What Is a Chemical Peel? Everything You Need to Know

By Emily M.| Last updated on March 31, 2023
what is a chemical peel
⏱️ 4 min read

If flawless skin is the goal, there are about 1000 different paths to take, but one that seems to be a universal favorite is chemical peels. A relatively non-invasive treatment that targets a wide range of particular issues and improves general skin properties, it’s arguably the most efficient treatment you can get.

Let’s explain what is a chemical peel, how to know if you’d benefit from it, and a bit about what you can expect after it.

So, What Is a Chemical Peel?

A chemical peel is a skin treatment that can be used on the face or body to diminish and potentially eliminate a wide range of skin conditions and to improve the general state and appearance of the skin.

As the name suggests, it’s a form of chemical exfoliation where the outermost layer of the skin is removed by destroying dead skin cells and causing a layer to peel off. Chemical peeling agents – mainly different acids – are applied to the skin, and in a few days, the affected layer peels off.

Depending on the severity of the condition, chemical peels can be of different intensities (more on that below).

what is a chemical peelImage source: Instagram @facesmedspa

Which Conditions Can a Chemical Peel Treat?

Chemical peels can successfully treat:

  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles
  • Acne scars
  • Sun spots
  • Melasma
  • Unwanted freckles
  • Large pores
  • Dull skin
  • Tough skin

Apart from these particular conditions, chemical peels can give some general improvements. It gives the skin a much smoother texture, makes it look healthier and more radiant, and leaves it refreshed.

which conditions can a chemical peel treatImage source: Instagram @vitalestheticstx

What Types of Chemical Peels Are There?

The basic categorization of chemical peels is based on their intensity, into 3 groups:

  • Light chemical peels – these only affect the outer layer of the epidermis, cause light flaking, and are suitable for minor, superficial imperfections and general refreshment of complexion
  • Medium-depth – a bit more intense, these chemical peels affect the epidermis and a portion of the dermis and are used for deeper imperfections
  • Deep peels – a very intense form of chemical peel, these are serious dermatological treatments that remove a thick layer of skin, only used for deeply-rooted imperfections

In general, all 3 types are used for more or less all skin conditions; the choice depends on the severity of the condition.

These groups are further divided into subtypes according to the acid used. The most popular are lactic acid peels (very gentle and suitable for sensitive skin), Jessner’s peel (a blend of acids that works great for acne scars), glycolic peel (can be quite intense depending on acid concentration) etc.

The choice of which chemical peel is suitable for your skin and your particular conditions should be left to the professional performing the treatment. Ideally, you should get chemical peels from cosmetic dermatologists who can prescribe a custom skincare routine.

What Is the Recovery Period Like?

Recovering after a chemical peel implies waiting out for old, intentionally destroyed skin to peel off and reveal new, healthier and just better skin underneath.

Chemical peels work through exfoliation, and the flaking that comes after the treatment is actually to be desired. However, everyone’s skin reacts differently and it’s possible to get minimal to no peeling, but it’s also possible to get intense peeling with large patches. Both scenarios are normal.

The peeling is expected to start around day 2-3 and last for 5-7 days. This is the biggest side effect, and it is what is a chemical peel best known for.

But additional side effects include some redness, slight to moderate tenderness and a burning sensation, potential temporary discoloration, swelling, itching, and post-treatment breakouts. Unless they get really intense and prolonged, these are normal parts of the recovery process and no cause for concern.

Just make sure you follow the post-care instructions prescribed by your technician, wear your SPF, and do everything you can to prevent contamination of the sensitive area.

Learn more about chemical peel recovery here (and see day by day photos) or read the general chemical peel post-care instructions here.

what chemical peel recovery period look likeImage source: Instagram @4yourskinglow

Are Chemical Peels Safe?

Yes, if done correctly, by a certified, licensed and experienced professional.

However, the treatment does carry certain risks – after all, chemicals that are supposed to destroy skin are applied directly onto it, and things can go wrong. Let’s take a look at the risks:

Risks of Chemical Peels

The main risks behind chemical peels are scarring, chemical burns, and infection.


Chemical peels cause controlled trauma in order to stimulate skin regeneration. However, when more trauma than the skin can handle is induced, scarring can emerge. That’s why it’s essential that the practitioner can correctly assess the skin and determine what type and concentration of acid is suitable.

Chemical Burns

Basically, chemical burns are severe inflammation and irritation caused by the destruction of 1 or more of its layers. It manifests itself as redness, pain, burning or numbness. More severe cases can cause blisters or even more serious consequences.


Since the skin is stripped of its protective barrier, it’s susceptible to infections. While most skin infections are mild, severe ones are possible and they may require treatment.

Additional Risks

Other risks associated with chemical peels include allergic reactions to the acids, irritation which can be manifested in different ways, blistering, inhalation of chemicals, and ocular damage. Read more about the risks of chemical peels here.

Okay, Now I Know What Is a Chemical Peel. How Do I Know If I’m a Good Candidate?

In general, we could say that anyone would benefit from a light chemical peel – it diminishes all those tiny little imperfections and gives your skin a healthy refreshment. But more intense treatments are not something you should get on a whim.

If you want to work on targeting a particular imperfection, the best action plan is to find an experienced skincare tech (ideally, a cosmetic dermatologist) and have them assess your skin and decide what is a chemical peel you’d most benefit from.

Explore alternative skin-perfecting treatments on PMUHub:

Hydro dermabrasion

Cover image source: Freepik



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