A chemical peel is a treatment that helps improve the texture of the skin by removing dry, dull skin cells through chemical exfoliation. Although chemical peels can be performed on various parts of the body to help smooth skin, they are commonly performed on the face, neck and hands.

During a chemical peel, a chemical agent made of acids is applied to the skin. After the treatment, dead skin peels off and exposes the newer, smoother skin below.

The peel itself typically lasts an hour or two, but you should expect your skin to peel for up to 10 days after the procedure.

  • Types of Chemical Peels

    Superficial Peel

    Superficial chemical peels are the least intense of the three types of peels because they only penetrate the outermost layer of the skin.

    Typically, superficial peels use alpha hydroxy acids, which can be made of natural or synthetic compounds. A common alpha hydroxy acid used in superficial peels is glycolic acid. 

    Glycolic acid is considered the “gold standard” of alpha hydroxy acids because of its ability to easily and gently penetrate skin.

    A superficial peel may be right for you if:

    • You have minimal sun damage
    • You have some fine lines 
    • You want to improve the overall texture of your skin
    • You want a low-risk peel with a short recovery time
    Medium Peel 

    Medium peels typically use glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to remove damaged skin cells from the middle and outer layers of the skin. Because this type of peel is able to penetrate more layers of skin than superficial peels, it is often able to reduce the appearance of scars and age spots in addition to smoothing the skin’s overall texture.

    A medium peel may be right for you if:

    • You have minimal to moderate sun damage
    • You have some fine lines and wrinkles
    • You want to diminish the appearance of age spots and shallow scarring
    • You do not have very sensitive skin
    Deep Peel 

    Out of the three main types of chemical peels, deep peels are the most intense because they remove damaged skin cells from the middle layer of the skin, rather than from the outermost layer. Deep peels typically use trichloroacetic acid or phenol. 

    Phenol peels are performed under carefully monitored conditions, usually in a doctor’s office, and can take up to two hours to complete. patients who undergo a phenol peel are usually sedated.

    Sometimes, a deep peel involves a pretreatment for up to eight weeks before your procedure. This helps prepare your skin for the peel and help speed up the healing process. Your provider will be able to provide you with more information regarding the type of pretreatment they suggest. 

    A deep peel may be right for you if:

    • You’ve never had a deep peel before (you can only get a deep peel once, in most cases)
    • You have extreme sun damage 
    • You have deep fine lines and wrinkles
    • You want to remove age spots and scarring
    • You do not have sensitive skin
    • You do not have dark skin (Phenol has a bleaching effect)
    • You don’t mind a few weeks of healing time
  • Possible Side Effects and Complications

    Common side effects associated with chemical peels include redness, discomfort, and changes in skin color. These side effects are typically no cause for concern and go away after a few days.

    Because deep peels are more intense, there may be more potential for negative side effects and complications from this type of peel compared to those of superficial and medium peels. Still, serious complications are rare. Some of the side effects reported from deep chemical peels include:

    • Scarring
    • Infection
    • Heart, kidney or liver damage

    Your doctor or provider will be able to go over your risk factors with you and help determine whether or not a chemical peel is right for you. They may not recommend a chemical peel if you have a heart, kidney, or liver condition, or are taking certain medications.