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  5. Chemical Peels: Everything You Have Ever Wanted To Know About Them

Do you dread the words "chemical" and "peel"? Then this one's for you. With the help of our chief dermatologist Dr. Harish Koutam, an accredited member of Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) and Cosmetic Surgeons of India, we put all your worries about chemical peels at rest. Read on.

What Is Chemical Peel?

Chemical peel is an in-office procedure performed by a certified dermatologist. A chemical agent is applied on the skin, after which the top layer of the skin peels off eventually [1]. The new skin is usually more even and smoother.

Chemical peels are done on the face, neck or hands. They are aimed at improving your skin's overall appearance and are usually made of chemicals like glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid or carbolic acid (phenol) [2].

The 3 basic types of chemical peels are:

1. Superficial Peel

A mild acid is used to penetrate only the top layer of the skin. It is used to treat slight skin discoloration and rough skin. A superficial peel is also called lunchtime peel.

2. Medium Peel

Middle layers of the skin are exfoliated using acids like glycolic acid. It can be used to treat age spots, wrinkles, fine lines, freckles and skin discoloration.

3. Deep Peel

An acid like trichloroacetic acid is used to deeply penetrate the middle layers of the skin. Deep peels can have a great impact on the skin. Scars, freckles and age spots can be treated with deep peels.

Is Chemical Peel Safe?

When performed under a board-certified dermatologist, licensed healthcare provider, or trained skincare specialist, chemical peels are extremely safe. However, you must follow pre and post peel instructions as suggested by your doctor.

What To Expect Before, During And After A Chemical Peel?


  • Consult your dermatologist before going for a chemical peel. Your doctor may not recommend it if you have taken medicines like isotretinoin [3] for acne, have abnormal skin pigmentation or are prone to frequent cold sores.
  • Chemical peels are usually ideal for people with fair skin. Those with dark skin are likely to have an uneven skin tone after the treatment.
  • Avoid waxing, scrubbing, bleaching and massages a week before the procedure and stop using retinol/retinoids for 48 hours prior.


  • Your doctor will clean your face and cover your eyes and hair.
  • For a medium peel, your doctor may put you on a sedative. For deep peel, you will be given local anesthesia. There is no need for painkillers for a light peel.
  • A peeling solution is applied on the area for the set amount of time followed by a neutralizing solution.
  • You may experience a burning sensation for 5-10 minutes while the procedure is on. Ice compress and pain medications are prescribed to ease your pain.


  • After a chemical peel, your skin is more prone to sun damage. It is crucial to protect your skin with a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or above. Limit your exposure to sun when the sun's rays are at their strongest.
  • After the treatment, you may notice redness and scaling for about 3-7 days.

Benefits Of Chemical Peel

You’ll be surprised to know that chemical peels are more than just skin exfoliators. Besides removing dead skin cells, chemical peels can also reduce fine lines around the eyes and mouth and address wrinkles caused by sun damage. The procedure fades away acne scars, age spots, freckles, dark patches, melasma and dark spots as well.

Chemical Peel’s Side Effects

  • There can be a temporary or permanent change in skin color in some people after a chemical peel. It is most common in women who are on birth control pills and subsequently become pregnant. Also, people with a history of facial discoloration may face this issue.
  • In some people, a chemical peel can trigger an infection like herpes [4], a virus that’s responsible for cold sores.
  • A deep chemical peel using phenol may cause damage to the heart, liver and kidney.
  • Scarring is another side effect of chemical peel which can last a lifetime.

Can We Do Chemical Peel At Home?

Though at-home facial peels are available in the market with ingredients in milder strength like TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid), glycolic acid, beta hydroxy acid and mandelic acid, Dr. Harish advises against it.

“Chemical peels should not be done at home because they require professional dermatological experience and specific directions from the doctor that need to be followed strictly before and after the session,” he explains.

Word Of Caution:

Performing chemical peels at home without a doctor’s supervision or precautions can cause skin burns, scars and discoloration.

How To Do Chemical Peel At Home?

  • Do a patch test before starting out.
  • Leave on the peel for 30 seconds at first and keep increasing 30 seconds of time in the consecutive weeks.
  • Use a good moisturizer and sunscreen in the after care.

What Age Is Good For A Chemical Peel?

You can start chemical peels in your 20s. Dr. Harish believes that using chemical peels in 20s and 30s can keep your skin healthy and fresh during the later years as well.

Chemical peels are not just for your aging skin. Anyone with acne too can find respite in chemical peels. Chemical peels aid in skin exfoliation and encourage cell turnover. They reduce sebum production, unclog pores and fade away blackheads.

Can I Have A Chemical Peel After Microdermabrasion?

You can have a chemical peel done after microdermabrasion for clearer skin. Microdermabrasion involves the use of a hand held device that exfoliates the top layer of the skin. A combination of these treatments is good in case you have oily and acne prone skin.

What Is The Difference Between A Facial And A Chemical Peel?


Chemical Peel

Reduces skin damage from pollution, strengthens skin’s natural barrier and improves cell reproduction.

Smoothes skin, repairs sun damages, wrinkles, acne and scares.

Uses creams, serums, scrubs and blackhead extractors.

Uses a chemical peeling agents to strip off the top layers of the skin.

There is hardly any recovery time.

Recovery time varies from a few days to a few weeks based on the depth of the peel.

No side effects usually.

Can have some side effects in some people.

Results can be seen after regular facials over a period of time.

Results are almost immediate. You can see brighter and smoother skin right from the first treatment.

How Long Does It Take For Your Skin To Peel After A Chemical Peel?

You can see your skin peel 48-72 hours after the treatment. This peeling can last for 2-5 days. Try not to pick at your skin and use a good moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.

Chemical peels are an effective treatment for a lot of skin concerns. Bear in mind to be consistent with sunscreen usage in order to not reverse the benefits.

In A Nutshell

  • Your dermatologist or trained skin care specialist applies a chemical peel using chemical agents like salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid to exfoliate the layers of the skin, followed by a neutralizing solution.
  • Expect a burning sensation during the treatment.
  • Protecting the skin using sunscreen is mandatory after a chemical peel treatment.
  • Scarring, herpes infection, skin color change are possible side effects.
  • Some mild chemical peels can be performed at home as well.
  • You can start chemical peels from 20 years of age.
  • The results of chemical peel are faster as compared to a facial.
  • Skin starts peeling 48-72 hours after a chemical peel treatment.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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