Top 10 Things to Know About Chemical Peels

Chemical peels can improve cosmetically displeasing marks like fine lines, irregularities in skin tone and texture, acne scarring, dark marks, sun spots, and even with dangerous pre-cancerous skin lesions called Actinic Keratoses (sun spots that can lead to skin cancer, specifically Squamous Cell Carcinoma).


  1. Side effects can occur
    1. Obviously, peeling or flaking skin is the most common side effect.
    2. Temporary tingling, burning, or tightness sensation of skin.
    3. Lesser seen side effects of peels can be discoloration which can be corrected, and usually prevented, with the proper post-peel protocol by your provider.
    4. Rarely, a patient can be allergic to an ingredient or ingredients of a peel and have redness, swelling, and/or itching.
      • If these occur you should contact your provider, or prior to the peel have a plan in place if this does occur.
      • Any life-threatening side effects like anaphylaxis should always be taken seriously and immediately to the Emergency Room or by calling 911.
  2. Results vary
    1. Depths and provider experience impact results, but some patients with deep-seeded pigmentary issues or older acne scars can require many more sessions than others without an adequate reason as to why.
      • For example, a 42 year old Hispanic woman with Melasma may require 8 monthly sessions of the Skin Medica Rejuvenize peel, whereas her cousin who is of similar age may require 4 sessions to get the same results.
  3. Peels come in various strengths based on their depth of skin penetration: Superficial, Medium, and Deep
    1. Deep peels are conducted typically under anesthesia and is likened to the strengths of some of the deeper penetrating lasers
    2. Medium depth peels penetrate the dermis in varying degrees from the upper layers of the dermis to middle layers
    3. Superficial peels can improve skin tone/texture with little to no downtime (peeling/flaking of skin, redness, etc.)
    4. The peel strength decided by you and your provider will depend on your skin type, sensitivities, history of various other topical agents (prescribed or over the counter), budget, and timeframe.
  4. Chemical peels are not as scary as media makes them seem…in the right hands
    1. Melting your face off is not the goal of a chemical peel
      • Peeling or flaking skin is not an indicator for success, so if your schedule doesn’t allow for it, no problem!
    2. Feeling intense burning or pain is not the goal of a chemical peel
      • Some peels have numbing agents in them that make them almost virtually painless.
  5. There is no peel that reveals perfect skin after one session.
    1. Peels performed consistently and with the proper post-peel protection can great results, but there is no peel that will work in one session.
      • And anyone making this promise is probably taking advantage of you.
    2. Depending on the provider and the peel depth, more or less peels may be needed to give you desired results.
  6. Prices vary widely
    • One of the biggest predictors for cost is location: the small-town med spa versus the world-renowned, city-based Dermatologist.
      1. Remember, however, that you get what you pay for.
        • Understanding side effects, risks, and how to manage them will likely be more well understood by a medically-associated office that sees more than just people for facials/massages.
      2. Types of peels
        • Various brands have associated costs that are predictably higher/lower
          • Some brands include Theraplex, Skin Medica, VI, and Obagi.
        • Peel depth – deeper peels are associated with higher costs.
      3. Your overall investment and budget should be considered when determining if peels are for you.
        • Would it make more sense for you to have a few medium depth peels at a higher price than several superficial peels that cost less?
  7. Peeling is not required to improve your skin
    1. Whether you’re trying to improve skin texture/fine lines or improve sun spots, chemical peels do not have to peel or flake to make improvements.
      • However, if you have had a medium or deep peel performed and do not have, at the very least, flaking of the skin, then discuss with them your journey after the experience so they may improve upon or adjust your treatment when this side effect is expected or desired.
    2. It is well known that multiple superficial peels with little to no peeling will give lasting results that give your skin that glow you desire, so don’t jump to conclusions if a peel hasn’t “melted” your face off.
  8. All skin types can use peels to improve their appearance
    1. From the darkest individual to the lightest, chemical peels have incredible versatility with their ingredients, application, and post-peel protocol that can give anyone great results.
    2. Your provider may choose a certain peel for you, especially if it is your first experience with one. Make sure to ask them why that would be best for you at that time and what indications in results or side effects will suggest they make changes in the future.
  9. Permanent results – if you protect your investment
    1. Aging is a process that will never stop, but the improvements made by peels can last if properly managed: diligent sun protection, anti-aging serums (like those containing growth factors or heparin sulfate technology), and adequately maintained general health (weight stabilization/loss, water intake, exercise, and sleep).
  10. Medical insurance will not cover your cosmetic peel, sorry!
    1. Even if the dark marks and/or acne are making you socially scarce or emotionally depressed and you’re under the care of a medical office (like a dermatologist’s office), unfortunately, medical insurance will not deem chemical peels necessary for management.
    2. With this in mind, chemical peels can be used (and commonly are used) in tandem with multiple medical modalities such as prescription medications and acne surgery/extraction.


F, 34, New York

Tags:skin cost insurance side effects dry skin peeling skin tone