All About “Chemical Peels”

If you are considering a chemical peel, you may have a lot of questions about how they work, what they do, and what to expect during and after you use one – let us fill you in! A chemical peel has many different names and can also be referred to as a resurfacer, facial peel, acid peel or skin peel. A chemical peel (Chemabrasion or Chemexfoliation) is a non-surgical cosmetic procedure, which uses a chemical solution to “peel” away the skin cells or remove the epidermis and upper layer of the dermis to improve the appearance of scars, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, acne, and many other skin conditions and disorders associated with aged skin. Every product we offer incorporates a unique combination of performance ingredients which work to provide synergistic anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-wrinkle, skin tightening, or naturally nourishing skin-benefiting properties necessary to achieve desired rejuvenation results.

Here, you’ll learn about the benefits, safety, and importance of chemical peels, and gain a better understanding of peels in general – then you can decide whether you’re a good candidate for a chemical peel.

A chemical peel works to improve the texture and appearance of the skin by using a chemical acid as the active “peeling agent” ingredient. This removes the damaged outer skin cells within the epidermal and dermal skin layer regions. As the chemicals penetrate through the skin, they cause a certain level of controlled damage that your body will begin to self-heal, much like it does for a sunburn. During this process of recovery, you may shed or peel layers of skin, and they’ll come off in small white flakes.

Most of the lighter or mild peels will not have visible peeling since it is mostly done on a cellular level. It is also important to note that you may have visible peeling after their first or second peel, then not see that same visible peeling in following treatments. This does not mean the peel is not working (which many people tend to think), it only means that your skin is getting accustomed to the peel. The peel is still penetrating the skin at the same concentration and creating the same amount of controlled damage but may not necessarily show as it did in the first couple of treatments as it is on a cellular level.  The damaged outer skin cells are being removed over the course of a few days, which improves texture and visible appearance as a new, fresh layer of skin beneath is softer, smoother and brighter. If formulated correctly, chemical peels are specifically designed to increase the cell turnover rate by stimulating cell production within the skin, helping to repair lower damaged skin levels, thus promoting collagen and elastin production for a more refined and polished skin appearance.

Chemical peels offer so many skin benefits that range from reducing wrinkles and lines to hyperpigmentation and controlling breakouts. Here is a list of just some of the benefits that chemical peels can help improve.


  • Greatly improves the texture of the skin and discoloration caused by sun damage
  • Reduces wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots, age spots, hyperpigmentation
  • Illuminates and brightens blotchy, dull skin for a much healthier appearance
  • Deeply cleans clogged pores, controls acne breakouts, and eliminates blackheads
  • Lightens and reduces the appearance of scars caused by acne
  • Reduces the appearance of stretch marks, birthmarks, and stubborn cellulite
  • Works great on other areas of the body, including the back, neck, arms, and chest
  • Decreases appearance of lip creases, crow’s feet, and liver spots

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There are also a few things to consider before using a chemical peel. You may want to consult your regular doctor if you have any questions regarding any of the following. Perfect Image can also help clarify any questions you may have.

Do not use a chemical peel if:

  • You currently take Accutane (isotretinoin) or have within the past 6 months – This is because accutane can cause the skin to become much more sensitive and increase the risk of scarring.
  • You are pregnant or lactating – This is because in rare cases traces of the peel may enter the bloodstream. This has not been proven, but it would be best to avoid peels just to be safe.
  • You have a tendency to keloid (Scar) – Because peels can cause scarring in some cases, especially when they are used incorrectly, so a tendency would only increase the chances.
  • You have Herpes Simplex – There is a chance that peels can trigger an outbreak, so many times your doctor will instruct you to take medication before the peel and sometime after.
  • You are HIV positive or have AIDS – Typically those with HIV will have a greater chance of infection or scarring because it can slow the healing process.
  • You’re undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
  • You do not fully understand the procedure and are not willing to accept the risk and limitations involved in the healing process. With some peels there is no downtime, typically with the level 1 peels are mild enough that there is not alot of visible peeling. You just need to apply sunscreen SPF 30+ before going outside.

