Chemical Peels 101: Everything You Need to Know Before & After Getting One

chemical peel solution ready to be applied to skin

Written by Founder, Amir Karam MD

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Chemical peels have consistently been a part of my practice, and they can be a valuable addition to your anti-aging skincare regimen. If you've ever wondered what chemical peels are all about and how they can benefit your skin, you've come to the right place.

Chemical peels have been around forever. I mean, from the point of view of cosmetic procedures, they're among the earliest methods used for skin resurfacing. Before lasers and other advanced technologies emerged, chemical peels were the go-to option for addressing deep lines, pigmentation issues, and rejuvenating the skin. Despite not being as flashy as newer treatments, they are highly effective, and chemical peels still play a crucial role in skin rejuvenation.

Chemical peels are an incredibly transformative aspect of skin rejuvenation, but it's essential to understand the nuances of chemical peels, so I'll guide you on this topic through the different kinds of peels, what you can expect when getting one--before, during and after--and some important considerations to think about so you can make an informed decision about incorporating chemical peels into your skincare routine.

What Exactly are Chemical Peels?

Chemical peels are skincare treatments that involve the application of a chemical solution to the skin to cause it to eventually peel off. Sounds a bit intense, doesn't it?

But fear not, these treatments come in various strengths and formulations, catering to different skin types and concerns.

Types of Chemical Peels

There are three main categories of chemical peels: superficial, medium depth, and deep. Chemical peels are categorized based on their depth of penetration into the skin. They come in various types, each designed to address specific skin concerns and provide varying levels of rejuvenation.


Superficial Peels

These are the mildest form of peel, which work by loosening and removing dead skin cells, revealing smoother and brighter skin underneath. 

In the superficial category, there's a wide range of options, including gentle acids like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to exfoliate the surface layer of the skin, or combination peels, which combine acids to achieve your desired outcome, which is to remove the top layer of the skin. 

They are suitable for individuals with mild skin concerns such as uneven skin tone, sun damage, fine lines, and mild acne. Examples of superficial peels include glycolic acid peels, lactic acid peels, and salicylic acid peels.

Superficial peels are simple outpatients treatments with minimal downtime. You might experience some slight redness and peeling, however, the discomfort is usually mild and doesn't last longer than a few days. During this time, it would be ideal to use soothing and healing skincare products, like our balm, Enrich, to make sure your skin remains hydrated and is supported as it heals.

Always remember, due to the specific combination of acids used, results may slightly differ for each individual. 

The main purpose of these peels is exfoliation and controlling pigmentation. This category of peels is ideal for those who prefer a gradual approach with no significant downtime and are focused on steady improvement over time.

When you opt for a superficial chemical peel, you can expect noticeable results, though they may not be dramatic. Typically, multiple sessions are required to achieve the desired outcome, and offer more of a gradual improvement over time, rather than immediate transformation.

With superficial peels, it is essential to use them along with an active skincare routine, like Trifecta, so you are continuing to build momentum towards better skin.

If you are not using active ingredients and supporting your chemical peels results with a committed skincare routine, you are building with one hand and tearing down with the other, it makes no sense.


Medium Peels

Let's say you're in more of a rush to revitalize your skin. You're dealing with brown discoloration, dullness, and maybe some fine lines, and you're ready to commit to a bit of downtime. In this case, a medium-depth chemical peel is the way to go. 

The most common type is a 35% TCA peel, with the Jenner's peel, being a popular combination.

With these peels, you're penetrating deeper into the skin, reaching the upper portion of the dermis, (compared to superficial peels that primarily affect the epidermis).

Medium peels target more pronounced issues like pigmentation irregularities from sun damage, more moderate signs of aging like deeper wrinkles, and promote skin renewal and improvement of overall texture including reduction of acne scars.

Due to the depth of these peels, they tend to be more painful, and therefore requires some level of oral or IV sedation. When the chemical agent is applied to the face, the initial application will trigger a reaction and your skin will reach a point called "frosting," which is a coagulation of the skin's proteins, and this is what's actually removing the epidermis and part of the dermis, which is the painful part of the procedure. Whoever is performing the peels needs to be able to observe and assess the skin's response and make adjustments carefully. It's crucial to recognize the skill and experience required to perform these peels. Precision is key, and choosing a professional to administer them is necessary. 

