If you have sunspots, acne marks or scars, you might be thinking about a chemical peel. But what’s the right one for you?

It may seem like there are a million options when it comes to chemical peels. While there are a lot of choices that vary in strength, from DIY at home to heavy duty, we asked two experts what you need to know to find the right peel for you.


What kinds of peels exist?

There are three main types of chemical peels, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS).

  • A superficial or lunchtime peel exfoliates the outer layer of skin with a mild acid like alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA).
  • A medium peel removes damaged skin cells from the outer and middle layers of the skin, using glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid (TCA).
  • A deep peel penetrates the middle layer of skin with TCA or phenol.


Related: Q&A: Tips for choosing the right chemical peel


What can be treated with a peel?

Superficial chemical peels can treat mild skin discoloration, acne marks and rough skin. A medium peel helps with age spots, fine lines, wrinkles, freckles and moderate skin discoloration. Deep peels treat moderate lines, age spots, freckles and shallow scars.

How many treatments will I need and what will it cost?

“Light peels average $250 to $350 each for the face … and usually need to be done as a series,” said Dr. David Hansen, a Beverly Hills dermatologic surgeon. “Six peels spaced two weeks apart is good since there is no down time.” 

With medium and deep peels there is only one treatment, and the downtime is considerable.

“For medium peels, about $750 to $1,500 for the face, the first day you are pink like a sunburn, then the second to fourth day you start to turn brown or darker since the dead skin is getting ready to come off,” said Dr. Hansen. “Then the fifth to seventh day you are peeling like a lizard. The end results with all medium peels are seen about three months later.”


Related: See how much chemical peels cost near you


What else should I know?

Make sure you get your peels from a qualified medical expert. Absolutely do not shop by price.

“To be an expert in peels you have to be a dermatologist specializing in chemicals, know its interactions with skin, and be very experienced,” said Dr. Afshin Farzadmehr, a Los Angeles dermatologic surgeon. “That is more important than price, since if the practitioner doesn’t know much and uses the wrong peel, then the patient is wasting money. Make sure you go to a board-certified dermatologist who does peels routinely.”

Also keep in mind that your full results may take a while to show up.

“Patients often think that if your skin didn’t flake or peel that much then it didn’t work,” said Dr. Hansen. “That is not true. You usually only flake or peel the most on the first peel since it has the most sun-damaged dead layers coming off.

“Any other peel subsequently won’t have as much superficial dead skin to come off. The acid is able to penetrate deeper and thus this allows the acid to penetrate the deeper tissue more to produce more collagen and elastic tissue which shows up three months later as tighter, plumper skin. I recommend at least one medium chemical peel per year for everyone.”


Looking for an expert? Find a doctor near you.