Chemical Peels: The Advantages and Disadvantages

Like many trends from the 1990s, chemical peels are making a huge comeback right now. Chemical peels first became popular about 30 years ago when people started to realize how many different skincare concerns they combat. Their popularity fell briefly due to the rise of new spa treatments, like derm

aplaning and microdermabrasion, but they're gaining more popularity once again because of how effective they are.

What is a Chemical Peel?


All that said, what exactly is a chemical peel? A chemical peel is a skin resurfacing treatment that can help to resolve an array of issues and concerns that most people have with their skin, from acne to discoloration, to fine lines and wrinkles. A few types of chemical peels exist, each designed to treat different concerns.


A chemical peel is typically applied to the face to improve the skin's overall appearance. Peels can also be used on hands and the neck and décolleté area. As the name suggests, a gel-like solution is made from different chemicals and acids that are then applied to the skin.

Types of Chemical Peels


Different types of chemical peels have different strengths, with each combating different concerns.

  • Light chemical peel. A light chemical peel penetrates the topmost outer layer of your skin, the epidermis, and is typically intended to reduce breakouts and blemishes and to brighten skin. It’s a quick pick me up and it requires very little downtime. After having a light chemical peel, you can expect a day or so of dryness, redness, and light sensitivity, which are mild enough that you can resume your regular activities. The acids typically used in light peels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, or maleic acid.


  • Medium chemical peel. Medium chemical peels penetrate the papillary dermis, beneath the epidermis, and are designed for clients who have scarring from acne, melasma, hyperpigmentation, or those who are beginning to show signs of aging. Medium chemical peels do require some downtime. You can expect some minor swelling, peeling, itching, and redness, all of which typically takes one to two weeks to resolve completely. The acids that are used for most medium-strength peels are like light peels and include glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, maleic acid, and Jessner's solution.

  • Deep chemical peel. Of all of the chemical peels, a deep chemical peel is the most intense and is intended for people who have severe scarring, deep wrinkles, and other skin care concerns that couldn’t be resolved by a less intense peel. Deep chemical peels require sedation and the use of local anesthetic to numb the skin that’s being treated and have the longest downtime. You can expect redness, swelling, crusting, flaking, and peeling for two weeks after a deep chemical peel and should plan for several days of downtime afterward. TCA (trichloroacetic acid) or phenol acid are the common acids used in a deep chemical peel.

Ultimately, differing strengths of chemical peels are utilized to combat different skincare concerns and different lifestyles. If you aren’t able to commit to one to two weeks of downtime or have sensitive skin, a light chemical peel is going to be a good place to start.

Many people ask, “Do chemical peels hurt?” and the answer is yes, and no. Light and medium peels can cause mild discomfort afterward when your skin begins to flake and peel, and patients report occasional stinging or tingling when the solution is applied to their skin, but they aren’t painful. A deep chemical peel can be more painful, which is why a numbing solution and anesthesia are used.


The Best Chemical Peels for Acne

After almost two years of living in masks, the biggest skincare concern that our patients have is acne. When it comes to treating light to mild acne, a light chemical peel is the best place to start. Light peels are intended to relieve congestion in pores, treat current breakouts, and help prevent future breakouts.

A medium chemical peel is the next best option if a light peel didn’t resolve all of your acne or if you have deeper blemishes or scarring and skin discoloration as a result of acne. Both light and medium chemical peels can use salicylic acid, which is one of the best acids for targeting breakouts, removing dead skin cells, and promoting skin cell renewal.

Chemical peels are once again in the spotlight and for good reason. If you’re interested in learning more about chemical peels and finding out which strength is best for you, contact Hollywood Institute to learn more and schedule an appointment.