What Does a Chemical Peel Do to Your Skin Exactly?

By Emily M.| Last updated on March 31, 2023
⏱️ 4 min read

So you’ve heard about this great treatment that improves the appearance of your skin and you want to try it out. But the words “chemical”, “peel” and “skin” don’t quite sit right with you. How does that work? Is the treatment dangerous? Will it hurt your skin? What does a chemical peel do, exactly? Let’s talk about it.

How Do Chemical Peels Work?

A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment that removes the outermost layer of the skin surface. It’s done by applying a chemical peeling agents that intentionally damage the surface of your skin, causing it to peel off.

By peeling off the top layer you are also peeling away every imperfection from it – scars, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, etc. This part is what turns a lot of people away from doing a chemical peel.

We’re not gonna lie, the peeling stage isn’t the prettiest process but once it’s done you realize that it was so worth it! Not only did the targeted condition get diminished, but the rest of your skin is also replaced by a new, healthier layer.

Chemical peels are divided into 3 categories: light, medium-depth, and deep peels. Which one you need depends on your skin type, the nature of the issue, and how deep the issue is rooted. Let’s see what does a chemical peel do according to category.

how do chemical peels workImage source: Freepik

Light Chemical Peels

These peels are used for minor and more superficial imperfections. Acids that are primarily used for light peels – AHA (glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid) – are used to remove only the outermost layer of the skin.

Since the removed layer is thin, the flaking is light so there isn’t much recovery required. The results are great though! The skin is smooth, glowing, and healthy. To some extent, it helps with acne and discoloration, and can also help reduce the signs of aging.

Medium-Depth Chemical Peels

Medium-depth peels are a bit more intense compared to light chemical peels. They partly reach the second skin layer (also known as the dermis), which means they are used for deeper imperfections.

The 3 most commonly used agents for a medium peel are TCA (trichloroacetic acid), Jessner’s solution (a combination of salicylic acid, resorcinol, lactic acid, and ethanol) and glycolic acid.

The results are more prominent than they are with a light peel, however, the side effects and risks are a bit harsher as well.

Deep Chemical Peels

These treatments are very intense and are considered serious dermatological treatments. You need to go to a licensed professional so as not to endanger your health and ruin your skin forever – this goes for other chemical peels as well!

Deep peels are used only for deeply-rooted imperfections. They remove a thick layer of skin (mostly using Phenol), which means the healing process is long, aftercare needs to be meticulous, and the risks and side effects are also intense. But the results of this treatment are very long-lasting, even up to 10 years.

structure of the skin


Because chemical peels are of varying intensities, the healing process also varies depending on how damaged the skin gets. Deeper peels obviously require a lot longer than light chemical peels. As the intensity of the treatment increases, so does the intensity of the aftercare, risks, and side effects.

So, What Does a Chemical Peel Do for Your Skin?

Okay, so chemicals are used to remove the layer (or layers) of your skin, and then what? What does your skin look like after? What exactly gets fixed?

Well, depending on the type of peel your condition requires, there are a few different outcomes. Apart from treating your particular condition, all chemical peels result in smoother, healthier, and rejuvenated skin.

Still, if you aren’t looking for just a more radiant and refreshed complexion, chemical peels can help get rid of:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Acne or acne scars (read more about Chemical Peel for Acne Scars)
  • Sun damage (unwanted freckles and sun spots)
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Melasma
  • Dull skin
  • Enlarged pores
  • Stretch marks
  • Scars
  • And more.

what does a chemical peel doImage source: Instagram @hausofbeautyandsculpting

What Else Do I Need to Know?

One of the most frequently asked questions about chemical peels is Is it safe. Because you can want the amazing results, but still not be ready to expose your skin to something that might ruin it. The short answer is yes, this procedure is safe. But there is an if – If done by a certified and licensed professional!

The whole point of this treatment is to purposely damage your skin surface and trigger the body’s natural regeneration process. For that reason, you need to be aware that chemical peels, even when done by someone who is experienced, do carry some risks – those explained above.

In case you are unsure about this treatment, but you’re looking for another way to achieve the results you’d get with a chemical peel, there are other alternatives. You can opt for microneedling or microdermabrasion instead.

Find detailed comparison of chemical peels versus these 2 treatments here:
Chemical peel vs Microneedling
Chemical peel vs Microdermabrasion

In Conclusion

A chemical peel is a relatively non-invasive treatment that helps solve a variety of skin issues. This treatment is very versatile, can be done on any body part, and is customized depending on your skin’s needs. That makes it a great choice if you are looking to eliminate skin imperfections or just to improve the appearance of your skin.

You can read more about the treatment in our Ultimate Chemical Peel Guide.

Cover image source: Freepik



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