12th August 2021

What are Chemical Peels (Types, Risks, Costs, Benefits)

Last Modified: April 18, 2024

No skin care treatment gets as misunderstood as the chemical peel.

Today we can change that.

Chemical peel treatment exfoliates your face/body by cleaning the outer layer of your skin.

Our experts at Dr Aesthetica have compiled a detailed guide into:

  • What chemical peel is.
  • Benefits of this treatment.
  • The risks and costs associated with peeling.
  • And much more!

What Is a Chemical Peel?

Chemical peel is a technique that rejuvenates your face/body by removing and cleaning your skin’s outer layer.

The treatment uses a strong skin exfoliants that (usually) have a pH value of 2 or less.

Recalling your chemistry lessons in high school, pH indicates whether something is acidic or alkaline. The lower the number, the more acidic it is and the higher the number, the more alkaline.

Since chemical peels have a low value, it means that they are acidic

Furthermore, many discussions about chemical peels often also include a percentage value. A popular example is “5 per cent Salicylic acid of pH 2”. 

This means that 5 per cent of the Salicylic acid inside the bottle is working to exfoliate your skin.

Only 5 per cent?! What about the rest of the acid?

Usually, this is more than enough, especially if the acid has a pH of 2.

If you are looking to buy a chemical peel, make sure it has a pH of around two or less. This assures that your peel is efficient.

Suppose you buy a “5 percent Salicylic acid of pH 3”. In that case, less than 5 percent of the acid will be working towards cleaning your skin.

As a warning, this treatment can be DANGEROUS, and it is best to consult your doctor before trying anything at home.

In addition, most skin specialists (including us) provide high-quality chemical peel treatment in their clinics. It is safer and can give a stronger result than at home.

What Conditions Can Chemical Peels Treat?

The primary purpose of chemical peels is to treat skin conditions. In general, chemical peels gets performed on either the face, neck or hands.

The main skin conditions treated are:

  • Certain types of acne on your skin.
  • Any type of wrinkles.
  • Mild scarring.
  • Various spots such as sunspots, age spots, liver spots and freckles.
  • Discoloration of the skin.
  • Rough and scaly patches.
  • Dark patches due to pregnancy or consuming birth control pills.
  • Fine lines that can be under your eyes or surrounding your math.

If your skin condition is not mentioned above, consult your skin specialist to see if a chemical peel can treat it. The doctors will tell you what can be done.

What this treatment CANNOT solve are the following skin conditions:

  • Bulges or sags.
  • Deep scars and facial lines.
  • Severe wrinkles.

Once again, your specialist can prescribe other treatments such as cosmetic surgery, facelift, brow lift or soft tissue fillers.

Types of Chemical Peels

There are three types of chemical peels used worldwide.

  • Superficial peels (Light Peels): Many people also refer to them as “lunchtime peels” due to their little downtime. Superficial peels exfoliate your skin gently and have very little penetration.

This treatment is best for those with mild skin problems like rough skin texture or minor discolouration.

Examples of superficial peels include lactic acid and low-strength salicylic acid.

  • Medium peels: Like the name, medium peels penetrate the middle layer of the skin and target the damaged cells.

The treatment is best for people with moderate skin problems like superficial scarring, wrinkles, strong discolouration or age spots.

Examples of medium peels are high-percentage glycolic acid and TCA peels.

  • Deep peel: The strongest of them all, this peel can hit the skin very deeply.

Deep peels are best for people with severe scarring, heavy wrinkles and skin discolouration.

Examples of deep peels include phenol chemicals and high-percentage TCA.

NEVER try to do a deep peel at home. Leave this to our advanced skincare specialists.

The stuff you find at the supermarket is superficial peels. Consequently, if you choose to use a medium peel from over the counter or the internet, be careful!

illustration of chemical peel depths

Chemical Peels in Clinic

The most advisable route for chemical peels is through receiving it from professionals.

If you do decide to go down this route, the following information will help you prepare for your journey of skin rejuvenation.


The first step is to visit your local skincare specialist. Make SURE to check their reviews and the qualifications of the practitioners in the clinic.

