A woman lies back with her eyes closed while a dermatologist applies the ingredients for a chemical peel. Share on Pinterest
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A chemical peel is a restorative cosmetic procedure that may help reduce the signs of aging on your face.

During a chemical peel, a dermatologist will apply a chemical solution to your skin. This solution peels away damaged skin cells, allowing healthy skin to grow in their place.

This may help improve common skin concerns, such as:

  • wrinkles
  • hyperpigmentation
  • acne
  • uneven skin texture

However, the exact results will depend on many factors, including the severity of your skin issues and the type of peel you receive.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of chemical peels, their benefits, and what to expect during recovery.

Your dermatologist can work with you to help determine whether a light, medium, or deep chemical peel is best for your skin and the concerns you’re looking to treat.

Light chemical peel

A light chemical peel, or superficial peel, will lightly exfoliate your skin. It only removes the epidermis, which is your topmost skin layer.

A light chemical peel is usually used for:

  • fine wrinkles
  • uneven skin tone
  • acne
  • dry skin

This treatment uses mild chemical agents, so it’s usually safe to get light chemical peels every 2 to 5 weeks.

Medium chemical peel

A medium chemical peel is slightly stronger than a light peel. It removes your epidermis plus the top layer of your dermis, which lies beneath the epidermis.

A medium peel is typically used for:

  • wrinkles
  • uneven skin tone
  • acne scars

You may need several treatments to get the results you want.

Deep chemical peel

A deep chemical peel removes your epidermis, along with the upper and middle layer of your dermis. It uses very strong chemicals, so you may need a local anesthetic before the procedure. This will help prevent pain and discomfort.

A deep chemical peel is best suited for:

  • deeper wrinkles
  • deeper scars
  • precancerous skin patches

The effects of this peel can last for 10 years, so it’s done only once. You won’t need repeated treatments.

Chemical peels can improve many skin issues. Let’s look at some of the most common ones that chemical peels may help treat.


Acne is a common inflammatory skin condition. It’s often treated with topical products or oral medication, but chemical peels may also help.

The procedure can:

  • break down comedones (plugged hair follicles)
  • decrease oil production
  • kill bacteria
  • reduce inflammation
  • increase absorption of topical treatments

Light and medium chemical peels are usually used to improve acne.

Acne scars

As acne heals, the skin creates new collagen fibers in an attempt to repair lesions that have been created by inflamed skin.

The production of new collagen fibers can create hypertrophic scars, which are bumpy and raised, or atrophic scars, which create depressions in your skin.

A chemical peel can help by exfoliating the top skin layer, which removes excess collagen. Medium chemical peels are typically recommended for acne scars.


Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that causes redness, swelling, and red bumps. If it also causes acne-like breakouts, it’s known as acne rosacea.

Sometimes, a chemical peel can help relieve these symptoms. It’s typically recommended for mild or moderate rosacea.

Aging skin

Chemical peels may reduce signs of aging, including:

When skin grows back after a chemical peel, it triggers the production of collagen and elastin. This can help make your skin supple and strong, reducing the appearance of wrinkles.

The new skin that grows back is also smoother, which helps decrease roughness and dryness.

Chemical peels aren’t recommended for removing deep wrinkles, however. It also won’t tighten sagging skin.


In addition to acne scars and age spots, chemical peels can improve other forms of hyperpigmentation, such as:

  • uneven skin tone
  • melasma
  • freckles
  • surgical scars
  • scars due to injury
  • discoloration due to sun damage


If you have a dull complexion, you may benefit from chemical peels.

The treatment allows new skin to resurface, which may help your complexion look brighter and healthier.

Precancerous growths

Actinic keratoses are rough skin patches caused by years of sun exposure. They’re known as precancerous growths, since they can potentially turn into skin cancer.

A deep chemical peel can remove these growths and decrease your risk of skin cancer.

Like other cosmetic treatments, chemical peels are not appropriate for everyone.

You might be a good candidate if you have:

  • generally healthy skin
  • mild scarring
  • superficial wrinkles
  • a lighter complexion
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On the other hand, it’s best to avoid chemical peels if you:

  • have sagging skin
  • have deep wrinkles or scars
  • frequently develop cold sores
  • have a history of abnormal skin scarring
  • have psoriasis or atopic dermatitis
  • have a darker skin tone (higher risk of hyperpigmentation)
  • have recently taken an oral acne treatment
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have a compromised immune system
  • have undergone radiation therapy or recent surgery
  • have heart disease (if considering deep chemical peels)

As your skin heals, you may need to apply a protective ointment. You’ll also need to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun.

The recovery process is different for each type of peel. Let’s take a closer look at what recovery may be like for the different chemical peels.

Light chemical peel

After a light chemical peel, you may experience mild irritation and dryness. You can typically wear makeup the following day and resume your normal skin care activities, like cleansing and moisturizing .

It will most likely take between 1 to 7 days for your skin to fully heal.

Medium chemical peel

The most common side effects of a medium chemical peel include:

  • swelling
  • redness
  • stinging

In most cases, you can safely wear makeup within 5 to 7 days.

The recovery process typically lasts 7 to 14 days. You may have some redness for several months, though.

Deep chemical peel

The most common side effects of a deep chemical peel include:

  • crusting
  • swelling
  • severe redness

The swelling can last for 14 days, while the redness may last for 3 months.

It may take up to 14 days for your skin to grow back. During this time, you’ll need to wear a surgical dressing and take medication for the pain.

You can typically start wearing makeup after 14 days.

Although rare, deep chemical peels can be associated with more severe side effects and complications, including:

A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment that removes the top layer of your skin. This can help minimize wrinkles, dullness, hyperpigmentation, and scarring. It may also help skin disorders like acne and rosacea.

However, a chemical peel can’t treat deep wrinkles and scarring. It also won’t tighten loose skin or reverse sun damage. To determine whether a chemical peel is right for you, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider.