What Are The Differences Between Chemical Peels?

By Kara Roth, LA February 6, 2015 5 Comments

different chemical peels

Chemical peels are a great way to refresh and rejuvenate the skin. However, with so many different peels available on the market and everyone from salons to board certified dermatologists offering peels, picking the right peel for your individual needs can be difficult. Before choosing a chemical peel it’s important to understand how its formulation and strength will affect your skin.

Chemical Peel Basics

Chemical peels are topically applied formulas that revitalize the skin surface by creating an even and controlled shedding of the skin cells. This allows new layers to be exposed, creating a fresh appearance and smoother texture to the skin surface.

A chemical peel can improve sun damage, acne scarring, blotchy pigmentation, fine lines and early pre-cancerous skin lesions. A peel can also improve acne-prone skin and clogged pores.

The level of skin cell removal and depth of penetration is dependent on the type of peel used, its level of strength and the duration of the treatment. PH level is the best factor to estimate a peel’s power along with how far the peel will penetrate. A good rule of thumb is that any peel with a PH level of less than 2.5 should be performed by a qualified medical professional. Peels with a PH level of 3 or above can be applied by non-medical providers such as a beauty salon since they tend to have a more minimal effect on the skin.

Chemical peels are often categorized as superficial, medium and deep depending on their percentage of active ingredients and PH level.

Superficial (Light) Peel

  • Lightly refreshes the skin
  • Will leave skin slightly smoother with less blemishes

Superficial peels are the most gentle type of chemical peel. These peels are usually made from alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids, known as AHAs and BHAs but can also include glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid. A recent trend in superficial peels is to utilize fruit enzymes from pineapples, cranberries and other acidic fruits. Superficial peels remove the epidermis (top layer of skin) which provides a slight improvement to the skin. This type of peel is great for individuals with very minimal traits of aging, sun damage and acne scaring. However, many people notice significant improvements in their skin after undergoing multiple peels overtime.

Superficial peels are absolutely painless with most patients reporting nothing more than a slight tingling sensation. Also, there is minimal recovery time involved; superficial peels are often referred to as lunchtime peels as many women go back to work after treatment without any noticeable differences. You may be slightly red afterwards but this can be easily disguised with makeup.

Medium Depth Peels

  • Corrects moderate wrinkles, lines and sun damage
  • Skin will be significantly smoother with even tone and moderate lines and blemishes removed.

Medium peels produce a more dramatic result compared to superficial peels. This type of peel sometimes utilizes trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to penetrate the skin and remove layers below the epidermis. As such medium peels can treat moderate pigmentation, wrinkles and sun damage.

Most patients who undergo medium peels report feeling slight to moderate discomfort, usually in the form of minor burning or stinging. This discomfort typically subsides 30 minutes to an hour after treatment. Medium peels also produce more peeling of the skin and thus the face can become swollen, pink and itchy after treatment. Generally, full recovery takes about one week from treatment.

A very popular medium depth peel that we offer is the Vitalize Peel.

Deep Peels

  • Corrects deep lines and wrinkles along with moderate to severe sun damage and hyperpigmentation.
  • Produces drastically smoother and youthful appearing skin.

Deep peels are the strongest type of chemical peel available and can achieve amazing results for sun damage, scarring and deep lines and wrinkles. Their main ingredient is usually carbolic acid (Phenol) or high strength TCA; both of which penetrate down to the deep layers of the dermis.

Due to their power, deep peels can be moderately painful and full recovery could take months. Deep peels leave the skin very red and swollen in appearance. Typically, the skin becomes itchy as it heals. Eventually, the skin develops scabs and becomes fully healed; leaving a completely revitalized new layer.


Kara Roth, LA

Kara Roth, Licensed Aesthetician, received her education at Avenue Five Institute and the Texas Aesthetics Training Academy in Austin. Kara specializes in laser and cosmetic procedures including Laser Hair Removal, chemical peels, V-Beam , Hydrafacial MD, Microdermabrasion, Cooltouch for acne, Clear and Brilliant, and Fraxel.


5 Responses to “What Are The Differences Between Chemical Peels?”

  1. Sela says:

    Big fan of your peels (hydra), I would tell everyone reading to give it a try!

  2. Occy says:

    Very nice article and right to the point. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Jay says:

    very well explained thanks. I was wondering what the differences in peels were and your post was very helpful.

  4. Caden says:

    Great explanation about the different kinds of peels! For me, I would probably go with the medium one as my skin isn’t too bad to get the deep one. If I did go with that peel, I would probably have to find someone to do it for me as I have never done it before. Do you think I could do it myself or would it be best to get it done professionally?

    • WD Staff WD Staff says:

      Hi Caden,

      Thanks for your great comment and for reading our post! We would definitely recommend seeing a professional, even for medium strength peels. It’s just a good idea to be assessed by a professional, not only for safety but to find the right peel to accomplish your goals.

      Thanks again!

      WD Staff

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