Chemical peel treatments

Your Complete guide to using Chemical Peels Safely

Peels are touted by many as the secret to glowing skin.

Their rejuvenating effects are evident after just one session.

However, with so many chemical peels available, there are specific nuances to be aware of.

The type of chemical peel available, your skin type, conditions being treated, and potential side effects.

If you are new to peels, figuring out what you need can be daunting.

Fortunately, our comprehensive guide will help you understand what is a chemical peel.

What is a chemical peel

So many times, you can get stuck on simple questions like:

  • what is a chemical peel?
  • how soon will I get the results I want?
  • what are the benefits of having a chemical peel?
  • what is the weakest to most potent peel?
  • what is in a chemical peel?
  • can I cause permanent damage to my skin?

Peels should be treated with respect; just because a peel is strong doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best option for your skin.

What works for one may not work for another. It’s about finding the right chemical peel for your skin type. This is why it is important to focus on identifying the particular condition being treated.

How does a chemical peel work?

Chemical peels are acidic solutions with a significantly lower pH than the skin’s natural pH, usually around 4.5 – 5.5.

When used on the skin, they dissolve desmosome junctions, the adhesive substance that holds the layers of your dead skin together.

After a peel is applied to the skin, trauma occurs deep within the skin tissues; the cell’s natural response is to fire up fibroblasts that will help to stimulate new collagen formation so the skin becomes visibly thicker, plumper, and smoother.

Stronger phenol peels create a controlled wound, which allows the skin to regenerate itself.

They are often used for severe acne scarring and deep ageing lines, working deep within the dermis to force the skin to create a whole new layer.

Because of its intensity, redness, and swelling, full-skin shedding occurs; recovery can take up to 6 weeks.

This is why those with sensitive, reactive skin are advised to avoid most peels other than using light enzymes, which you can read about here.

The benefits of a peel


The acid breaks down the skin on the surface, helping it regain its thickness. As mentioned, peels can help stimulate fibroblasts to produce collagen and elasticity in the skin, which helps the skin look and feel younger.


Peels help remove dead skin build-up and keep pores free of debris, which is the key to controlling acne and breakouts.

Peels gently exfoliate and remove the layers of dead skin and build-up of debris


On the scarring side of the equation, treatments like the TCA and Jessner peels can help reduce the severity of scars over time.

They slowly remove the layers of dead scar tissue, which can help the skin regain a smoother appearance.


From an even skin tone perspective, peels can help remove damaged skin layer upon layer, exposing the “normal” and healthy skin below.

However, it is not without risks; there are occasions when the underlying skin can be pigmented, which may come to the surface after a chemical peel.

How many applications?

Let’s nip this myth peel in the bud before you undertake your first session

The truth is that several applications will be needed over weeks, months, or even years to address specific skin concerns. Using a chemical peel to treat acne, get rid of acne scars, or achieve ageless skin requires repeated use. Like anything in life, it takes effort and consistency to get results.

A treatment series usually comprises 6-8 peel treatments performed at 1-2 week intervals, and often, more than one treatment series is required to remove deeper skin problems.

Many of our clients move to a monthly or quarterly peel routine to treat their conditions and ward off premature ageing.

Chemical peel strengths

Comparing different acids and their percentages can be confusing because a low percentage in one acid can be much more potent than a higher percentage in another acid.

Hence, you must ensure your treatment provider understands peels before applying them to the skin.

  • For instance, 30% in glycolic acid does not = 30% in trichloroacetic acid.
  • glycolic 30% is one of the mildest acids
  • 30% TCA is one of the strongest acids

The depth and strength of the peels used are critical; otherwise, chemical burns can occur, which we discuss here.

How deep do peels penetrate?

This is a big concern when trying to fix skin conditions; pigmentation, for example, can run deep in your skin, down to the dermis, and acne can also run deep.

Different types and layers of acids can penetrate your skin at various depths, so it is best to have a thorough consultation before choosing any acid to target your particular skin concern.

An example of the skin’s layers and how deep the acids can penetrate is as follows:

  1. You can use any hydroxy acids to treat mild pigmentation.
  2. However, if you suffer from a problem such as stubborn dermal melasma.
  3. In that case, you should combine a multi-layered approach with other modalities and products containing melanin inhibitors to reach the depths where the pigmentation occurs.

Best type of chemical peel?

The steps below will help determine which peels work for specific skin types and conditions. Let’s get started.

Level 1: Very superficial peels

This is an excellent choice when using chemical peels for the first time.

A level one chemical peel, usually a lactic peel, will only give the skin a light tingle; if the skin has a high pain tolerance, you will probably feel nothing at all.

Level 2: Superficial peels

Salicylic, glycolic, or mandelic acids are the best options if the skin is sensitive and more than the mildest acids can provide and may experience a light itch.

Level 3: Medium depth peels:

TCA 10% and above, up to 30% at multiple layers

This level can be intense if you receive professional peels or want to increase strength. It starts with stinging, and the skin may become inflamed and hot.

