resistance. Mine, after years of chemical peels, is very resistant. Only when I apply medium / deep peels (such as high concentration TCA) does it redden and swell slightly in some places immediately after the procedure.
Some people have never had a chemical peel that does not cause redness and irritation. This is normal if you have sensitive skin or are new to peels.
However, after a few hours (or a few days for more sensitive skin), the redness and irritation will begin to fade, and the skin will return to normal or start the healing process.
To see the photos of the days post peeling with trichloracetic acid (TCA ), go to my article in the photo section. Pictures speak better than a thousand words 🙂
How Many Chemical Peels Do You Need To See the Results:
The frequency and results depend on the type of chemical peel used.
Superficial/light peel: Glycolic acid peels brighten your skin and even your skin tone immediately; Salicylic acid peels help with oily skin, acne, and redness after a few applications. But usually, some results are immediately visible. If you want to use light peels to help with aging and fine wrinkles, you’ll see some (very mild) results after many uses.
Medium peel: TCA, 10 to 15% makes your skin look more supple, with a great complexion, and overall more youthful after one to two applications. To see actual anti-aging results, such as removing or diminishing wrinkles and sun damage, it will take a series of at least 5-6 peels. But trust me, it’s SO WORTH IT!
Deep Peel: Apart from the phenol, which I never tried, and it’s a rare procedure to use only in particular cases, the TCA at 20/25% brightens my skin, evens my skin tone, makes it more radiant, and diminishes or eliminates sun spots, sun damage and wrinkles in less time (around three to four peels).
Important warning: Safety always comes first. Never use a strong peel to accelerate the process and see results earlier if your skin is not used to lighter types of chemical peels first. It doesn’t work like this, and you would put yourself at a very high risk of potentially permanent side effects.
Chemical Peel After Care
Post chemical peel treatment is essential. The skin after a peel is much more sensitive, exposed, and “fragile” than usual, so treating it with extreme care is necessary.
The products I recommend depend on the type of chemical peel performed and how your skin reacted to the procedure.
After a superficial – light peeling:
Use a good moisturizer to protect irritated skin. An excellent cream prevents the skin from losing moisture and isolates it from external agents and pollution. Sunscreen is always a must, even in winter and when it’s cloudy.
After a medium peeling:
It is of the utmost importance to treat the skin flawlessly.
- Apply an ointment such as Aquaphor immediately after the peeling. This step will protect the burned skin from external agents, greatly reducing the possibility of side effects.
- Avoid the sun: use sunglasses, scarf, and hat, PLUS mineral sunscreen formulated for use after cosmetic procedures.
- Use Creams and Serums: Apply a hyaluronic acid serum to give the skin extra hydration and close the skin’s moisture with a cream like CeraVe or with the Aquaphor if you stay home.
- Daily routine after a medium peeling: gently wash your face with an oil-based cleanser, pat the skin to rinse it, and dry it with a very soft cloth, placing it on your face, NEVER rubbing it.
- What to avoid: All creams containing retinoids, fragrances, and known irritants. The simpler the cream or serum, the better it will be for your skin.
After a deep peeling:
It is necessary to use a moisturizer, specific serums, and an ointment every day for about a month and follow a routine similar to the average peel. Afterward, you can use a mild moisturizer.
Whatever the type of chemical peel, it is necessary to avoid the sun completely for a few weeks after the procedure. Also, never try to remove or touch excess skin. Speeding the process can cause scarring, discoloration, and other side effects.
List of products I use to take care of my skin after a peeling:
- Wash : IUNIK Calendula washing oil
- Moisturize : Coq10 Serum, Peptide and Hyaluronic Serum, Pure hyaluronic acid serum, CeraVe face cream, Connettivina.
- Protect: Ointments such as Aquaphor and Vaseline, and Weleda Calendula ointment.
Chemical Peels Recovery /Downtime
How long does it take for your skin to heal?
It is best to start your chemical peel after-care as soon as possible after the peel. Do not neglect to take care of the skin after this procedure to avoid infections or scarring.
Light peels: it heals in about a day to a week. Follow-up visits to your dermatologist are not necessary, also because it’s frequent to do them at home anyways.
Medium/ Deep peels: Usually, the healing time is about one week to two weeks maximum (the average is one week). You can follow up with your dermatologist about a week after the procedure if they request it or if you feel something isn’t right.
Chemical Peels Common Side Effects:
I usually get redness, some swelling, and peeling as side effects after a chemical peel. These side effects typically go away in a few hours for me or a few days for sensitive kin. However, if you have a lot of redness and swelling that doesn’t subside, you should see your dermatologist immediately.
Below are some of the side effects of chemical peels, according to the AADA:
- Scabbing, swelling, and redness
- Scarring (permanent or temporary, keloid scarring or barely visible)
- Changes in your skin color
- Higher risk of heart, kidney, or liver damage due to excessive exposure to phenol ( don’t worry! this is very unlikely because phenol is used in rare circumstances, being the most potent peel that exists)
The side effects of a chemical peel, especially for medium/deep peels, can be pretty severe if you don’t do the procedure correctly, so it is essential to research and find an experienced dermatologist versed in chemical peels. Nevertheless, if done correctly, a chemical peel can be very effective with low to no side effects.
