All About Chemical Peels: A Complete Beginner’s Guide


Not all chemical peels are alike, so you can expect a different experience depending on the strength of the acid and the depth of the peel, says Wattenberg.

Here are the three major types.

1. Superficial or Light Chemical Peels

“These types of peels are used to treat mild acne or uneven skin tone, or just to brighten up your skin, and most commonly they contain glycolic or salicylic acid,” says Wattenberg. Salicylic acid can help minimize acne bumps on the face and in other troublesome areas, like the back. Because this acid is are a beta-hydroxy acid, it can travel into pores and follicles and treat acne at its core.

 Meanwhile, glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that stays on the surface of the skin and acts as a peeling agent.

It is a light peel, so you can expect dryness and mild exfoliation, says Wattenberg. And because this type is so superficial, the peels can be done every two to five weeks.

“But remember, even the glycolic and salicylic acids can vary in strength,” says Wattenberg. That means there are varying degrees of what’s considered a light peel.

2. Medium Chemical Peels

These can be used to correct the physical signs of more extensive sun damage, deeper lines, and more significant wrinkling, says Wattenberg. “Traditionally these peels contain trichloroacetic acid (TCA) in combination with other chemicals, and peeling may continue for five to seven days,” says Wattenberg. TCA is a type of acid that can reach a number of depths in the skin (depending on how much is used), so it’s considered the workhorse of chemical peels.

3. Deep Chemical Peels

This is the most aggressive type of chemical peel. These require more downtime and are usually reserved for those with extensive sun damage, wrinkles, and fine lines, says Wattenberg. “These may contain stronger combinations of TCA, phenol, and other chemicals,” she adds. Phenol is the strongest chemical used in deep peels, and it can penetrate to the lower layers of your skin.


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