Do Chemical Peels Work?

Laser Skin Treatment

Do Chemical Peels Work?

A chemical peel involves applying a chemical agent to the skin to exfoliate thickened, sun-damaged skin while stimulating collagen production that firms the skin. Chemical peels are useful for skin resurfacing and treating brown spots and wrinkles. But do chemical peels really work?

AHA Peels

Alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) peels use glycolic acid as a peeling agent, and these peels are considered superficial mild peels. The concentrations range from 30-70%. According to experts, AHA peels have been proven effective for improving skin texture, minimizing the appearance of acne scaring, causing elastin and collagen rebuilding, and reducing the appearance of skin discoloration. AHA peels at a MedSpa are administered in a higher concentration than those you can get over-the-counter. For the treatment of melasma, researchers found that AHA peels improved skin appearance in 80% of clients.

BHA Peels

Beta hydroxyl acid (BHA), also called salicylic acid peels, are not as popular as AHA peels. However, they work just as well. Salicylic acid is closely related to aspirin, and it has anti-inflammatory properties. A deep BHA peel is best for sensitive skin types because the inflammation is kept to a minimum due to an analgesic effect in the BHA compound. The most common concentrations of BHA peels used today are 20-30%. BHA is a lipid soluble acid and it works well as a peeling agent for blemish-prone skin with blackheads, as well as skin with rosacea. In a study involving salicylic acid peels, researchers found that they had a 66% efficacy rate for dark skinned patients.

TCA Peels

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels, often referred to as Blue Peels, are available in concentrations up to 50%. TCA peels are mild to medium peels and have a documented history of being safe and effective. This peel can be used on the face, neck, and other body regions, and it has less bleaching effect than phenol. TCA peels work best for fine lines and age spots. The TCA peel is less effective on deep wrinkles, but can be used successfully for fine lines. In a study involving 40% TCA peels for the treatment of actinic keratosis, solar lentigines, and sun damage, researchers found that the peel was effective.

Phenol Peels

Phenol is a deep peel used for severe wrinkling and sun damage. Known to permanently bleach the skin, phenol produces the most remarkable resolution of acne damage. In a buffered phenol peel, the solution strength is weakened using olive oil or glycerin. The downtime is longer with a phenol peel, but it offers the most dramatic results. In a study involving modified phenol peels, researchers found that this peel had a 64% success rate for treated acne scars and wrinkles.

What a Peel Can Do

With any chemical peel, you need to have realistic expectations. Chemical peels cannot remove or reduce the appearance of blood vessels, raised scars, or enlarged pores. In addition, peels have only mild effects for improving skin discoloration for people with darker skin. However, chemical peels can make the skin look smoother, healthier, and they will help fade brown spots, uneven skin tone from sun damage, and rough skin. For sufficient collagen stimulation that improves the appearance of wrinkles, you must have a chemical peel done on a regular basis, such as every 6-8 weeks.

It is important to remember that while chemical peels offer some benefits, they are not a cure-all for aging skin. It is best to use a chemical peel in conjunction with other procedures, such as BOTOX and dermal fillers. For best results, apply sunscreen after your peel to avoid further sun damage.


Grimes PE. The safety and efficacy of salicylic acid chemical peels in darker racial-ethnic groups.Dermatol Surg. 1999;25:18–22.

Humphreys TR, Werth V, Dzubow L, Kligman A. Treatment of photodamaged skin with trichloroacetic acid and topical tretinoin. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1996;34:638–644.

Park JH, Choi YD, Kim SW, Kim YC, Park SW. Effectiveness of modified phenol peel (Exoderm) on facial wrinkles, acne scars and other skin problems of Asian patients. J Dermatol. 2007;34:17–24.

Sarkar R, Kaur C, Bhalla M, Kanwar AJ. The combination of glycolic acid peels with a topical regimen in the treatment of melasma in dark-skinned patients: a comparative study. Dermatol Surg. 2002;28:828–832.discussion 32.

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