Acne Treatment Review – Chemical Peels

Chemical peel treatment for various skin conditions uses a chemical solution that is applied to the skin. This causes the skin to blister and peel off. New, rejuvenated skin is revealed that is smoother with less noticeable scars. Doctors have used various peeling agents over the years. Chemical peels are used to treat mild acne scars. Combined with dermabrasion, laser resurfacing and soft tissue fillers, chemical peeling can be a very effective treatment regime for acne scars. 

Types of Chemical Peels

There are three types of chemical peels and they differ in intensity, cost and side effects.

Light chemical peels use alpha or beta hydroxy acid (AHA / BHA) solution. This is applied with a cotton ball to the skin and washed off. It exfoliates dead skin, revealing fresh new skin beneath. It is ideal for minor skin blemishes but does not suit most acne scars. It costs $50-$150 and requires multi-sessions. Side effects are flaking, peeling, itching, redness, hyperpigmentation, temporary frosty appearance of the skin.

Medium chemical peels use 1-2 coats of tricolor acetic acid (10%-40%) that are applied for ½ – 10 minutes. For acne scars, 60-100% TCA can be used. Jessner’s solution is a popular medium peel that uses a combination of salicylic acid and glycolic acid. It costs $150-$500 per session and requires multi-sessions. Used for mild acne scars, this treatment must be performed by a professional. Side effects include skin irritation, tightness, and redness, hyperpigmentation, peeling or flaking for a few days.

Deep chemical peels use very strong phenol or TCA. It must be applied by a qualified surgeon for it is a serious procedure and constant cardiopulmonary monitoring is required along with IV hydration. It can prove toxic for the kidneys. Patients will be given a strong sedative or a general anesthesia. A single sitting costing $2500-$6000 is required. Strong side effects are experienced including acne, milia, hypopigmentation, infection, atrophy, swelling, inability to tan and pigment alteration. Crusts remain for a couple of weeks before falling off. 

How is it used?

Before chemical peel treatment, patients will be directed to clean the affected areas with a good antiseptic soap and stop certain medications. The treatment can be done at a doctor’s clinic or surgery. It is usually an out-patient procedure. Before treatment, the skin is cleansed of all dirt and excess oil. Eyes and hair are protected. Dermatologists apply a chemical agent (light, medium or deep) based on the skin damage. Patients will have a warm sensation on the affected areas that can last for a few minutes. A stinging sensation will follow. If deeper peels are used it can cause pain and a pain-killer will be given.chemical peels

Benefits of Chemical Peels

Light chemical peels improve tone and texture of the skin. Medium chemical peels make the skin smoother. Deep chemical peels dramatically improve the look and feel of treated areas.  

Phenol peels are beneficial for atrophic, pitted acne scars. Glycolic acid peels are milder and do not penetrate the skin beyond the epidermis. It helps to clear dead skin cells, improves appearance of the skin, and minimizes redness of scars. Trichloracetic acid (TCA) peels are good for those with a dark skin tone. They suffer less from pigmentation problems when using TCA as against stronger peels like phenol.

Limitations of Chemical Peels

Phenol peels are strong and it can cause damage to the skin, infection and discoloration. This is why it must be used under medical supervision. Glycolic peels are beneficial only for mild acne scars. 

The results of chemical peels may not be permanent. Sometimes treated skin will lose the ability to tan and take on lighter or darker tones. 

Chemical Peels : User Comments

Patient reviews comment  that chemical peels despite some discomfort have really helped their scars. Some recommend using light peels that can be used at home. These cost a fraction ($10) and gives great results. Patients have shown great improvement with reduced hyperpigmentation, smooth skin, cleansed pores, reduced acne outbreaks and fine lines disappeared. 

Based on user comments, most of the limitations of chemical peels are related to the uncomfortable burning sensation during the procedure, mild pain and the skin feeling a bit dry and tight after the procedure. Peeling of the skin was also an issue although this does stop after a week. Using plenty of moisturizers and a mild cleanser can help hydrate the skin. 

Most user reviews state that the recovery time for chemical peels depends on the strength of the peels. For mild peels that include salicylic or glycolic acid, the peeling starts within 24 hours of the procedure but finishes within a week. Medium and deep chemical peels can produce more crusting, swelling or peeling. Of course the advantage is that you get better results too. 

Some users were worried if they are choosing the right chemical peel for their requirement. User reviews suggest that you make a note of the degree of damage, budget, and downtime for recovery and then choose the peel. A dermatologist can provide guidance about the choice.

Precautions while using Chemical Peels

The types of chemical peels used cause various degrees of sunburn. Superficial peeling, scaling and redness can last for a week. Deep and medium peels could cause swelling and require a bandage. Leave the bandages on for a week and avoid direct exposure to the sun.  

Chemical peels are not recommended for those with a dark, pale or freckled complexion; have red hair; are taking acne medication like isotretinoin; have a medical history of keloids; have facial warts or abnormal skin pigmentation; or are pregnant or nursing mothers. 

Getting an experienced dermatologist to perform the procedure is important. They will know the exact strength of solution to use that will minimize side effects and maximize benefits. All chemical peels cause extreme sensitivity to the sun and a sunscreen must be used. The skin will peel and remain pink for a few days.


Chemical peels are effective for superficial scars as the top layers of skin are removed, exposing unblemished skin from beneath. For deep scars, chemical peel treatment will continue for several months before a significant improvement is noted. Always follow specific after-care instructions provided by your doctor. Chemical peels work best in conjunction with other acne medications. Get moderate and severe scars treated by a doctor