During these medium peels, the top layer of your skin is dying, which will cause it to peel off and heal so that the newer skin can emerge. This skin will be fresh, with less pigment and fewer fine lines. It looks bright and luminescent because it's essentially a brand new epidermis.

There's an element of artistry and experience involved in this process. Going too deep can lead to unintended consequences, such as scarring, especially in delicate areas.

Unlike superficial peels, which pose minimal risk, medium-depth peels require careful consideration and require a longer downtime, lasting 7 to 10 days. During this time, you're not leaving the house. You need to be taking care of your face and washing 2-3 times a day, applying soothing balms and ointments, and need to follow specific pre and post care instructions so you heal properly and don't risk damaging your skin.

Be prepared for your skin to change colors, flake off, and peel in sheets, and keep in mind that it's a trade-off: enduring a week or so of looking like a shedding snake, in exchange for long-term benefits. 

While the process may seem daunting, the outcome is often radiant, rejuvenated skin, and results can be truly transformative. 

This type of peel strikes an excellent balance between effectiveness and efficiency, making it a popular choice among surgeons and individuals seeking noticeable results without excessive downtime.


Deep Peels

Now, let's discuss an even more intense level of peel, which, to be honest, isn't as commonly performed anymore due to its much longer downtime and higher risks.

This category of peel is known as a deep chemical peel and these are the most potent type of chemical peel, penetrating the deepest layers of the skin, with potent acids like phenol or >50% TCA.

These peels are most suitable for individuals with severe skin imperfections or advanced signs of aging like deep-set wrinkles, scars, and significant sun damage. However, for those with lines and wrinkles caused by skin laxity, this will require more than just a peel to address. 

Deep are performed under sedation or anesthesia by a trained healthcare professional and necessitate IV hydration and close heart monitoring due to potential cardiac side effects. 

Additionally, they require the expertise of highly skilled professionals and in reality, deep chemical peels have become somewhat of a rarity in modern practice and are considered a lost art form, because frankly, not many practitioners perform them anymore. 

This shift is understandable, considering the complexity and risks involved, and significant downtime, requiring several weeks for full healing.

While they were more common in the past, advancements in skincare have led to a preference for treatments with minimal downtime, and these days, fewer people are opting for such intensive procedures.

While deep peels provide dramatic results, the trend in cosmetic procedures is moving towards less invasive options that offer effective results without the need for sedation or extended recovery periods.

Benefits of Chemical Peels: Addressing Specific Skin Concerns

With their ability to exfoliate, promote cell turnover, and stimulate collagen production, chemical peels have become a popular choice for achieving smoother, brighter, and more youthful-looking skin. 

Improved Skin Texture

  • Chemical peels deeply exfoliate the skin, sloughing off dead cells and stimulating cell turnover, resulting in smoother, more refined skin texture.

Reduction of Fine Lines and Wrinkles

  • By promoting collagen production and skin renewal, chemical peels can help to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, giving your skin a more youthful look.

Evening Skin Tone 

  • By removing the top layer of skin where the pigment sits in your skin, chemical peels can help eliminate hyperpigmentation and fade discoloration to create a more uniform complexion.

Treatment of Acne Scars

  • Like its ability to soften fine lines, chemical peels can also help with fading acne scars over time.

Rejuvenation of Mature Skin

  • Aging gracefully is possible with chemical peels, as they can address age-related concerns like deeper wrinkles, pronounced sun damage, dullness, and stimulating collagen production. But it's worth noting, they will not help excessively sagging skin due to loss of laxity.

What to Expect When You Get a Chemical Peel

Navigating the world of chemical peels can be both exciting and daunting. It's natural to have questions and concerns about what to expect.

Understanding the process from start to finish can help alleviate any apprehensions, so here’s what can anticipate before, during, and after a chemical peel treatment, empowering you to take on this transformative skincare journey with confidence.

Before the Peel: Consultation and Preparation

Before the treatment, you may be advised to discontinue certain skincare products that contain active ingredients and medications that could increase skin sensitivity. This preparatory phase ensures optimal results and minimizes the risk of adverse reactions.

During the Peel: Procedure and Sensations

The actual procedure typically takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the type of peel selected. The solution is then applied evenly to the treatment area.

During this process, you may experience a tingling or stinging sensation, which is normal and temporary. Your provider will watch your skin’s reaction and adjust accordingly.

After the Peel: Recovery and Post-Treatment Care

Immediately following the peel, your skin may appear red or feel tight, resembling a sunburn. Depending on the depth of the peel, you may experience peeling or flaking in the days following the treatment. 

