Chemical peels have been gaining popularity in recent years as skin resurfacing treatments, but they’ve been used as beauty treatments since the time of ancient Egypt.
Like all other chemical peels, the Jessner peel is done by brushing an acidic liquid onto the skin to remove the top layers and encourage new, younger looking skin to grow.
The Jessner peel was first formulated over a hundred years ago, and it’s still in use today thanks to its ability to:
- reduce dark patches and age spots
- even out skin tone
- reduce the appearance of scars
- smooth fine lines and wrinkles
- treat melasma (skin discoloration), hyperpigmentation, and acne scars
While many chemical peels can cause lasting discoloration on darker skin, a recent small study found that a modified Jessner’s solution safely and effectively reduces melasma and pigment imperfections in darker skin.
It has also been shown to be an effective treatment of acne scars even when used as a superficial peel according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology.
The Jessner peel works by removing the top layers of skin to reveal smoother, more even-toned skin beneath. How deep the peel penetrates depends on what kind of chemical peel you get — superficial, medium, or deep.
The Jessner peel is typically a medium peel, which means it removes skin cells from the top layer of your skin, the epidermis, and the upper portion of the middle layer, the dermis. However, it can also be used as a superficial peel, which has a faster healing time but needs to be performed more often to get the results of a deeper peel.
Regardless of the depth, the peel is made up of a mix of lactic acid, salicylic acid, and resorcinol in a 95 percent ethanol solution. Due to some concerns around the safety of resorcinol, there are also Jessner peel solutions made without it.
The Jessner solution is also frequently added to other peel solutions to increase their effectiveness on scars and pigmentation.
It’s possible to do a Jessner peel at home, but you’ll need to make sure you have everything you need to do the peel properly.
Store-bought Jessner peels are intended to be superficial peels. The upside is that they’re less expensive than professional peels, which cost an average of $673 per peel, and they have a faster recovery time than a deeper peel. However, at-home peels are less effective at removing dark spots and reducing the appearance of deeper scars than a medium peel from a dermatologist. They also carry the risk of over-irritating your skin if not done correctly.
Chemical peels from a board-certified dermatologist are more likely to give you significant and longer-lasting results without the worry. Medium peels like the Jessner should always be performed by a dermatologist.
People with darker skin tones in particular should always go to an experienced dermatologist for any peel, including the Jessner, to prevent permanent pigment problems and other side effects. When done by a trained dermatologist, the Jessner peel is safe for all skin tones, including darker skin.
People with sensitive or extremely fair skin should also talk to their doctor before trying a Jessner peel since it may be too aggressive for their skin.
Before you get an in-office Jessner peel, schedule a consultation with your doctor.
Before scheduling a peel, your doctor will ask you questions about your skin and medical history to make sure you don’t have any medications or conditions that would prevent you from safely getting a chemical peel like the Jessner.
Pre-peel skin care plan
Your doctor may also ask you to follow a particular skin care plan for two to four weeks before your peel to reduce side effects and make the peel more effective.
This can include using a retinol or retin-A cream or gel to thin the top layer of the skin, increase cell turnover, and help the peel penetrate deeper into the skin. Typically, the retinol is discontinued at least a few days before the peel to prevent over-irritating the skin during the treatment.
Chemical peels are typically done in your dermatologist’s office. Your doctor will begin by cleaning your skin thoroughly to remove any oil or products.
They may also cover your eyes with tape, goggles, gauze, or ointment and cover up your hair if you’re treating your face. With a medium peel you may have the option of taking a sedative or painkiller to make the procedure more comfortable.
The peel is applied with gauze, a brush, or a cotton-tipped applicator. The treated skin will begin to look frosted and whiten. You may feel burning or stinging.
After three to five minutes, your doctor will remove the peel and apply a cool compress and lotion to soothe your skin.
Chemical peel side effects
While everyone will experience some side effects from the peel, complications are more common among people with darker skin tones. These include:
- redness and swelling
- stinging or burning
Rare complications include:
- permanent darkening or lightening of the skin
- scarring or infection
After the peel, your skin may continue to burn or sting for 20 minutes or more. Your skin will be red, swollen, and tight for the first 24 hours or so. After that, the swelling will go down and your skin will begin peeling.
Your skin may darken or even develop brown patches during this time, but the spots rarely stay after the skin has healed. Once the skin begins peeling off, new smooth skin will be revealed.
It can take five to seven days after a medium peel to develop new skin, and the redness can last for months in some cases. Generally, it will take 7–14 days to heal completely and see the full results of the peel.
However, the results aren’t permanent. Your skin will continue to age with time and sun exposure; acne can create new scars; and you may develop new spots of hyperpigmentation.
To stay comfortable after a peel and improve healing, you should:
- Apply ice packs or use a fan to relieve the burning. Just be careful to not let the skin dry out in front of the fan.
- Moisturize frequently. Apply moisturizer any time your skin feels tight, dry, or itchy. You may need to apply moisturizer 10–20 times a day in the days following a peel.
- Follow all aftercare instructions your doctor gives you. Your doctor will ask you to follow a skin care regimen including gentle cleansing and antibiotic ointment if necessary.
- Do not pick, peel, or rub your skin. The peeling outer layer acts like a bandage and protects the new skin underneath. Removing this layer too soon can lead to burning, pain, and potential scarring. Hot water in the shower and sweating can also cause your skin to come off too soon.
- Take any medications your doctor prescribes. You may be instructed to take over-the-counter pain-relievers and/or antibiotics.
- Prevent sun exposure. The skin is especially sensitive to the sun after a peel. Completely avoid the sun until your skin is fully healed, and be careful to use proper sun-protective clothing and sunscreen in the months following to prevent dark spots from developing and protect against damaging sun burns.
If you are bothered by the redness and peeling of your skin, you can wear makeup to cover it once your skin is no longer irritated.
From treating acne to reducing the appearance of freckles, sun damage, dark spots, and scars, the Jessner peel can leave you with smoother, more even-toned skin.
While you can see some benefits from an at-home Jessner peel, you’re more likely to get lasting changes that are more pronounced from a dermatologist’s treatment. It’s important to talk with your doctor before trying a Jessner peel to decide if it’s right for your skin and desired outcomes.