At Dr Aesthetica, we have an average rating of 4 ½ stars from 130+ happy customers. You can find information on our expert staff HERE.

Once you have found a suitable clinic, the first thing a specialist will do is inform you on chemical peel treatment (you will already know many things, as you have read this guide!).

Subsequently, you will also get asked about any medication you take, and your health information will be analysed.

If you are suitable for this treatment, the skin specialist will discuss the goals you have in mind and if they are feasible.

Before a chemical peel, you must adhere to a strict routine. The following is recommended:

  • Avoid any form of retin-A topical medication or retinol for at least 48 hours before the treatment.
  • Stop waxing, epilating or using any other hair removal method apart from shaving. Do this at least a week before your peel.
  • Do not bleach your hair.
  • Stop using facial scrubs and your exfoliants before the peel.
  • Ask someone to drive you home if you have taken a medium or deep chemical peel.

A skin specialist can also recommend you to:

  • Use lotions that can improve the quality of your treatment. Examples include glycolic acid.
  • Use a retinoid cream to prevent the skin from darkening.
  • Take antiviral medications if you have shown a medical history of blisters, cold sores or breakouts for the skin.
  • Consume painkillers or sedatives (for this, it is even more important to follow the exact instructions given by your doctor).


At Dr Aesthetica, the patients come first. Each of your chemical peels is personalized just for you. To achieve this, we use the leading medical-grade skincare brand, AlumierMD.

Additional benefits of AlumierMD are:

  • They are recyclable.
  • Not tested on animals.
  • All ingredients are sustainable and eco-friendly. 

While other doctor may use different brands of peel, the procedure for chemical peel in a clinic is the same.

Before starting, you are asked to tie any long hair, clean your face, and put on eye protection.

The skincare specialist usually applies regional anaesthetics as well. Subsequent steps depend on the type of peel you have chosen:

  • Superficial Peels (Light Peels): The doctor may apply the peel using a cotton ball or brush around the desired skin region. The peel is usually salicylic acid. As a result, the skin can whiten, and you may feel a tingling solution.

After the process is complete, the specialist may apply neutralizing solution to the skin.

  • Medium Peels: Medium peels are applied using special sponges or cotton-tipped applicators. For this procedure, glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid is used with blue colouring, giving the name “blue peel”.

Similar to the light peel, the medium peel can cause a bit of tingling or burning, and your specialist may apply a cool compressor to the skin.

No neutralization solution gets used.

  • Deep Peels: The process of deep peels beings by putting regional aesthetics to numb the skin area. Furthermore, you get given an IV and your heart rate gets closely monitored.

Your skin specialist will use a cotton-tupped applicator to put phenol on your skin. This will cause it to turn white or Gray.

Application of the phenol is done in 15-minute portions to limit the exposure to this potent acid.


Common side effects of peels are that they cause redness, dryness, burning and even swelling.

Yet, if not done correctly, all peels can be dangerous. Some of the side effects include:

  • Permanently losing the ability to tan.
  • Darkening or lightening of the skin colour: This occurs more with darker skin individuals.
  • Scarring: Can be permanent.
  • Infections: This can cause fungal or bacterial infections on the skin.
  • Heart, Liver or Kidney Damage: The phenol chemical used in the deep peel can cause damage to the heart muscle, kidneys, liver and result in irregular heartbeats.

Fortunately, under professional supervision, the chance of any of the side-effects happening are low.

After Treatment

The hard part is done, congratulations!

Treatment after a chemical peel is dependent on what type of peel you got.

It is CRITICAL to follow the advice of your doctor to reduce the chance of developing any abnormal skin colour or other complications.

Some basic tips should be followed after treatment (regardless of the depth):

  • Do not use any tanning beds for a while to let your skin heal.
  • Avoid outdoor tanning as well while the skin is healing.
  • It is not recommended to scratch your skin as this could lead to infections.

If you received a light chemical peel:

  • You may feel redness followed by some scaling of the skin for three to seven days. This feeling is similar to a sunburn.
  • Apply lotion or cream to the area until it heals. Make sure to put on daily sunscreen if you are going out.
  • Your makeup can be put immediately without any problem.
  • Additional peels are spaced in two-to-five-week intervals. It usually takes three sessions to achieve your goal.

