Looking for a fresher face? Chemical peels might be your ticket to a noticeable glow up. People love that they can reduce fine lines, scars, and discoloration. Here’s the 411.

Chemical peels can be intimidating. The thought of putting acid on your beautiful face is a scary one. But they’re actually super safe! Here’s what you need to know before taking the chemical plunge.

Safety first

  • Never DIY chemical peels. They need to be performed by a trained skin care specialist (e.g. esthetician) or a licensed healthcare provider (e.g. plastic surgeon or dermatologist).
  • Follow your practitioner’s post-op protocol 💯. This prevents damage and helps your skin bounce back faster.

Treatment time

  • Most chemical peels last 30 to 90 minutes.
  • A light peel may require little to no recovery time.
  • Medium or deep peels can take longer to fully heal.


Chemical peels are super-duper diverse. Some may address a lot of skin concerns in a single session. Peels can help with:

  • acne scars
  • sun damage
  • fine lines and wrinkles
  • uneven skin tone
  • hyperpigmentation and melasma

Chemical peels come in three different levels.

Light or superficial peels gently exfoliate the outermost layer of skin with mild acids like alpha-hydroxy acid.

Medium peels penetrate the outer and middle layers of skin with chemicals like glycolic or trichloroacetic acid.

Deep peels fully penetrate the middle layer of the skin with trichloroacetic acid or phenol.

Chemical peels are considered cosmetic. That means your insurance probably won’t cover the cost. But your consultation prior to the procedure might be covered.

The price of each peel depends on what kind you’re getting and who your provider is. Deeper peels can tip over the $3,000 mark. Superficial peels can be under $100.

Try to shop around before booking an appointment. Some practitioners may provide the same exact service at a cheaper rate.

Most peels are done at the practitioner’s office. More intense peels may be performed in an outpatient surgical facility.

Here’s what happens:

  • Your face will be washed prior to the procedure.
  • Your hair will be pulled back if needed.
  • You’ll wear protective gear on your eyes 👀.
  • You may get a topical anesthetic. This depends on your peel’s intensity.
  • If you have a deep peel, you might get a regional anesthetic or an IV.
  • Your practitioner will check your heart rate if you’re under sedation.

Light peels

Your practitioner will apply the treatment to the area of concern with a gauze, brush, or cotton ball. You may experience a bit of stinging and the skin will lighten. After the peel is over, a neutralizing solution will be applied to stop the tingle.

Medium peels

Your practitioner will use a special sponge, cotton-tipped applicator, or gauze to apply the chemicals. No neutralizing solution will be used after the peel is removed. But a fan or cold compress can cool you off.

Blue peels

A blue color might be added to your peel if trichloroacetic acid is used. This procedure is often called a (you guessed it!) blue peel.

The blue tint can take a few days to fade, so plan accordingly.

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Deep peels

Deeper peels are conducted in 15-minute increments. This lessens your skin’s exposure to the harsher chemicals used. A cotton-tipped application will be used to apply the chemical solution to your skin. The skin will turn paler than usual or gray during the peel.

PSA: You might be sedated if you’re going deep. Be sure to arrange a ride home after the procedure.

Before your peel, you’ll meet with your practitioner for a consultation. Your doctor will ask you general health and lifestyle questions like if you scar easily or take acne medication.

You should also inform your doctor if you have a history of cold sores (herpes HSV1) on your lips. Your practitioner may prescribe an antiviral medication if you are undergoing a medium or deeper peel.

Pre-peel 101

Every peel is different. But there are some general rules to follow before the procedure.

  • Don’t take Accutane for at least 6 months prior to your peel.
  • Steer clear of retinol or retinol-A for at least 2 full days before your peel.
  • Don’t use exfoliants or facial scrubs for at least 1 week prior.
  • Avoid or stop certain hair removal and bleaching products.
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Most chemical peel side effects are minor. You might experience:

  • dryness
  • minor swelling
  • redness or discoloration
  • burning
  • stinging

In general, chemical peels are safe AF. But there are some potential risks. More serious side effects include:

Scars. Scarring can be temporary or permanent.

Beach bunnies beware. You may permanently lose your ability to tan if you get a deep peel.

Pigmentation. Peels can darken or lighten your skin. This is more common for people who have a darker skin tone.

Organ issues. Phenol is used in some deep peels. The chemical can potentially cause heart, kidney, or liver damage. It can also trigger an irregular heartbeat.

Herpes. A peel might set off a blister breakout if you have herpes simplex.

Infections. Fungal and bacterial infections are uncommon but possible.

Downtime depends on the peel you chose. Here’s the DL.

After a light peel

You should heal within a few days. Your skin may look lighter or darker than normal for a little while.

After a medium peel

Following your peel, your skin will start to swell and form crusty patches. You can expect a recovery time of about 5 to 7 days.

After a deep peel

Prepare yourself for a more serious recovery if you get a deep peel. Some typical symptoms include:

  • severe swelling
  • discomfort
  • throbbing
  • burning
  • redness or discoloration

Skin discoloration or redness can last for several months post-procedure. You may also develop cysts or spots that can stick around for a few weeks. Severe swelling might cause your eyelids to swell shut temporarily.

Recovery tips

Keep it creamy. Your provider can give you post-procedure products like creams and ointments. They can reduce discomfort and help your skin rejuvenate.

Cool off. Sitting in front of a fan or applying a cold compress can help with swelling and burning.

Sorry sun. You’re much more vulnerable to sun damage and burns post-peel. So, steer clear of sun exposure until you’re totally healed.

Beauty break. You might have to ditch your makeup during recovery. Ask your provider when you can continue your normal skincare regime.

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Whether you need to tackle long-term skin issues or just want to look extra fresh before an event, chemical peels are a great option.

Just be sure to always go to a certified skin care professional. Your provider can help you figure out which peel is best for your needs. So, get out there and feel the peel.