What is the Cost of Chemical Peels?
Chemical peels are almost always considered cosmetic procedures and are rarely covered by insurance. So they have to be paid out of our pocket.
Several factors, including your location, the level of experience of the operator, and the type of chemical peel, affect the cost of the procedure. A facial peeling can cost as little as 60/70 euros if it is a light peeling or more than 1000 euros for a deep peeling, especially if it requires anesthesia or hospitalization.
The prices below are an average of what I paid in Italy and abroad and of data collected online. And they are meant for face peeling, for one session. Sometimes dermatologists give you a discounted price for a course of peelings.
- Peeling AHA – 70-300 $
- Peel BHA – 100-300 $
- Peel TCA – 150/300 $
- Phenol peeling (60% classic method) – starts from 600/800 $, but prices can go up a lot.
DIY Chemical Peeling At Home: My Experience
What kind of chemical peel can you safely do at home?
Chemical peels applied at home are often superficial ones. You need to be careful when doing a medium peel at home. The best chemical peels to do at home are:
- Glycolic acid
- Lactic acid
- Mandelic acid
- Salicylic acid
- Polyhydroxy acids
- Tretinoin/Retinoic Acid (under your doctor’s supervision)
When performing a chemical peel at home instead of your dermatologist’s office, you use the same peels for less money and without the downtime that comes with physically going to the dermatologist.
In general, Alpha and Beta hydroxy acid peels at home are safe within the concentrations available on the market. However, you must always remember to respect the instructions, and, very importantly, to neutralize them (AHA and BHA).
Medium / deep chemical peels such as TCA (trichloroacetic) at home: My experience.
Medium depth peeling is a combined TCA with Jessner or only TCA at high concentrations (15 to 25% for the face). So it is normal to have associated risks to doing a TCA chemical peel at home.
Don’t do a TCA peel (or a medium peel in general) at home if you have these conditions:
- You have chapped, not intact or sunburned skin
- Aggressive infection (cold / flu etc.)
- You have taken Roaccutane in the previous year.
- Recent chemotherapy or radiotherapy
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
Where to find the correct information to apply a chemical peel at home
Depending on your goals and preferences, doing chemical peels at home may be the best decision. However, it is crucial to know where to find this (correct) information:
- How to apply facial peeling the right way
- Where to buy the most suitable and quality tools, acids, and aftercare products
- How to get the best results without serious side effects
You can find this information on sites like mine, where I report my direct experience, on dedicated forums, demonstrative videos, academic articles, and, last but not least, ask the doctor.
This is how I prepare myself for a DIY chemical face peel at home.
What tools/products do you need to do a chemical peel at home:
- Pink denatured alcohol (70/90%)
- Cotton swab
- Vaseline (in a tube) to protect eyes and eyebrows
- Bowl with water and baking soda & nbsp; to neutralize acid
- A fan or hair dryer with a “cold” setting.
- A timer
- Many trial tests, using water first, to master the application technique.
- A patch test if you are using a new product 48 hours before
- Purchase all post-peeling care products in advance
How to plan your home peeling:
You also have to decide when is the best time to do a chemical peel, depending on the time it will take for the exfoliation: do you have to take a few days off during the holidays, on weekends?
I advise you to plan everything, especially if you want to undergo a series of peels. Never improvise with do-it-yourself peelings at home. It takes organization, cleanliness, common sense, and having everything you need readily available.
Chemical Peels FAQs:
Where to Buy Peelings Online (Safely): My favorites
Buying chemical peels online is a convenient way to do peels at home. As long as it is light peels.
Buying chemical peels online is a safe and secure way to get your peels done at home. That is If we are talking about light peels. I regularly buy AHA and BHA acids on Amazon or The Ordinary’s official website. Never on E-bay, I don’t know who is selling the peel, and it can be legit or not. I would never risk my skin’s health by spending less.
However, it’s essential to know what to look for when shopping for a chemical peel online and where to find it. Below are some of the websites that I recommend to get the best results:
- Light peels: The Ordinary (You can buy from their official website or Amazon)
- Medium and deep peels: Platinum Skin Care, an American site, certain types of peelings cannot be bought in Europe.
- Retin A / Tretinoin: I bought it online on reputable sites in the past. There are too many scam sites today. Now I purchase the Tretinoin at the local pharmacy. Soon I will be testing an American site that also ships to Italy. But I don’t want to recommend it until I’ve tested it on my skin.
Trustworthy sites with REAL reviews aren’t easy to find, but it’s the safest way to protect yourself and your skin.
I hope this guide on chemical peels has been useful to you, as much as they have been useful in making my skin glow 🙂 Let me know in the comment section below if you have any questions. I will be happy to help you! If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and family using the buttons below.
Thanks for reading. Best wishes, and see you soon!
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- CHEMICAL PEELS: OVERVIEW, American Academy of Dermatology Association
- A review of the safety of cosmetic procedures during pregnancy and lactation, International Journal of Women’s Dermatology
- Jessner’s Solution, Pearl E. Grimes
- What is a medium chemical peel? American Society of Plastic Surgeons
- TCA and Phenol Peels, Premier Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery
- Human, DR CHIN YEE CHOONG
- Chemical Peels for Dark Circles under the Eyes, UK Health Centre
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