• Dr. Dhara Patel

How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

“Chemical Peel”…did you cringe? You’re not alone. I have said those words and seen patients cringe before the last syllable is uttered. Chemical peels can be intimidating, however once an individual understands all of the benefits it’s a no brainer! While there are entire textbooks written about chemical peels, let me teach you the basics. First and foremost, who is applying your chemical peel and do they have experience in chemical peel procedure? Reality-check: many have purchased chemical peels online, from third-party sellers looking for the same results as an accredited and medically licensed facility. Chemical peel nightmares is the result and it has caused severe damage to peoples’ skin.

Not every peel is right for every skin type, which is why a certain degree of caution is actually healthy. Darker skin types are more likely to have complications such as burns or hyperpigmentation. It doesn’t mean if you’re a darker skin type you can’t receive a chemical peel, it just means we have to select the right peel.


Here are some frequently asked questions I get from my patients…...


Q: It is my first time getting a chemical peel? Are there any pre-procedures to follow before my appointment?

A: Regardless of skin type, the safest way to do a chemical peel is to first prep the skin. I personally like to have my patients use retinol for about 4-6 weeks prior to a medium strength peel. The second option is to do a light superficial peel first and then follow with a more aggressive peel.

Q: What acids are being in chemical peels and how are they different?

A: There are a handful of acids used for chemical peeling: Lactic, glycolic, Malic, Citric, Azelaic, TCA, Salicylic, resorcinol and phenol. The difference comes in the combination and percentages of each acid. In the clinical setting, we choose these combinations based on how deep we want to peel and the problems we are trying to address. Superficial peels like salicylic, glycolic, TCA 10-35% and Jessner’s peels are used to address photoaging, acne, melasma, and some skin texture issues. Medium strength peels penetrate deeper stripping the top layers of the skin which can be used for acne scarring, actinic keratosis, and sun damage. Deep peels penetrate all the way down to the dermis and are used for deep wrinkles, photoaging, and severe pigmentation. These peels are done under anesthesia and have a much longer recovery time.


Q: So what should I expect after the peel and how long will I look crazy?

A: Again it varies with each ingredient, but some general rules include no sun exposure for at least 2 weeks after treatment, and avoiding all aquatic activities/saunas and exercising that can lead to strenuous sweating for the first 3-4 days. Limiting sun exposure when getting a chemical peel is very important because if your already irritated skin gets overheated it can cause hyperpigmentation. *For more information on proper sun protection, read our previous blog post to learn more about what protects you from UV rays.* Refrain from peeling and exfoliating your skin, this allows the skin to peel at its own pace and can last 3-5 days.


NOT EVERYONE PEELS. I understand it can be frustrating to pay for something and then not get the results that you want. It doesn’t mean the peel didn’t work. Remember these acids penetrate to kill off different layers of the skin which means if you already exfoliate or follow a good skin care regimen you may not have a thick top layer. The peel is still working in the deeper layers to overturn that skin so new healthy skin cells can come to the surface. Patience is key because it can take several weeks to see the results of a chemical peel. A lot of times skin may get darker before it lightens up.

So you see there’s no reason to be terrified of chemical peels, just be cautious. A good chemical peel for the right person, that is done properly, can have phenomenal results. If you don’t know what options you have, come in and we would be happy to sit down and discuss your goals to find the right fit for you.

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