Level 4: Deep peels

TCA 50% and intense phenol peels; you can read more about phenol peels here.

Selecting the right chemical peel

When thinking about what is a chemical peel it is important to break it down by actives:

Lactic acid

Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is a milder irritation acid that hydrates the skin and causes subtle to no visible peeling; therefore, it is excellent for a light pick-me-up chemical peel.

Lactic acid is an excellent choice for mature or chronically dry skin; its hygroscopic properties boost skin hydration.

Glycolic acid

Another alpha hydroxy glycolic acid falls into the very superficial to superficial chemical peel category.

Glycolic is a small molecular size that will penetrate the outer layer of the skin quickly.

It is also a water-soluble molecule, so it is slightly exfoliating. Therefore, it is excellent for treating dry, premature ageing and can also help improve mild sun damage.

Mandelic acid

This alpha hydroxy acid has a milder irritation acid with excellent results on mild acne, dark spots, fine lines, and melasma without risks of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

Mandelic acid is a larger molecule that penetrates the skin slowly and evenly.

It is an excellent acid choice for all skin types and can even be used on younger skin to control acne. It is also a very safe peel to use weekly.

Salicylic acid

Beta-hydroxy (BHA) salicylic acid is oil-soluble and beneficial for combination-oily skin that is concerned with clogged pores and acne.

It also has some anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Salicylic is highly effective if you have post-inflammatory pigmentation, rough skin and mild photodamage.

TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) Peel

TCA is one of the most well-researched acids, and its superiority comes from its versatility.

It can be applied in a single layer as a superficial peel or layered to offer deeper penetration. With proper preparation, it is well tolerated by all skin tones and types.

It is an effective peel for treating hyperpigmentation, fine lines, rough skin, flat warts, skin laxity, acne, and scarring.

As a side note, the safety protocol always dictates that the best method with TCA is more layers of a lower percentage.

Jessner peel

This is a 15% lactic, resorcinol, lactic and salicylic acid chemical peel.

It is usually the preferred chemical peel ingredient for those with oily, acne-prone skin.

No neutralisation is required, and it is well-tolerated in all skin tones and skin types.

It is often alternated with TCA peels and intense retinoid usage.

The “Vitamin A Luminosity” method, often used in the skincare industry, can also be applied after a Jessner’s peel.

To conclude. The naked truth

So, if you are keen to know what a chemical peel for the face is, our concise guide has all the answers.

We have covered the skin concerns they can treat, including acne, melasma, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin texture, and fine lines and wrinkles.

The more superficial treatments effectively treat mild pigmentation, whiteheads, blackheads, and uneven skin texture. Medium-depth peels are more practical for treating fine lines and wrinkles.

TCA chemical peels are among the most versatile chemical peels, with a wide range of depths and treatment options.

We also discuss the all-important contraindications and side effects of peels.

There ris so much to know about the acids and ratios used and the skin concerns you are treating, but hopefully, our guide has helped to prevent chemical peel overwhelm.

Because the risk of adverse effects increases with depth, we recommend having your chemical peel performed by a knowledgeable professional who will follow all the correct pre, post, and aftercare procedures.

4 replies on “Your Complete guide to using Chemical Peels Safely”

Hello, I am passionate about smart skincare and while doing my research I came across your website. I have used 10% TCA peel and have alternated with a 0.5mm microneedling pen with hyaluronic acid. I understand your statement in a post against microneedling, that inflammation is the result of these types of procedures which are counterintuitive to anti-aging. However, does the collagen increase generated outweigh the cons? What would be your go-to treatments for collagen production? I don’t do other invasive treatments and have an effective skincare routine without Tretinoin/retinol as I am afraid of volume loss that has been observed by some, unfortunately. I am looking to preserve facial fat and boost collagen production in more natural ways, beyond my daily routine skin care, from time to time. I appreciate your time and insight, thank you!

Hi Cecile. If this works for you that is great. Alarm bells go off for me especially as you are only trying to induce collagen, i think it would be a different matter if you were trying to help with acne scars? Red light therapy and micro current are both wonderful non-invasive anti ageing treatments. I hope this helps Cecille.

I just want to check you have spoken against microneedling in an article before because of the damage it can do to the skin. However, in this article it mentions peels doing basically exactly the same thing (causing trauma to the skin, swelling etc). I just want to know what the difference is as peels still do damage the skin by ‘controlled’ removal of the cells from the surface of the skin. Thanks.

Hi Sarah

When all is said and done you are disrupting the acid mantle the deliv=cate microflora that is deliberately there to protect the health of your skin. That coupled with the fact you are breaking down the protective barrier function, it comes as no surprise there is trauma thereafter such treatments. I am in the industry for many years all too many times have we seen trauma through such treatments and we don’t endorse them. Why not concentrate on building up that barrier and acid mantle instead? Rather than breaking it down to restore it again? I know that our holistic approach has a much more successful approach to skin health. Samantha

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