Chemical peels are nothing new. Ancient Egyptians used sour milk (lactic acid) to improve their skin’s appearance. While the technique has come a long way, the chemical peel is still one of the most effective ways to rejuvenate the skin.

In a chemical peel, an exfoliating solution is applied to the skin and allowed to soak in. Over the next 1 to 14 days, the skin peels off and new skin begins growing in. Peels can be superficial, medium or deep, depending on the solution, the number of coats applied, and the amount of time they soak in. Deeper peels are more effective but come with higher risks, increased pain and a longer recovery.

  • Superficial peels can be used on all skin types. They are done on an outpatient basis and do not require anesthesia. The skin heals quickly after treatment. It may turn pink, usually with minimal peeling.
  • Medium peels penetrate the skin more deeply, use a stronger solution, and may be done in several steps. They’re usually outpatient procedures involving little pain. The skin takes several days to heal: it turns reddish brown, becomes crusty, and then flakes and peels.
  • Deep peels penetrate several layers of skin and cause a second-degree burn. They are used only on the face and only on lighter skin. Skin regrowth takes 10 to 14 days, the skin remains extremely red for 3 to 8 weeks, and complete recovery may take several months. Usually a deep peel can be done only once.

A dermatologist can help determine the best peel for you based on your skin type, the areas you want peeled, the desired results, potential risks and other factors. A small test spot may be peeled to gauge results, and two to three weeks before the peel, you must begin a precise skin-care regimen.

A superficial or medium peel takes about 40 minutes. For medium peels, pain relievers and an oral sedative can reduce pain and anxiety, and cool compresses and fans can ease stinging and burning. A deep peel is more painful and complicated than other peels. It should be performed by a specialized surgeon.

The results of a chemical peel depend mainly on the depth of the peel.

  • Superficial peels may slightly reduce but do not eliminate sun damage and signs of aging. The results may take a while and be minimal. Repeated peels are often needed to produce the desired effect.
  • Medium peels can be very effective in evening out pigment and reducing fine wrinklesand signs of sun damage. Retreatment may be needed after 3 to 6 months for the best effect.
  • A deep peel eliminates wrinkles and may tighten the skin. The effects are often dramatic.

After any peel, closely following the doctor’s post-procedure skin-care regimen will yield faster healing and better results and reduce the risk of complications. Skin type, lifestyle and the doctor’s experience level can also affect results. Of course, aging and sun exposure will continue to affect the skin.

There are other options besides chemical peels for improving the skin’s texture and appearance, such as dermabrasion and laser resurfacing. No one option is superior. I’ve found that a combined approach, utilizing multiple procedures at once, achieves the best results. Clients who strictly adhere to my treatment plan before and after the procedure claim that the results are better than what they’ve attained through surgery, with less risk and downtime.