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What Are the Different Types of Chemical Peels?


A chemical peel is a dermatologic procedure that works to remove dead skin cells to reveal the youthful skin beneath.  Also called derma peeling or chemexfoliation, chemical peels are used to treat a variety of aesthetic issues such as age spots, fine lines, acne scars, freckles, and scars. There are three types of chemical peels designed to meet your specific needs.

Alpha Hydroxy Beta Hydroxy Acid Peels

The light or superficial chemical peel is the mildest of treatment options.  Because it is the least aggressive the results are more subtle than deeper peels and the procedure may need to be performed numerous times before the desired results are achieved.

Procedure: A light chemical peel includes the use of a combination of alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids including glycolic acid, maleic acid, salicylic acid, and lactic acid.  The acids are mild and will only remove the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin.

Frequency: The procedure may be performed weekly for up to six treatments and can be maintained through monthly visits thereafter.

Used to Treat: A light chemical peel is ideal for fine lines, acne, dryness, and uneven skin pigmentation.

Trichloracetic Acid Peels

The medium chemical peel is more aggressive than the alpha hydroxy peel and will achieve more dramatic results.  Because they require a stronger acid solution to penetrate deeper into the skin’s surface, they are also more uncomfortable that the superficial peel.

Procedure: Trichloracetic acid (TCA) is used in a medium peel. The acid is used to penetrate both the epidermis and the upper part of the dermis, the middle layer of skin.  Because TCA produces a second degree burn, a pain reliever may be given prior to the procedure.

Frequency: The procedure may be performed every six months to a year to maintain results.

Used to Treat: A medium peel is used to treat deep wrinkles, uneven skin pigmentation, and acne scars.

Phenol Peels

The deep chemical peel is the most aggressive and in many cases can only be performed one time.  The procedure requires two to three weeks of pretreatment and has a longer healing time but also offers the most dramatic results.

Procedure: Two to three weeks before the procedure a skin regimen is prescribed to thin out the skin which will assist the peeling more evenly and healing.  A sedative and a local anesthetic are generally required with a deep peel.  Phenol is used to penetrate through the epidermis all the way to the lower dermal layer of the skin.  The dramatic results can last up to ten years.

Frequency: Generally performed one time.

Used to Treat: Scars, deep wrinkles, severe sun damage, pre-cancerous growths.



[1] “Chemical Peel.” The American Society of Plastic Surgeons. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

[2] “Chemical peel.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2011. <>.

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