- Chemical peels can be light, medium or deep
- Lighter peels reduce acne and mild acne scars, brighten and smooth skin texture
- Medium peels can treat deeper scars, hyperpigmentation and fine lines
- Deep peels can treat severe sun damage, scars and wrinkles
Chemical peels involve applying a chemical solution to the face to improve the skin’s appearance in a variety of ways. They are available in different strengths and use several kinds of acids, some of which are better suited for some skin types than others.
Knowing the options available can help you choose a chemical peel that will effectively address your skin’s issues while minimizing the risk of unwanted side effects.
Types of Chemical Peels
Chemical peels are categorized into three strengths: light, medium and deep. The ingredients in your peel determine its strength, how much downtime it requires and what kind of results you can expect.
Some acids are used for only one type of peel, while others can be used for multiple types depending on the concentration used.
Some of the most common acids used for peels include:
- Mandelic acid – light
- Salicylic acid – light to medium (in concentrations of >30%)
- Glycolic acid – light to medium
- Jessner’s solution – medium
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) – medium to deep
- Phenol – deep
Light Chemical Peel Benefits
A light chemical peel can improve the skin’s appearance on a superficial level. The ideal candidate is someone who wants to resolve minor issues with little to no recovery time required.
Light chemical peels offer the following benefits related to both the experience of the procedure and its results.
A light chemical peel can rapidly reduce the appearance of small acne lesions in the skin. Salicylic acid in low concentrations is the best peel to treat this particular issue.
Even one light peel can reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation such as dark spots or freckles. A few days after the peel, your skin appears clearer and smoother.
If you choose a salicylic acid peel, your skin will gain the extra benefit of temporarily producing less sebum, the oil that contributes to acne formation.
Has a fast recovery time
After a light peel, you may experience a day of redness and light sensitivity. However, the side effects are mild enough to create little reason to take time off from your regular activities.
Risks and side effects of light chemical peels
Light chemical peels carry few risks: the likelihood of infection associated with stronger peels is very low with this peel type.
Side effects include temporary redness, swelling and light sensitivity that resolves on its own after a few days. If you have sensitive skin, these side effects may be more pronounced.
Medium Chemical Peel Benefits
A good candidate for a medium chemical peel has more troublesome skin issues that can’t be resolved by light peels.
A medium peel is used to treat skin issues such as acne scarring and melasma or hyperpigmentation, as well as various signs of aging.
Reduces acne scarring
A medium peel reduces small or shallow scars from acne lesions. It is most effective for rolling or boxcar scars and can significantly improve skin smoothness.
Medium peels cannot, however, treat deep “icepick” scars or raised, keloid scars.
Sunspots, freckles, melasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation can be treated with a medium peel with greater results than a light peel can offer. A medium peel effectively reverses sun damage for a more youthful appearance.
Helps reduce wrinkles
Medium peels reduce wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. For best results, the peel can be repeated after a few months, but considerable results can be achieved after only one treatment.
Risks and side effects of medium chemical peels
A medium chemical peel carries a higher risk of infection than a light peel, although they are still considered quite safe. They may also cause redness lasting several months and may lighten or darken the skin.
The severity of side effects depends on the strength and length of the peel. They include redness, swelling, crusting, itching and peeling. These side effects resolve after about two weeks.
Peels can also cause a flare-up of the herpes virus, which causes cold sores. If you have had cold sores in the past, you may be prescribed an antiviral before your procedure.
Medium-depth peels have usually been contraindicated for people with darker skin colors because of the risk of permanent skin discoloration. However, one 2017 study established an application protocol for medium TCA peels that is safe for all skin tones.
Consult with your dermatologist to determine whether a medium peel is suitable for your skin.
Deep Chemical Peel Benefits
The ideal candidate for a deep chemical peel has skin issues such as deep scars or wrinkles that cannot be treated by milder peels or other skin resurfacing techniques. Deep peels are not recommended for people with dark skin or freckles.
Deep peels have a long recovery time and a few risks of complications, but they offer dramatic results for issues related to scarring and sun damage.
Wrinkles, crow’s feet, marionette lines and age spots can all be reduced or eliminated by a deep peel. The peel penetrates deeply into the skin to remove accumulated damage.
Removes precancerous growths
Apart from its cosmetic uses, a deep chemical peel can be used to remove precancerous growths from the skin.
Reduces deep scars
A deep chemical peel can reduce deep scars caused by acne. However, because of the associated risks and post-procedure skin sensitivity, it is increasingly recommended to consider other treatments such as laser therapy and microdermabrasion to treat acne scars, rather than a deep peel.
Risks and side effects of deep chemical peels
After a deep chemical peel, you will experience burning, throbbing, redness and severe swelling. Your eyelids may swell shut and cysts and white spots can appear on your skin.
By two weeks after the procedure, new skin will cover the treated area. This new skin will be sensitive to sunlight and may be temporarily darker or lighter than your natural skin tone.
Deep chemical peels carry the highest risk of infection. You’ll schedule several follow-up visits with your doctor to ensure that the healing process goes smoothly. Your new skin will remain sensitive to sun exposure and must be regularly covered with sunscreen.
Which Chemical Peel Is Best for Your Skin?
The efficacy and safety of a chemical peel is determined by your Fitzpatrick skin type, a system that categorizes skin type by its tendency to burn or tan.
As a rule, types I-III (lighter skin) react well to all peel levels. Types IV-VI are more sensitive and should avoid deep peels.
Once you have established which chemical peels are safe for your skin, you can choose a peel according to the benefits it offers.
|Level||Chemical used||Hyperpigmentation||Acne scarring||Photodamage||Acne|
|Light-medium||Glycolic acid||Yes||Yes||Yes||at 30 – 70%|
DIY Chemical Peels
Chemical peels can be performed at home; however, administering a peel without professional guidance is not without risk.
The safest at-home options are products found in pharmacies or beauty supply stores. Commonly found in the form of wipes, masks and serums, these products typically contain low concentrations of glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid.
Though results from at-home products are not as dramatic as those from a professional peel, these products are less expensive than an in-office treatment and can improve your skin’s appearance if consistently incorporated into your skin care routine.
Products that should be avoided are anything labeled “professional strength,” usually found online. Use of these products at home carries a high risk of chemically burning your skin.
On the other end of the spectrum, DIY recipes such as applying milk to your face for the lactic acid are essentially harmless, but largely ineffective. It may take months of consistent use to see results.
Chemical peels can be used to improve the skin’s appearance by reducing acne scars, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Whether you choose a light, medium or deep peel depends on the severity of the skin issues you want to address.
Light peels offer milder results but have no downtime. Medium peels can yield more dramatic results but may require up to two weeks of downtime, while deep peels are a more serious treatment that can call for sedation, regular follow-up visits with a doctor and more than a month of recovery, plus the possibility of permanent changes to your skin’s color and ability to tan.
As an alternative to professional chemical peels, you can try at-home peeling agents found at pharmacies and beauty supply stores. These products require consistent use to see results but have a much lower up-front cost than an in-office treatment.
Consult with a dermatologist to find out what strength of chemical peel can best address your skin’s needs.