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  • Writer's pictureJamie Vilet

Chemical Peels 101: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

WHAT ARE CHEMICAL PEELS? A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment that makes your skin look and feel better. The aesthetician puts an acid solution on your skin which removes damaged skin cells to reveal a healthier, younger-looking you. Chemical peels are excellent for treating skin conditions, such as:

  • Acne

  • Hyperpigmentation

  • Redness

  • Scarring

  • Sun Damage

  • Wrinkles and Fine Lines

Not only do chemical peels treat these conditions, but they also lighten and brighten your skin, so you have a radiant complexion.

ARE CHEMICAL PEELS SAFE? The name “chemical” might make you think of toxic chemicals, but most peels are actually made of natural fruit acids. People have used fruit acids to exfoliate their skin for thousands of years, according to Skin Inc. Ancient Egyptian women used sour milk (a source of lactic acid) to exfoliate their skin, while Roman women used grape skins (a source of tartaric acid). Common natural ingredients you’ll find in chemical peels are:

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid – exfoliates the skin while boosting hydration

  • Beta Hydroxy Acid – deeply cleanses and exfoliates; recommended for oily skin

  • Lactic Acid – exfoliates and moisturizes; helps reduce fine lines and wrinkles

  • Salicylic Acid – excellent ingredient for acne treatments

  • Glycolic Acid – smooths skin and increases collagen production; ideal for new peel users

Some chemical peels include synthetic acids that exfoliate deeper into the skin. These products are clinically tested for safety before they are sold to licensed aestheticians. When you get a chemical peel, the aesthetician will give you pre- and post-peel home care instructions. Following these guidelines will significantly reduce the risk of irritation or negative side effects. TYPES OF CHEMICAL PEELS One significant difference between chemical peels is how deeply they penetrate the skin. This is called the peel’s strength level. Lighter peels only affect the outer skin layers, while stronger peels exfoliate deeper into your skin to remove damaged skin cells. STRENGTH LEVELS: 1. Very Superficial

  • Removes the outermost layer of skin

  • No downtime

  • Good for first timers

2. Superficial

  • Goes into the stratum granulosum

  • Little or no downtime

  • Light flaking a few days post peel

  • Good when skin is prepped and ready for more active treatment

3. Medium

  • Exfoliates all layers of the epidermis

  • Great peel most aestheticians can perform

  • Skin MUST be prepped

4. Deep

  • Extends through the epidermis into the papillary and reticular of the dermis

  • Extensive downtime

  • ONLY performed by a physician

The results you want determine the strength level you need. If you have a lot of damaged skin cells, you’ll want a stronger peel. Your aesthetician or dermatologist can help you determine what type of chemical peel will help you achieve your skin care goals. TIMED VS LAYER PEELS Chemical peels also differ in how they exfoliate your skin. Products with organic acids work from the inside out. They detach the lower layers of the stratum corneum to exfoliate the outer parts of the skin. Aestheticians call these “timed peels” because they leave them on for a certain amount of time. The longer the time, the deeper the exfoliation. Peels that contain aromatic or synthetic acids work from the outside in by dissolving the stratum corneum layer-by-layer. These peels give your skin a deeper exfoliation than organic acids. Aestheticians call them “layered peels” because they apply one layer of peel, wait a few minutes, then apply it again. The more layers they apply, the deeper the peel exfoliates. WHAT IS AN ENZYME PEEL? It’s a peel that uses fruit enzymes (proteins) to exfoliate the skin, giving you a radiant glow. Enzyme peels are perfect for people with sensitive skin as they are much gentler than chemical peels. They are also an excellent alternative for women who are pregnant or nursing since chemical peels are NOT suitable for pregnant or nursing women. Since enzyme peels are so easy on the skin, you can use them frequently and without any downtime. CHEMICAL PEELS VS EXFOLIATORS When shopping for skin care products, it’s sometimes hard to understand the difference between a chemical peel and an exfoliator, especially since superficial-to-medium peels (including enzyme peels) are also called chemical exfoliants. Confusing, huh? Exfoliators are scrubs that you rub onto your skin to mechanically remove dead cells, while peels are liquid products that dissolve dead skin cells as they sink into your skin. When you see the term chemical exfoliant, it’s essentially a lighter peel. WHEN TO USE AN EXFOLIATOR AND WHEN TO USE A PEEL Exfoliator:

