Chemical skin peel

Your skin peel questions answered

In partnership with SA’s top medical aesthetic companies

There are many negative conceptions surrounding chemical skin peels. But did you know they can help with acne damage, fine lines and wrinkles, skin clarity and even hyperpigmentation?

How do skin peels work?

Peels involve the application of a chemical agent to create controlled exfoliation and stimulate regeneration of new skin. They’ve been used by doctors and skin-care therapists for over 60 years because they are truly effective.

Demystifying the treatment

  • The words “chemical” and “peel” are probably the main reason some people are afraid, possibly because they envision industrial-strength chemicals being used on their skin. The reality is that most chemical peels are derived from natural sources – glycolic acid from sugar cane, lactic acid from sour milk and salicylic acid from willow, while enzymatic peels are derived from papaya and pumpkin, for instance. And their action depends on the strength and type of agent used.
  • Peels make the skin thinner. This is a common misconception, but in fact, the opposite is true. While they remove layers of skin from the surface, the inflammatory response that this action creates actually stimulates healing and the regeneration of newer, plumper healthier skin.
  • Peels hurt. Superficial peels may result in a slight tingling or mild stinging sensation during treatment. TCA peels are deeper peels and they are much more aggressive than the superficial peels, and can therefore be painful. These deep peels may require pain relief, but are done under a doctor’s supervision.
  • You can’t go out in public for weeks while your skin heals. It depends on the depth of your peel. The crusty skin that falls off in sheets normally only result from very deep chemical peels (usually TCA) performed by physicians, but these are not so common anymore because laser treatments can do similar resurfacing without significant downtime.

Superficial peels can cause little or no visible exfoliation, while medium peels will leave you slightly red and with some visible peeling.

Choose your peel

Chemical peels are classified according to the depth to which they penetrate. Superficial peels remove only the outermost layer of skin (the stratum corneum) and are used to reduce the appearance of fine lines, even out skin tone and to treat acne.

Medium-depth peels remove the epidermis, and deep peels can remove down to the papillary dermis. As they penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, they create a wound response and also stimulate collagen production.

These peels are available in the various strengths – and the appropriate strength will be chosen to suit your skin’s requirements.

Peels are not a once-off treatment

Having a peel once will have a visible effect on your skin’s appearance, but the best outcomes are achieved if you slot peels into your regular skin regime, especially if you have significant environmental damage.

A course of four to six peels, four weeks apart, is recommended for optimal results, and aftercare is vitally important, so remember to use an effective moisturiser and sun protection on a daily basis.

And stay out of the sun. If you have chemical peels and continue to sunbathe, you will most likely end up with more damage than before.


As with all advanced skin treatments, the results and possible undesirable side effects often depend on the qualification and expertise of the practitioner. This is why it is critically important, if you’re considering a chemical peel, to have a consultation with a qualified doctor, dermatologist, or skin-care therapist. They need to consider your skin type, the degree of sun damage, acne, pigmentation, medication, current skin care regime etc. to decide which type of peel is suitable for your skin and your needs.

They may use different peels on different areas depending on the sensitivity of the area, and take into consideration that skin may be more sensitive in drier climates or seasons.


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