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chemical peeling

Chemical Peel for Acne Scars: A Step-by-Step Guide to Chemical Peeling

What are chemical peels?

In a chemical peel, exfoliating acids are applied to the skin (usually of your face) to remove debris, oil and dead skin. When this surface layer is removed, new, clearer, smoother skin emerges. 

It performs a kind of controlled injury to the skin, the degree of which depends on how strong the acid is. Once the skin is injured, it peels off to reveal new skin cells to replace the old skin. It can be expected that since the cells are new, your skin should look more glowing, smooth and fresh.

Are chemical peels effective for acne scars?

Since the new layer of skin is not affected by acne, the surface level scars should disappear. Deeper scars can look lightened when a peel is used. The kind of peel used depends on your level of scarring, but mostly superficial peels suffice.

It is believed by dermatologists that chemical peels offer better exfoliation than physical scrubs because they help to generate more collagen. The collagen fills in the pits left behind from hormonal acne and the skin appears more dewy and glowing.

The surface level peels contain mainly alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid. If you require medium or deep peels, they mostly consist of trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or phenol-based compounds and are much more likely to cause side effects.

What are the benefits of a chemical peel?

There are many benefits offered by a chemical peel, which include:

  • A reduction in acne
  • Lightening of pigmentation
  • Even skin tone
  • Smoother skin
  • Improved penetration of skincare products
  • A boost in naturally occurring hyaluronic acid in the skin for plump and luminous skin

At-home vs In-clinic chemical peels

Both at-home and in-clinic peels can be effective against acne, but the ones available at a doctor’s office are stronger. The clinic ones remove the top layer of the skin while unclogging the pores to improve skin texture.

Chemicals are gently rubbed on in a clinic, causing the old, tough skin to blister and fall off. You can end up looking like you've had a severe sunburn. Aftercare advice from your doctor will include wearing strong sunscreen to preserve the new layer of skin. Make sure you follow their instructions to the letter to avoid unwanted side effects on your skin.

At-home peels are milder and are helpful to lighten surface scars and dark spots. You can try at-home home peels with the following acids:

  • Salicylic acid - To control oil and remove dirt from pores.
  • Glycolic acid - An AHA used to exfoliate the surface of the skin.
  • Phytic acid - Good for sensitive skin that has hyperpigmentation left from inflammation.
  • Lactic acid - For exfoliation and dark spot reduction.
  • Mandelic acid - Good for darker skin tones, especially where minimizing large pores are concerned.

How do you perform an at-home chemical peel treatment?

At-home chemical peels are simple to perform and even though instructions vary from product to product, they broadly remain as follows:

  • Cleansing - Use a mild and neutral cleanser without active ingredients and acids to clean your skin.
  • Prep your skin - Use a pH solution to clean and balance out your skin.
  • Apply the peeling solution - Apply the solution all over your face from forehead to chin, avoiding the lips and the eye areas.
  • Wait - Read the product instructions to see how long you should wait with the peel on your face. Generally, it ranges from 3 to 10 minutes.
  • Wash your face - Use warm water and the same neutral cleanser you used before. Some peels need to be left on your face, so follow the product instructions.
  • Moisturizer - After drying your face, apply a neutral moisturizer that does not contain any acids or retinoids.
  • Use once a week - You should not use a chemical peel more than once a week and always make sure to follow it up with sunscreen and no exercise for the next 24 hours.

How do you take care of your skin afterwards?

It’s important to take care of your skin after getting a chemical peel and you can do it as follows:

  • Avoid the sun - Too much sun exposure can delay the healing process and result in more pigmentation. Always wear sunscreen over at least SPF 30 before stepping out.
  • Hydrate - You can get redness and irritation, and some swelling, after a peel. Drink adequate water to help your body generate a healthy dermis and collagen.
  • Bandaging - If you used a medium or deep peel, you may get blisters on your skin that will turn brown and crusty before peeling off over the fortnight. You may need to use bandages on your skin depending on how severe your blisters are.

Are there any downsides to a chemical peel?

Along with the benefits, there are a few potential downsides to a chemical peel:

  • Crusting and hyperpigmentation - Glycolic acid peels may give you some hyperpigmentation and crusting, which usually resolve within 8 months and are more uncommon during winter months due to less sun exposure.
  • Persistent redness - Sometimes, you may notice some persistent redness and temporary pigmentation, which can be avoided with better aftercare and the use of a milder peel.


  • The bottom line

    Chemical peels for acne scars can give you a tremendous confidence boost, especially if your skin is patchy or has deeper pitting. They're beneficial to people of all ages since they diminish fine lines and deep wrinkles. However, exercise caution when using at-home chemical peels for acne scars, and consult a physician if you require more intensive therapy.

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