If you received a medium chemical peel:

  • You will experience some redness, swelling and flaking skin. This can last up to 48 hours. The skin will slowly peel off over two weeks.
  • It is essential to follow all the instructions given by your doctor. Carefully apply lotion or cream to the area, and don’t expose your skin to any sunlight.
  • Antiviral medications get given for a period of 10 to 14 days.
  • Makeup is only recommended a week after the treatment.
  • One session can be enough to get the results. However, annual sessions can be done to maintain the outcome.

If received a deep chemical peel:

  • Your treated area will be bandaged and can only be removed after a few days.
  • Healing time is around 14 to 21 days.
  • It is important to follow all the instructions given by your doctor. Carefully apply lotion or cream to the area, and don’t expose your skin to any sunlight.
  • Regularly apply moisturizer to your skin after 14 days of treatment.
  • Antiviral medications get given for a period of 10 to 14 days.
  • Wait two weeks before applying any makeup.
  • Only one deep peel can ever be performed on your face.


At Dr Aesthetica, the price of the chemical peel treatment depends on your goals and the current condition of your skin.

In general, the price for this treatment is between £75 to £125. For more information contact us digitally or visit one of our clinics!

Chemical Peels at Home

If you decide to perform a chemical peel at home, you must understand the treatment well.

Below is a full guide to give you an idea of the commitment, risks and costs associated with performing chemical peels at home.

We recommend that you consult your doctor before trying any of this at home.

Preparation and Application

It is possible to experience intense adverse side effects by incorrectly performing chemical peel treatments.

Furthermore, the ingredients are very potent and should not get used regularly.

Before starting with the peel, make sure to patch test it first. Patch tests allow you to see if your skin is compatible with the chemical solution.

Patch is testing done in three steps:

  1. Apply a small amount of product on your skin in a relatively hidden area. This can be inside your wrist or in your inner arms.
  2. Wait for 48 hours to check for the reaction.
  3. If there has been no reaction after 96 hours (4 days) of application, the peel is suitable to use on your skin.

Even if the patch test is successful, this does not give you the liberty to aggressively apply the peel on your skin.

Be slow and methodical in your process. You will be rewarded in the long run and can mitigate any potential hazards.

When starting, leave the peel on your skin for just 30 seconds.

The following week, increase the duration of the chemical peel to 1 minute. And the subsequent week, make it 1 minute 30 seconds.

Keep increasing the time interval until you are up to 5 minutes.

Reminder: Only perform one weekly session of the chemical peel treatment.

In the beginning few weeks, you will not see massive changes as it is just 30 seconds of acid exposure. Nevertheless, safety should be the number one priority; therefore, incremented build-up is VITAL.

After reaching the 5-minute mark, if the chemical is STILL not working for you, increase the acid percentage.

For example, if you are using a 15% acid peel, do 25% acid peel. If you transition, start from 30 seconds again and build up (like done previously).

NEVER exceed the five-minute limit.

Choosing the Correct Peel

There are a HUGE number of options when choosing a chemical peel.

But to make your life easier, we have covered the most common peels from weakest strength to strongest strength.

  • Enzyme Peels: These peels are the lightest and are considered to be “natural” acids. Usually derived from fruits, the enzyme peel is PERFECT for people with sensitive skin.

The downside of this acid is that it only removes dead skin but has no contribution to regenerating the cells.

  • Mandelic Acid: This is a very popular peel. Mandelic Acid has helped people remove textures, fine lines and wrinkles on their skin. This specific treatment can also benefit those with acne and skin hyperpigmentation.

Mandelic acid works best in combination with salicylic acid.

  • Lactic acid: While most people learn about it from biology class, Lactic Acid can also be a great peel. Lactic acid is gentle but can hydrate the skin and make it glow.

The chemical peel is PERFECT to remove minor wrinkles and treat hyperpigmentation.