Recovery time varies based on the peel type, degree of skin damage, and age.

With superficial peels typically heal in a couple of days, medium peels take about a week or two, and deeper peels could take several weeks to be fully healed.

Proper aftercare is essential for achieving the best results, avoiding complications, and prolonging the benefits of your chemical peel treatment. 

  • Shield the skin from sunlight by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen and minimizing direct exposure, especially during peak hours.

  • Avoid picking, and steer clear of exfoliants, abrasive products, or scrubbing that could potentially irritate the treated skin, hampering the healing process. You want to and allow the skin to naturally shed to not cause scarring or pigmentation issues

  • Maintain skin health by drinking a lot of water, and keeping the treated area adequately moisturized using gentle, soothing skincare products to support the healing process

Consistent adherence to post-treatment care is vital for achieving optimal outcomes in skin quality and appearance. By following these guidelines meticulously, you can support optimal healing and enjoy long-lasting improvements in your skin's health and appearance.

Be patient and remember healing takes time, and visible results may not be immediate. 

Advantages of a Chemical Peel

Stimulates Collagen Production

Chemical peels work by inducing controlled injury to the skin, triggering the body's natural healing response. This process prompts the skin to produce more collagen, a protein that helps maintain the skin's firmness and elasticity, leading to a more youthful appearance.

Highly-Effective Treatment for Skin Concerns

Chemical peels can target a variety of skin concerns that contribute to aging. Chemical peels are best for hyperpigmentation, sun damage, fine lines, and wrinkles, evening out skin tone by reducing the appearance of blemishes, and softening scars. All of these skin conditions reside in the top layers of skin, and once removed by the peel, you are left with a brighter and softer complexion.

Minimally Invasive & Customizable

Chemical peels are non-surgical and minimally invasive procedures that can be performed in your local dermatologist's office or medical spa. This means you can easily find them within your community, and choose a peel based on your needs and lifestyle for optimal recovery time.

Boosts Product Absorption

By removing the top layer of dead skin cells, chemical peels can enhance the penetration and effectiveness of skincare products applied afterward, maximizing their benefits. Use active ingredients every single day to help maintain your results.

Cost-Effective Rejuvenation

Compared to some other cosmetic treatments such as laser therapy or microdermabrasion, chemical peels are often more affordable. They don't require any fancy, high-tech machines, and yet the results are truly beautiful at the end of the healing process.

Long-Term Results

With regular treatments and proper skincare maintenance, chemical peels can provide long-term improvements in skin texture, tone, and overall appearance.

Maximize Your Results: A Holistic Approach to Skincare

So, here's the bottom line on chemical peels: don't shy away from them. 

While they might sound intense at first, I hope I have provided you with enough context and insight from my own experiences to help you confidently explore your chemical peel options. 

I wholeheartedly endorse this type of "prejuvenation" treatment, and truly believe chemical peels can deliver remarkable results.

As long as you set realistic expectations, you'll likely be pleased with this treatment.

In my opinion, the most practical approach involves using light superficial peels in conjunction with a solid skincare routine. This balanced, consistent approach is usually the safest and most effective.

Remember, consistency and proper sun protection are crucial for maintaining healthy skin. When you're adopting this more advanced approach to skin rejuvenation, it's crucial to pair it with sun protection and incorporate high-quality active skincare products into your daily routine. By taking care of your skin in between treatments, you will further enhance the effects of the peel.

Using products like Trifecta will continue to maximize your results, working alongside the peel to soften fine lines and wrinkles, lighten hyperpigmentation, reduce pore size, and stimulate cell turnover and collagen production for improved firmness and elasticity. The combination of your chemical peel’s results, with Trifecta’s clinically-tested results will work hand in hand to help transform your skin for the better.

Trust me–you'll achieve so much more by taking a comprehensive, holistic approach to your skincare than just relying on any single treatment method alone.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below. You can also subscribe to our weekly newsletter, which delivers these articles directly to your inbox.

Amir Karam MD

Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeon
Founder / Creator of KaramMD Skin

Dr. Amir Karam is a renowned facial cosmetic surgeon and an authority in his field. With over two decades of experience helping patients achieve a younger, refreshed appearance. In addition to surgical procedures that sculpt a youthfully-defined facial shape, Dr. Karam takes the quality of the skin into account.

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