Chemical peels involve the application of strong chemicals that dissolve the outer layer of skin on the face, neck, or hands. Over time, the resulting layer of skin looks fresh and almost blemish-free. Peels can diminish wrinkles, acne scars, crow's feet, and uneven coloring.

Chemical peels differ in the depth of the skin layer that is removed. Superficial peels, the shallowest type, improve the skin's appearance for a couple of weeks, but do not remove scars and wrinkles. Deep peels, on the other hand, have longer-lasting and more prominent results, but may be painful and require a longer recovery period.

Patients may be advised to discontinue certain medications prior to a chemical peel. The type of chemical used is based on the type of skin damage being treated. First, the treatment area is cleansed with a special soap. When the solution is applied to the skin, the patient may feel a warm or stinging sensation. Deeper peels may require pain medication or an anesthetic.

A physician can help a patient decide whether a chemical peel is the best option. Dark or olive-skinned people should weigh their options carefully, as peels may result in splotchy discoloration. Patients who have liver, kidney, or heart problems should avoid peels because the bloodstream can absorb the chemical solution used.

No matter what type of peel is performed, it is important to stay out of the sun following treatment. Superficial peels usually heal within a week, after some redness and scaling. Deeper peels often have a longer recovery period. Risks involve swelling, crusting, and discoloration that can last for several months.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 27 Jul 2006

Last Modified: 19 Nov 2014