Chemical peels

Chemical peels do not actually peel the skin, they exfoliate it and should only be considered after other over-the-counter and prescription treatments have not been successful in treating your acne.

A chemical peel can provide a clearer healthier looking complexion, as well as smoother skin. They can improve the pigmentation of the skin and are most suited to people with superficial acne or acne scars.

Chemical peels can help in the treatment of acne.A chemical peel uses a chemical solution to improve and smooth the texture of the facial skin by removing outer layers. The chemical solution is applied to the skin, which causes the skin to blister and rapidly exfoliates the skin, allowing dead skin cells to shed more effectively. As the skin exfoliates away, fresh new skin is left behind. By preventing dead cells/excess oil from blocking up the pores, the occurrence of pimples is reduced. The exfoliation effect eliminates and reduces acne blemishes and scars. After a peel, it’s important to protect the new skin with a sunscreen. It may also be necessary for you to use a gentler skincare regime after a chemical peel. The practitioner who carried out the chemical peel will be able to advise you.

The type of chemical peel treatments available to help acne include:

Alphahydroxy acid or glycolic acid peel

These are the lightest and gentlest of the three peels, providing smoother, brighter looking skin. They can be applied weekly or at longer intervals.

Trichloroacetic acid peels

These peels are a little stronger and are used for medium depth. They help remove blemishes and correct pigment problems. More than one peel may be needed to achieve the best result.

Phenol peels

These peels are the strongest and produce a deep peel.

Chemical peels can have long-term results and are usually very effective however you may need to be treated again to maintain the effect but it is advisable to space the treatments.

There are also home administered chemical peels, which are becoming quite popular as they can be less expensive - you need to take care and follow the instructions carefully.

The condition of your skin after the chemical peel is mainly determined by whether it has been a light and gentle or a stronger peel. You may experience redness, stinging, dryness, flaking and/or scaling after a treatment. These symptoms can reduce after a couple of hours, however, in some cases it takes a few days for the symptoms to subside, while the skin adjusts to the treatment. Some patients may experience other symptoms, depending upon the severity of the chemical peel. You can obtain more information from your GP if you are concerned.

It is advisable to talk to your doctor/dermatologist before making an appointment to have a chemical peel as there are diverse types of scars left by acne and what is right for one person is not always right for another. The severity of your scars will determine the type of the chemical peel required, as well as the need for repeat peels.

More information about acne scarring can be found on the talkscar hub.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 21 November 2017

Next review: 21 November 2020