  • Deep clean face

  • Remove blackheads

  • Improve skin tone

  • Normal, combination or oily skin

Chemical Peel:

  • Deep clean face

  • Unclog pores

  • Smooth and soften skin

  • Dry or sensitive skin

  • Have acne

Your skin needs exfoliation to stay healthy and prevent dead cells from building up, causing breakouts or discoloration. Add an exfoliator or mild peel 1 – 2 times a week to keep your skin looking healthy and young. You usually don’t need to exfoliate more than that, and over-exfoliating can cause skin damage.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU GET A CHEMICAL PEEL TREATMENT Your aesthetician will go over what to expect from your treatment before applying the peel. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or voice your concerns. Your comfort is a top priority. When the aesthetician puts the peel on your skin, it’s normal to experience sensations, such as:

  • Itching, prickling and/or heat

  • Flushing and slight swelling

  • Possible tenderness and sensitivity

  • Tightness

How much you feel these sensations will depend on the peel’s strength level. They are not signs that the peel is damaging your skin. STAGES OF PEEL TREATMENT 1. Cleanse: The aesthetician cleanses your skin twice: first to remove dirt, oil and debris, then second to cleanse and prepare your skin for treatment. 2. Pre-Treatment: The aesthetician applies a pre-treatment solution, which will feel wet and may or may not tingle your skin. 3. Skin Activity: The aesthetician asks about the amount of activity you feel on your skin to determine your comfort level. You can ask them to adjust the peel strength as needed. 4. Peel Application: The aesthetician applies the chemical peel and either leaves it on or applies it in layers, depending on the peel. Once the solution has been on your skin long enough, your aesthetician will remove it. 5. Healing: The aesthetician calms and heals your skin with post-treatment products. 6. Home Care Regimen: The aesthetician will create a home care regimen for the next 7 – 14 days after your treatment. It is vital that you follow this home care routine if you want the treatment to work. Half of the results come from the clinical treatment but the other half comes from you taking good care of your skin, so follow your post-treatment plan to the tee. HOW MANY PEELS DO I NEED BEFORE I SEE RESULTS? It depends on the chemical peel and the skin condition you are treating. Most light-to-medium chemical peels require at least six treatments over a three-month period to see optimal results. Ask your aesthetician how many peel treatments they recommended. Remember, your skin will look worse before it gets better, so don’t worry if you don’t see immediate results. Peel treatments are meant to produce gradual improvements over time.

WHAT TO DO AFTER A PEEL TREATMENT While your aesthetician will tell you how to care for your skin after the peel treatment, here are things you can do to aid in the healing process: 1. Limit sun exposure

  • Protects your skin as it heals

  • Prevent sun damage

  • 7 – 14 days, depending on peel strength

  • Wear SPF and reapply every two hours

  • Apply anywhere exposed to UV rays

2. Continue to do your daily skin care routine

  • Make any modifications your aesthetician recommends

  • Be sure to tell your aesthetician about your current skin care routine

  • Remember that new skin layers need extra support

3. Use skin soothing products

  • e.g., Skin Recovery Mist, Living Cell Clarifier, Stem Cell Power Serum and Ultra Hydro Gel.

  • Also, tyrosinase inhibitors to reduce hyperpigmentation

4. Do NOT pull dry skin

  • Let skin peel off on its own

  • Pulling can damage skin

Keep in mind that not all peels cause your skin to peel (sounds bizarre, we know). Your skin doesn’t need to peel to get results, so don’t worry if you don’t experience peeling.


Chemical peels are great solutions for treating fine lines and wrinkles, acne, hyperpigmentation and other skin concerns.

Jamie is a licensed skin care professional that is well-trained in peels and pre- and post-care procedures, so you can feel confident receiving a chemical peel from her. She offers quality treatments that yield life-changing results. Book an appointment with Jamie using Vagaro!

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