  • Salicylic acid: Perhaps the most known chemical peel is Salicylic acid. It is an oil soluble acid meaning that it can get into pores and dissolve dirt effectively.       

The acid is excellent for treating acne due to its oil-based property. In addition, it does not increase the sensitivity of the skin to the sun. Some other conditions this peel can treat are:

  • Melasma
  • Freckles
  • Warts or Dead skin buildup
  • Fungal acne (malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis).
  • Hyperpigmentation.
  • Photodamage.
  • Glycolic acid: Now, we are entering the “medium peel” category. This glycolic acid is STRONG.

The benefit of this is that it can:

  • Increase collagen production
  • Refine skin texture.
  • Brighten and refresh skin tone.
  • Heal acne scars.

Unfortunately, glycolic acid fails to treat acne and hyperpigmentation.

  • Jassener’s Peel: The Jassener’s Peel is of medium-strength and is crafted by mixing salicylic acid, lactic acid and resorcinol.

This peel is FANTASTIC for hyperpigmentation and acne-prone skin. However, it should be avoided if you have dry skin.

When you apply the Jassener’s Peel, your skin can turn white as its surface is being exfoliated away. This side-effect could last for 7 days.

TCA peel (trichloroacetic acid): One of the strongest medium peels out there, you should be very careful when using the TCA peel.

The chemical peel is excellent for improving:

  • Sun-damaged skin
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Wrinkles and fine line
  • Stretch marks
  • Acne scars


After applying your chemical peel, you must refrain from using of any activated ingredients such as tretinoin.

Do not use any other chemical peel acids for a few days. Try to avoid glycolic and salicylic acid in particular.

Your post-peel skincare routine should not be complicated. It should be limited to two or three products maximum. At Dr Aesthetica we include a post-procedure recovery pack with all Skin Peels.

The first product is “SensiCalm” a soothing cleanser that hydrates and improves healing. Research has shown that this acid helps in wound healing.

The second thing is to use skin moisturizers to strengthen the newly growing skin. Your moisturizers should be rich in ingredients like ceramides and cholesterol. Recovery Balm is an intensely soothing and calming moisturizer, specifically formulated for post-procedure recovery.

Your final product should be sunblock. After a chemical peel, the skin is usually very sensitive. Hence, it must be protected from the harmful rays of the sun.

Be careful. Keep in mind that incorrectly applied chemical peels at home can leave your wonderful skin scarred (maybe for life)! So, be patient and take things slow.

Furthermore, make sure to purchase your products only from reliable sources. They may be more expensive but can assure that what you find is truthful to the content packaging.

BONUS: History of Chemical Peels

To fully grasp the idea of this treatment, we should where it originated came.

Many people think that chemical peels are a modern treatment, but this is incorrect.

Skin peels have gone as back as the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians used sour milk that contained lactic acid to rejuvenate the skin.

The Egyptians also used animal oils to benefit their skin texture.

A few centuries later, the Romans used the juice from grapes for their skin. The primary acid in grapes were tartaric acid.

Later on, Sulphur, mustard and limestones were also used to fade freckles found on the skin.

Unfortunately, there was a stagnation in skincare during the middle centuries. The pursuit for having flawless skin only rejuvenated in the 19th century.

In 1874, dermatologist Ferdinand Paul G Unna found a technique to treat skin pigmentation and acne through salicylic acid, phenol and other acidic peels.

This opened the door to a new world of skincare and research.

In 1917, the use of Phenol was further documented as soliders would put the acid under their bandages and realize how it “beautified the skin”.

True research into the benefits of phenol came in 1952 when George Mackee published his official findings on the acid. However, the British dermatologist had been using the chemical peel on his patients for a LONG time prior.

The past decades have seen a strong development into chemical peels. The benefits of this treatment continue to line up and strongly outweigh the few negatives that come with it.

The Bottom Line

Chemical peels offer an impactful way to better your skin. It can benefit your skin tremendously.

Post Reviewed by: Dr Baldeep Farmah
Medically Reviewed on: 12th August 2021
Dr Baldeep Farmah is the Medical Director and lead Doctor of Dr Aesthetica, a Medical Aesthetic Clinic.

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