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All About Chemical Skin Peels

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

Chemical skin peel: that term may sound intense, but what does it actually mean? In today’s blog, we will discuss the ins and outs of this increasingly popular skin treatment.

A physician uses a brush to prepare the chemical peeling solution. Caption reads: "the chemical peel comes in liquid form and is applied to the treatment area by a licensed expert."

What is the purpose of a chemical peel? A chemical skin peel is a procedure performed by a doctor, nurse or esthetician to improve the appearance of the skin. A peel can treat a number of concerns, ranging from hyperpigmentation (dark spots on the skin) to undesirable skin texture, enlarged pores, and acne. Peels can even be used to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, giving you a more youthful look. Overall, the purpose of this procedure is to refresh and rejuvenate your skin; think of it as “dry cleaning” your skin.

How does a chemical peel work? Chemical peels work by temporarily altering the pH level of the skin. A chemical solution is applied to the treatment area to make the skin more acidic. This process loosens the attachments of dead skin cells from the healthy skin cells, causing the release of these dead cells. What is revealed is your fresh and healthy skin underneath.

What is in the chemical peel solution? There are several different brands and concentrations of chemical peels, so the exact ingredients in a peel solution will vary. Your provider will be able to give you a detailed list of ingredients, but a typical peel solution can include a combination of the following:

  • Glutathione - a naturally occurring antioxidant

  • Kojic acid - a naturally occurring chelation agent originating in Japan

  • TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) - a non-toxic chemical (similar to acetic acid, the main component in vinegar) which causes the skin to dry and peel

  • Phenol - an acidic antiseptic agent (kills bacteria, germs, and other microbes)

  • Salicylic acid - a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), an organic compound capable of exfoliating

  • Vitamin C - a naturally occurring antioxidant and nutrient

  • Retinoic acid - a form of Vitamin A

A woman in the process of having a chemical peel displays her chin. Skin is beginning to peel around the area. Caption reads: "The skin peeling process in action!"

Are chemical peels safe? Chemical skin peels are generally safe for most healthy adults when applied by a physician, esthetician, or other licensed skin care professional. Patients should disclose any allergies, prior skin cancer, pre-existing skin conditions, use of Retinol or Accutane and recent skin treatments prior to the procedure. Patients should take special care to avoid sun exposure during the course of the peeling process. For sensitive skin, pre-conditioning 3-4 weeks prior to the peel with retinol, glycolic or lactic acid, and hydroquinone 4-8% can help reduce the risk of irritation or complications.

What to expect from a chemical peel? The exact peeling process may vary depending on the type of peel you undergo. After your consultation, your procedure will typically start with washing your face. Your treatment area will be degreased with acetone or another substance to prep the skin for the peel solution. The peel comes in liquid form, and is applied to the treatment area in layers. The whole application process takes about 10-15 minutes. Common treatment areas include the face and neck, decolletage, hands, knees and buttocks. You may notice that the treated area looks tanned or bright yellow directly after the peel is applied. Depending on the type of peel you receive, you may have “homework” - you’ll apply more of the peel formula at home the next day. After about 2 days, you will notice your skin begin to peel.

Does a chemical peel hurt? Chemical peels are not painful. You may experience a mild irritating sensation when the peel is initially applied, but the dead skin will peel painlessly.

Be sure to let the skin peel naturally - do not pick at peeling pieces! If you peel dead skin away yourself, this can lead to extremely sensitive, painful patches of exposed skin and scarring. If the peeling bothers you or gets in the way, it is safe to

A brunette woman shows her side profile during the chemical peel process. You can see darkened, textured skin peeling away from comparatively paler, softer skin on her cheek. Caption reads: "Dr. Sarah Yovino's chemical skin peel in process!"

snip them away with scissors (but be sure to sanitize the scissors with alcohol first).

How long does it take to see results from a chemical peel? Your result will peak when the skin peeling is complete. The length of time will vary depending on the type of peel you receive, but most peels are complete within 5-7 days. Some patients with more severe sun damage or acne may benefit from receiving a second peel, but most patients will only need to undergo one session per year to achieve their cosmetic goal.

Is there any downtime associated with a chemical peel? There is no mandatory bed rest associated with a chemical peel, but you will be temporarily restricted from certain activities, such as using a jacuzzi or engaging in strenuous exercise prior to the onset of peeling. You will also need to avoid sun exposure as much as possible - if you will be in the sun, a medical-grade mineral sunscreen is a must!

If you would like to learn more about chemical peels, contact us today to schedule your consultation! Be sure to check out Dr. Sarah's Instagram (@dr.sarah.yovino) or our clinic website to see more before & after photos.


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