Chemical Peels for Acne, Aging, and Pigmentation: A Closer Look

When it comes to pro skincare treatments, chemical peels are often a go-to to help address a wide variety of skincare concerns. They're a cornerstone of any good treatment regimen to minimise pores, reduce the look of scarring, and overall, rejuvenate skin - but what makes them so effective and essential for results?

This blog post is going to demystify what a chemical peel is, how this treatment is performed, and the different kinds of chemical peels out there. That's right - there is more than one kind, and each type has benefits for different skin concerns! So, let's get started.

Understanding Chemical Peels

So, what is a chemical peel in the first place? These professional treatments are a solution of a highly concentrated acid that are applied to carefully prepped skin and left on for a specified period of time. 

The higher concentrations of active ingredients - such as Glycolic Acid - provide many benefits for skin, but since the concentrations are so high, careful protocols need to be followed to ensure that skin is improved - not damaged. 

Chemical peels have been an essential part of dermatology and improving the appearance of skin for a long time! It's thought that the effect of exfoliating acids on the skin was adored by Cleopatra, which is why she would often bathe in sour donkey's milk. 

This wouldn't technically be considered a peel today as the concentrations of lactic acid would be so low, but similar effects would have been seen with enough time. 

The first recorded use of something close to a modern chemical peel was in 1882 by Paul Gerson Unna, a German physician and dermatologist. From there on, different concentrations and ingredients were trialled by dermatologists and more to finally arrive at the modern-day chemical peels that we use today at our different MediSpa locations. 

How Do Chemical Peels Benefit Skin?

Chemical peels benefit skin by deeply exfoliating. This kind of exfoliation - called chemical exfoliation - works on a deeper level when compared to physical exfoliation. 

Studies have found that chemical peels benefit skin in multiple ways, but the underlying effect is that chemical peels help to stimulate fibroblasts in skin. A fibroblast is the cell that helps to produce collagen in skin. When these cells create more collagen, they improve the appearance of:

  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles
  • Sagging skin
  • Dark spots
  • Melasma

Peels also speed up skin's natural renewal process. This helps to keep pores clear of congestion, improving breakouts and overall reducing the severity of acne.

Key Ingredients in Chemical Peels

So, what makes chemical peels special are their active ingredients. There are some that you might already be familiar with, while there are others that are exclusive to professional-strength peels.

Here's a quick run-through of the common ingredients that professionals use during these skincare treatments!


Of all the Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) only Salicylic Acid is used for skincare. It features in peels that are typically targeted to treat acne and acne scarring. That's because Salicylic Acid has a unique ability to dissolve oils and sebum, clearing congestion and minimising pores. 

However, that's not the only thing this effective skincare ingredient can do! Studies have found that in peels, Salicylic Acid helps to reduce the appearance of dark spots left behind by breakouts and minimise the look of pores. This helps to smooth out skin texture for a refined, revitalised glow. 


Alpha-Hydroxy Acids include ingredients such as Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Glycolic Acid and Mandelic Acid - just to name a few. These exfoliating acids are typically better than BHAs for addressing the appearance of dark spots and premature signs of ageing.


TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid - this ingredient is exclusive to professionally-administered peels, and won't be something that you see in products for use at home. TCA is effective at improving the appearance of pitted acne scars and post-breakout spots. 


One of the strongest and earliest ingredients discovered for use as a skin peel, Phenol, is another heavy-hitter best used by professionals. It's the strongest chemical peel available and should only be performed under medical supervision. Because it's so strong, the results are very dramatic - almost unbelievable. 

Seriously, the before and after photos are like a facelift. However, these results require a lot of prep - this kind of peel is so intense that it's performed under general anesthesia.

Retinoic Acid

Peels with this active ingredient target the premature signs of ageing as well as sun damage. Another appropriate treatment case for retinoic acid is for breakouts and post-acne marks.

Funnily enough, the mechanisms in the skin for treating anti-ageing and anti-acne are similar; speeding up cellular turnover minimises skin congestion while encouraging collagen production!

How Much of Each Ingredient is in a Chemical Peel?

The concentrations of each of these ingredients in a peel may vary according to the manufacturer. A peel may have multiple ingredients or feature just one, depending on the ideal outcome from the peel.

Along with concentration, there's another thing that matters - the pH of the peel. Peels require a very low pH to be effective, which is why they're best performed by professionals. The lower pH of these products can be damaging to your skin if performed incorrectly!

