Chemical peels

What do they do?
Chemically exfoliate skin, lifting off dead skin cells
Stimulate collagen production

What are peels useful for?
Skin brightening and smoothing
Fine lines and wrinkles

What’s the downtime?
Superficial chemical peels have minimal downtime

How often should I have a peel?
Superficial peels can be done up to every 3-4 weeks
Medium or deep peels are performed less often

Chemical peels may sound daunting, but they’re actually a very safe and effective method of exfoliating the skin and addressing a variety of skin concerns. They range in strengths from mild, superficial peels which can be done at home, to deeper peels performed in a clinician’s office. Different types of peels are available, to address differing skin concerns. 

What are chemical peels, and what do they do?

Chemical peels are a way of chemically exfoliating the skin. They involve applying a chemical to the skin to cause shedding of the top layers of skin cells and stimulating cell turnover, resulting in smoother, more even skin. 

What skin concerns are chemical peels used for?

Peels can be used for skin brightening and smoothing, acne, uneven pigmentation, sun-related skin ageing, fine lines and wrinkles and sun spots.

What types of peel are there?

Depending on the chemical and concentration used, peels may be superficial, medium, or deep. Superficial peels are most commonly used. Examples of superficial peels include glycolic acid 20-70%, lactic acid, salicylic acid 10-30%, and trichloroacetic acid 10-20%. Higher concentrations of trichloroacetic acid are used for medium depth peels. Deep peels are rarely performed nowadays, as laser technology has replaced them in many instances.

Glycolic acid and lactic acid peels are ideal for skin rejuvenation and pigmentation. Salicylic acid peels are best for acne, blackheads and congestion. Trichloroacetic acid peels are best for fine lines and wrinkles and pigmentation. 

What’s involved with having a peel?

You may be advised to stop certain active ingredients such as retinoids for several days prior to a peel. Sun protection for at least a week before and after your peel is recommended. On the day of the peel, the skin is cleansed and the peeling agent is applied. This is usually left on for up to ten minutes, and then either rinsed off or neutralised. You may experience a tingling, stinging or burning sensation while the peel is on the skin. 

Is there any downtime with a chemical peel? 

Superficial peels have little to no downtime. You may experience mild tingling and redness immediately afterwards which may last for several hours, and mild dryness and sensitivity over the following few days. 

How often can I have a peel?

Superficial peels may be repeated every few weeks, while medium peels are performed less often. Some at-home peels are available, which can be performed up to weekly.

Rendon MI, Berson DS, Cohen JL, Roberts WE, Starker I, Wang B. Evidence and considerations in the application of chemical peels in skin disorders and aesthetic resurfacing. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010;3(7):32-43.

O’Connor AA, Lowe PM, Shumack S, Lim AC. Chemical peels: A review of current practice. Australas J Dermatol. 2018 Aug;59(3):171-181.

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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…