Do Chemical Peels Hurt? An Honest Answer

By Emily M.| Last updated on March 31, 2023
do chemical peels hurt
⏱️ 5 min read

One of the biggest concerns about chemical peeling treatments and one of the most often asked questions is do chemical peels hurt?

To be fair, chemical peeling treatments do sound a bit scary. Peeling the top skin layer with an acidic peeling solution doesn’t exactly sound pleasant.

So let’s discuss what you can expect during this procedure and are chemical peels painful.

A Quick Recap of Chemical Peel Procedure…

Chemical peels are popular cosmetic treatments used to improve the appearance of the skin. They work by applying a chemical solution to the skin that causes the outer layers to peel away, revealing fresher, smoother skin beneath.

Chemical peels can vary in strength and can be performed on different parts of the body, including the face, neck, hands, and chest.

They are often used to treat a variety of skin concerns, such as acne, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven skin tone and texture.

You can learn more about what exactly a chemical peel does for your skin here.

a quick recap of chemical peel procedure
Image source: Freepik

So, Do Chemical Peels Hurt?

Do chemical peels hurt is not such an easy question to answer. The sensations during the treatment depend on a couple of things.

Firstly, it depends on the type of acids used as not all peeling agents have similar properties. But more importantly, the intensity of the peel is what actually determines whether chemical peels are painful or not.

The Intensity

There are 3 different strengths of a chemical peel: light, superficial chemical peel, medium, and deep chemical peel. The deeper the peel, the more intense the treatment (and also the more dramatic the results).

So let’s discuss are chemical peels painful according to their intensity.

Are Light Chemical Peels Painful?

Superficial peels are the mildest type of chemical peel and are used to exfoliate the outer skin layer. They’re considered the safest option and can be done even on pregnant clients.

So they don’t hurt at all. You might only feel some mild stinging while the chemical solution is on your skin.

Are Medium Chemical Peels Painful?

Medium peels are a bit more intense as they reach the second skin layer, the dermis. Upon application, you’ll probably start feeling some burning. It usually lasts throughout the procedure and for some time right after it (for approximately 15-20 minutes).

For this level of intensity, sometimes a handheld fan or cold compress is used or a numbing cream is applied prior to the procedure to help minimize a client’s discomfort. But the real pain comes with deep chemical peels.

@skincarebynatalia The fans are your best friend during a chemical peel #chemicalpeel #facial #fyp ♬ Después de la Playa - Bad Bunny

NOTE

While some discomfort is inevitable, you shouldn’t be feeling any extreme pain during the treatment. If the sensations become unbearable, tell the practitioner right away. They may need to neutralize the solution prematurely to avoid chemical burns.

Are Deep Chemical Peels Painful?

Deep peels are the most aggressive type of chemical peel and involve the use of phenol, a strong acid that can penetrate deep into the skin to remove the thicker skin layers.

These peels can be quite painful and often require general anesthesia or heavy sedation to manage the pain.

Pain Levels According to Acid Type

The type of chemical peeling acid that causes the most pain depends on the individual’s pain tolerance and the concentration of acid.

So while it’s difficult to give a definitive pain level for each type of chemical peel, here’s a general overview of the pain level associated with some common types of chemical peels:

Glycolic acid peel is generally considered to cause little to no discomfort during the procedure. Most clients only report feeling a slight stinging or tingling sensation, but it’s usually well-tolerated.

Lactic acid peel is one of the gentler types of chemical peels, which makes it a good option for patients with sensitive skin or first-time clients. The pain level associated with this acid is generally low. It results only in mild stinging and is usually well-tolerated.

Salicylic acid, or beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), is the most commonly used type of acid when it comes to treating acne-prone skin. It’s used as a light or a medium-depth peel so during the procedure it may cause some stinging or burning, but the discomfort is usually tolerable.

A trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peel is a medium-depth peel. So the pain level ranges from moderate to severe, depending on the individual’s pain tolerance. With this type of acid, you can expect a burning or stinging sensation during the procedure.

Jessner’s peel (a solution that combines salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol) is considered to be uncomfortable but tolerable. While the strength of the solution can vary, it is generally considered to be a medium-depth peel, so the pain level reflects that.

The most painful acid peel is the deep phenol peel. This peel is used for severe skin conditions and penetrates deep into the skin, which can result in significant pain during the procedure (although anesthetics are used) and during the more prolonged recovery period.

How Is the Pain Minimized?

It’s very important to have a chemical peel performed by a licensed and experienced professional. While chemical peels are a great solution for a variety of skin problems, if not done properly, this treatment carries a lot of potential for causing harm.

A licensed professional who has been trained in the use of chemical peels can help determine the best type of peel for your skin type and concerns, as well as the appropriate concentration and depth of the peel.

They will also take steps to ensure your safety during the procedure, including protecting your eyes and other sensitive areas and monitoring your skin’s response to the treatment.

Plus, professionals know how to help alleviate the discomfort, without compromising the result.

Here are a couple of things technicians do that help minimize the pain:

  • Applying a topical anesthetic cream or gel before the procedure helps by numbing the skin and reducing any painful sensations during the peel.
  • Using a cooling fan or cold compress during the procedure helps reduce discomfort and inflammation.
  • Some technicians recommend clients take over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (this should only be done in communication with the client’s GP).
  • Recommend doing a pre-peel preparation as it can help to minimize the risk of adverse reactions and maximize the effectiveness of the treatment.

Additionally, a licensed professional can provide guidance on the proper aftercare regimen to help ensure that you get the best results from your chemical peel and minimize any potential side effects and further discomfort due to irritation.

is there any pain after a chemical peel
Image source: Instagram @everythingskinuk

Is There Any Pain After a Chemical Peel?

After a chemical peel of any depth, your skin will be red, tight, irritated, or even swollen. But, again the answer to this question depends on the intensity of the peel.

After a light chemical peel, treated areas take about one to seven days to heal and the effects are far less noticeable compared to a more intense treatment.

After a medium chemical peel, treated skin will be red and swollen for up to 5-7 days. You’ll feel stinging, but it can be reduced with some icing and over-the-counter pain-relieving medication like ibuprofen.

After a deep chemical peel, you’ll experience severe redness and swelling. You’ll also feel burning and throbbing, and the swelling may even make your eyelids swell shut. Your doctor will apply a surgical dressing to the skin and prescribe painkillers.

NOTE

If you experience severe pain or discomfort after a chemical peel, contact your dermatologist for further guidance and advice. They may recommend additional treatments or medications to help manage your symptoms and promote healing.

Final Note

It’s worth noting that everyone’s pain threshold is different, so what feels uncomfortable for one person may not be as bad for another. In general, light peels are well tolerated while medium peels tend to cause some mild to moderate discomfort, but it’s not very painful.

Most people find that the discomfort is manageable and worth the results.

Cover image source: Freepik

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