When using a chemical peel:

  • Do not apply to other areas in which you have used hair removal products in the last 2 days.
  • Avoid contact with eyes. In case of accidental contact, rinse eyes with large amounts of cool tap water
  • Do not apply to sensitive skin areas or open wounds
  • The results for each person will vary depending on skin sensitivity, contact time, number of layers, and skin density
  • Applying the peel more than once per week will increase the risk of skin sensitivity
  • Do not tan 1 week prior and 2 weeks after treatment as this can potentially cause unwanted skin discoloration, excessive redness, or rash
  • You will experience a stinging or tingling sensation. If excessive stinging or discomfort occurs, neutralize the peel by flushing the skin with cool water
  • Redness may occur or a short period of time, especially for those with sensitive skin types. If redness persists longer than 20-30 minutes, decrease the contact time of the peel or discontinue use
  • Not every person will experience visible peeling, this does not mean the peel is not working. You will see improved marks in texture, tone, and overall appearance of the skin

Stop use and ask a doctor if

  • Excessive facial irritation or redness occurs 48-72 hours after application
  • Chest pain, faintness, or dizziness occurs
  • You experience pain, swelling, or severe burns
  • You experience an allergic reaction


How the peel is Done (Each brand and peel will be different, it is important to follow those instructions, as this is just a basic peel instruction to give you a general idea of what steps to take)

Remove any traces of oil and dirt on the skin by washing your face with warm water or a mild cleanser. Apply the peel evenly using the proper applicator, typically a cotton pad or a gauze pad.  The peeling agent is left on the skin for 1-2 minutes or longer depending on the peel type and strength and your sensitivity.  All patents should experience a tingling or stinging sensation on the surface. A fan is optional to help cool the sensation on the skin during the peeling process and help alleviate some of the discomfort.

For the deeper, more intense peels, a mild sedative can be administered especially for those performed at a doctor’s office, but in general, and for mild and superficial peels, no special preparations are necessary.  The entire process usually lasts about 5-10 minutes including washing the face, drying, peel, and neutralizing. Deeper peels performed at the doctor’s office such as a phenol peel can last much longer.


There are three different categories of chemical peels.  Increasing in strength and epidermis penetration, they are alphahydroxy acids (AHAs), trichloracetic acid (TCA), and carbolic acid (phenol).  When choosing a peel consider the following:


  •  Mildest peels Level 1 or level 2 peels typically.
  • Corrects minor problems like rough or dry skin and sun damage
  • Is sometimes used to pre-treat skin before TCA peel
  • More than one treatment may be necessary
  • Fast recoveries, most times requires minimal to no downtime

TCA Level 2 or Level 3 peels

  • Smoothes wrinkles, removes blemishes, and corrects pigmentation problem
  • No anesthesia is necessary, but mild sedatives are often used
  • May require pre-treatments
  • Results are less dramatic and shorter in duration than with phenol peels
  • A formula can be adjusted for desired results
  • Must avoid sun exposure for several months following the peel


  • Correct blotches, smoothes coarse wrinkles, and removes pre-cancerous growths
  • Not recommended for darker skin tones
  • Full recovery may take several months

Post Peel Expectations

The type of peel that a patient undergoes will determine the recovery process, however, after any peel, it is necessary to limit sun exposure and wear sunscreen with a high SPF when outside.  AHA peels can offer a quick recovery with little or no time away from work and normal activity, but most patients experience some redness, irritation, or flaking as the skin adjusts to the treatment.

After phenol and some stronger TCA peels, a crust or scab will form over the treated areas and will remain for a few days according to the physician’s instructions.  With TCA peels patients can experience some swelling and irritation which should subside enough within 7 – 10 days to allow patients to return to normal activity.  With phenol peels, swelling is usually severe and the skin takes on a red hue that gradually fades to pink. Return to work after phenol peels can take 2 weeks or more.


Complications with AHA peels are minimal and include irritation, excess flaking, and soreness, which can be treated with medication.  Complications for TCA and phenol peels include scarring, cold sores, fever blisters, and change in skin color.  When using phenol peels, patients can develop a lighter skin tone in treated areas and may need to wear makeup to hide some of the lines of demarcation.

Am I a Candidate?

Chemical peels are used mainly for cosmetic reasons.  Patients with a history of herpes, taking birth control pills, or with a predisposition to brownish discoloration of the face may be at a greater risk for postoperative complications. See the above precautions to list to determine if you are a candidate for chemical peels. If you are still unsure make sure to contact a physician.


The national average of surgeon fees for chemical peels was $607 in 2003 according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) but can range as high as $6,000 for full phenol peels. Spa’s and salons can range from $90 – $300 per treatment. Online ordering can be as cheap as $10-$100. It is important not to buy lower quality peels as you may not be getting high purity ingredients. Many peels sold online are sometimes not even manufactured under proper GMP guidelines and specifications. Additionally, the advertised concentration can also be questionable. Only go through a trusted brand who manufactures its products in a professional GMP FDA registered lab.

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