Chemical Peels: Classic For Good Reason

By: Dr. Kathleen Welsh


Ever wish you could simply peel off the years of sun damage, hypergimentation and acne scars?

These days we are lucky to have a wide array of sophisticated skin resurfacing techniques at our disposal, including lasers, radio-frequency, and microneedling treatments. So it may come as a surprise that we routinely fall back on a technology that has been around longer than all of these: the classic chemical peel.

I include chemical peels in many of my patients’ treatment plans. For those with active acne or scarring to others seeking an overall brighter skin tone, the right chemical peel can do wonders.

Peels are essentially a way for us to initiate maximum exfoliation. By getting rid of flaky, irregular dead skin cells and surface debris, we reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improve brightness, lift unwanted discoloration, and correct sun damage. With old skin cells out of the picture, the healthy cells left behind are given the signal to behave younger again. This process triggers new hyaluronic acid production, thereby plumping and moisturizing the skin from the inside out.

Not only are peels exfoliating in nature, but modern formulas also simultaneously infuse the skin with other powerful ingredients during treatment to minimize fine lines, prevent acne flares, and improve overall skin tone.

As a major bonus, chemical peels have a slight, controlled inflammatory component, making them another powerful tool in our collagen- boosting arsenal.


Peels are an affordable option for keeping skin clear and glowing. Even a series of 3-4 is likely going to be much less expensive - and require less downtime - than our resurfacing laser treatments. They are an ideal “lunch-time treatment” for teens and busy professionals. In fact, we can often mimic the results of more intense laser treatments when we include a series of strategically timed chemical peels in your skincare plan.

By efficiently exfoliating the rough outer layers of skin, we also allow the products we use daily to penetrate deeper, increasing their effectiveness and further stretching your skincare budget.


While chemical peels have been around for decades, the technology behind them has significantly evolved. And thank goodness! If you’re envisioning a bright red, raw face or severe, uncomfortable swelling, I am so happy to tell you this is no longer what a well-chosen peel requires.

Early chemical peels were designed with high percentages of acid to strip the skin of many layers in a single treatment - you can imagine these were painful and required days to sometimes weeks of healing.

We’ve since learned we can achieve better and more dramatic results without unnecessary trauma and irritation.

Now, by methodically combining lower-grade acids at specified intervals, other in-office treatments, and at-home skincare, we can gently reveal youthful, glowing skin.

I am personally pain adverse and don’t subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” school of thought, especially when it comes to elective procedures. My goal is to always ensure your comfort before, during, and after any of your treatments. For more sparkly chemical peels - a handy euphe- mism for ones that feel like they’re burning - we offer handheld fans to keep your skin cool. Trained explicitly in comfort strategies, our estheticians can always immediately apply a neutralizing solution should discomfort become intolerable.


We carry several different types of peels at our clinic, and we’re able to customize the strengths of these individual formulas depending on your skin’s needs.

Our peels range from light to deep, indicating how far down into the dermis the product is intended to penetrate.


On the lighter end of the spectrum are our superficial peels. These include low percentage lactic acid peels, which employ alpha-hydroxyc- ids derived from milk proteins; Topix Perfect 10; and the SkinMedica Illuminize (a combination of salicylic, mandelic, and phytic acids). SkinMedica Vitalize is a little bit stronger and one of our classics. These are generally considered the most gentle and often don’t even cause visible shedding - but don’t let that fool you! These peels are useful when your goal is to minimize hyperpigmentation or melasma, brighten dull skin with little to no downtime. They are an excellent choice for first-time chemical peel patients and those with especially sensitive skin.


Our medium peels are slightly stronger and used to treat active acne, fine lines, and minor skin discolorations. These salicylic-forward peels are particularly effective for lines around the eyes and mouth and for patients experiencing active acne breakouts.

One of our favorite medium peels is the Rejuvenize by SkinMedica because it delivers vibrant, radiant skin with minimal downtime. While some redness and perhaps even peeling may be expected, both are typically resolved within several days. Improvements are tangible after a single peel, with more knockout results expected when completed in a series.


Maybe you’re ready for a bigger peel - the deeper ones that carry more down- time and provide a longer, satisfying shedding of the skin. These peels will cause more sensation during application, from slight tingling to reasonably hot due to their intended depth of treatment. However, it’s worth noting that what we consider a deep peel in our clinic is still technically a ‘heavy medium.’ Although medium peels remove the top layer of the skin, they don’t penetrate deeply into the lower layers of the dermis. Laser resurfacing is our choice for deeper, safer dermal treatments.

We offer several “deeper” peels, including Jessner’s and TCA Peels. For the first 2-3 days after one of these deeper peels, you can expect your skin to feel slightly sunburned and possibly experience some swelling. As the skin’s outer layers dry up, real-deal shedding will last for 6-7 days. All of this is easy to mitigate, following the proper aftercare, and the dramatic results are worth it. 


Do I recommend applying at-home peels? No, absolutely not. I’ve seen the damage they can do, including burns, hyperpigmentation and scarring. However, I do recommend several products that mirror the effects of a lighter, superficial peel by safely exfoliating, keeping pores clear, and overall complementing a home skincare routine.

If your skin is not excessively sensitive, you can use acid- infused pads to give yourself a mini exfoliating peel at home. We carry several strengths and recommend patients begin 1-2 times/week. Use as you would a toner at night and increase frequency as tolerated. When you first start, skip your tretinoin (aka Retin-A) on peel nights.

If your skin is normal to oily or prone to acne, I recommend starting with our 5/2 glycolic salicylic acid pads, increasing to 10/2  as tolerate d. Our special Glow Pads can be e ven be used by sensitive skin types. All of these pads increase collagen and elastin in your skin, help reduce pore size and even out skin tone.


With all of the advantages a chemical peel can deliver, it’s very likely your skin could benefit from one of our most classic treatments. Contact us and let's unveil that flawless, glowing skin just beneath the surface!

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.