Types of Chemical Peels: Superficial vs. Deep Peels

You might have seen these terms applied to peels: superficial, medium-depth, and deep peels.

This refers to how deeply the skin is affected. As a general rule, the intensity of the peel increases with depth. 

Superficial Peels

Superficial peels are the lightest, and only impact the epidermis - the outermost layer of your skin. These treatments can be performed every 2-5 weeks to address skin concerns such as congestion, mild pigmentation, and anti-ageing

It's important to wear sunscreen and avoid prolonged sun exposure in the days after the peel, but overall, this type has the shortest downtime of them all. That doesn't mean they're not effective! 

They are ideal for those whose skin sensitivity limits deeper types of peels, as well as helping to improve overall skin appearance with consistent treatments. 

Medium-Depth Peels

Medium-depth peels impact the epidermis and part of the dermis. At this intensity, the peel targets textured acne scarring, visible wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. A medium-depth peel has more downtime compared to light peel - the surface layer of your skin will change colour to red or brown in the first few days, and will begin to flake and peel off.

It's important to NEVER pull off peeling skin, and to let it shed off naturally to reveal the new, revitalised skin underneath. 

Deep Peels

This level of peel is a carefully considered option, and lots of preparation and requirements need to be met before this type of peel is even considered as a treatment. There is a pre-treatment period of several weeks beforehand. 

Phenol peels fall into this category and are only performed under strict medical supervision. They are usually performed once due to the preparation and intensity of peel.

The Chemical Peel Process

Preparing for a Chemical Peel

If your beauty therapist has determined that a chemical peel is needed as part of treatment to help you reach your skincare goals, there is a small amount of prep needed. 

These tips will relate to superficial peels only - with more intensive peels, your skincare professional will tailor and prepare you much more intensively. 

Preparation is key to maximising skincare results from any peel. It's recommended to avoid using retinol, chemical exfoliators, and facial scrubs in the lead-up to your treatment. 

Depending on your skin and the peel being performed, this can be 48 hours or even a whole week before treatment. Your esthetician will advise you on the right prep steps for optimal results!

During a Chemical Peel

Before anything is applied to your skin, your facialist will perform a deep cleanse to remove any lingering impurities and oils from your skin that could impact the results of your treatment. 

Delicate areas such as the eyes, lips, and sometimes the nostrils are protected with petroleum jelly or other barriers to avoid contact with the chemical solution.

Once your skin is ready for treatment, the peel solution is applied. Depending on the strength of the peel, the amount of time it's left on the skin can vary. After the correct amount of time has passed, the peel is then neutralised with a special solution to stop the chemical reaction. 

Skin is gently cleansed once more, and a soothing treatment such as a sheet mask or cream mask may be applied to instantly soothe and hydrate. Finally, moisturiser and sunscreen are applied to shield skin from the sun. 


Your facialist will give tailored advice based on the type of peel performed, but in general the aftercare will look something like this:

  • No actives (AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C, Retinoids) for up to a week afterwards
  • Avoiding direct sun exposure as much as possible for up to a week afterwards
  • Diligent sunscreen usage 
  • Keep skin thoroughly hydrated

In addition to the steps above, it's important to avoid picking at peeling at any flaky skin that may appear in the days after your peel. Depending on the depth of your peel, you may not have any flaking at all. 

However, should any flaking appear it's important never to try to peel it off! Keep skin as hydrated as possible to minimise the appearance of peeling skin. 

Maintaining Results

Many people underestimate this, but using the right skincare in between professional appointments makes a world of difference to the long-term results that you'll see. 

Your facialist will recommend the perfect products to help maintain your results and achieve your skincare goals, whether that's to improve fine lines and wrinkles, minimise pores, or fade hyperpigmentation

Key Points: Chemical Peels for Skin

Chemical peels are a professional treatment for skin that delivers on multiple fronts; they help to reduce intensity of breakouts, minimise appearance of dark spots, and even rejuvenate tired, ageing skin. 

Consistent peels help get you closer to your skin goals - booking a skin consultation is perfect for determining which type of peel and how frequently you need to come in for treatment. 

While they do take a bit of prep and the right maintenance care afterwards, they are an amazing treatment that really deliver results. Alongside an effective and well-planned skincare routine, they're ideal for helping you reach your skin goals!

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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