Chemical peels: What you need to know

Nov 28, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. ET

Have you ever wondered how your favorite celebs keep their complexions glowing? A lot of them rely on (or have at least tried) chemical peels. What are they and how do they work? We’re here to give you the scoop on this skin care treatment.

Can peels make you pretty?
Woman with retouched skin

What are they?

One of the least invasive ways to improve the look of your skin (depending on the strength of the treatment), chemical peels are known to offer a whole host of beauty benefits, including removing blemishes, blotches and age spots, giving skin a youthful, glowing appearance and minimizing (or even eliminating) fine lines and wrinkles.

Why get one?

Everything from sun exposure and aging to acne and clogged pores can leave you with an uneven skin tone, fine lines, scarring and a dull, lackluster complexion. If you want your skin to look smoother, younger and more vibrant, a chemical peel can make a significant difference. Not to mention, depending on what you want to treat, they can be fast. Sometimes referred to as the “lunchtime peel,” depending on the strength of peel you opt for, the treatment requires minimal down time, making it easy to get one on your lunch break.

How do they work?

Although the word “chemical” might sound scary, it's not as frightening as it sounds. Fresher, smoother skin is achieved with a chemical solution which works to smooth the texture of your skin by removing the damaged outer layers. Chemical solutions are carefully applied to your skin in one of three strengths, and the formula used by your doctor can be adjusted based on your needs and skin type. The type of acid used also plays a key role since some are stronger than others.

Types of peels

Depending on what you want to achieve — clearer complexion, smoother skin, minimized scarring, etc. — there should be a peel to suit your needs. Peels formulated with alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are the mildest form of peels (referred to as superficial peels). Medium peels are stronger and treat skin with surface wrinkles and uneven skin tone or pigment problems. Varying strengths are used to adjust the depth of the peel, depending on what complexion concerns you have.

Deep peels require the use of the strongest solution but achieve the most dramatic results — think deeper wrinkles smoothed out and blotchiness banished.

Make a note

The stronger the peel, the higher the chance for discomfort, redness and longer recovery time. Your doctor will work with you to find the perfect complexion perfecting concoction.

More beauty tips and trends

5 Skin cleansing mistakes you could be making
Seasonal skin shift: Prepping your skin for colder weather
The secret to getting illuminated skin