Are Chemical Peels Worth the Cost (And Do They Really Work)?


If you want smooth, clear and radiant skin (and who doesn’t?) then the classic chemical peel might be for you. They were once the gold-standard for skin rejuvenation – think back to the 1990s – but with the stratospheric rise of Botox and fillers, the peel has been relegated to the third spot on the most popular minimally invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States. But that’s still high on the list and there’s a good reason for its steady popularity: it works.

First off, what does a chemical peel do?

Results from a chemical peel can be immediate and in addition to radiant looking skin, a peel can also boost your own skin’s natural anti-aging powers. “As that topmost layer is shed, signals are sent to the living cells below to multiply and move up, to increase collagen production, to make more hyaluronic acid – to act younger,” David Bank, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia told Allure Magazine. That sloughing off of dead skin will also help other skincare products work more efficiently because they will penetrate deeper – so that vitamin C serum or retinol doesn’t have to work as hard to do its job. Smoother skin also means makeup will look fresher and last longer.

How much does a chemical peel cost?

Chemical peels are actually not as expensive as other skin treatments! And because it’s more affordable than say, a laser treatment, you can get multiple peels per year to maintain and address issues. The average peel costs $669 compared to over $1,000 for a laser treatment.

What skin concerns can a chemical peel target?

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons describes peels as “a chemical solution to improve the texture and tone of your skin by removing the damaged outer layers.” Sounds basic enough, right? Such a simple definition belies the host of concerns that peels take care of. Acne and acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles, irregular skin pigmentation, skin texture, and sun damage can all be treated with peels. However, peels have their limits; they won’t tighten sagging skin or remove deep wrinkles and scars. For those issues, there are other treatments both invasive and non-invasive.

Are there different levels of a chemical peel?

Yes, there are three degrees or levels of chemical peels available  – light, medium and deep – and you need to have a consultation with the cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist to see what is right for you.

Light peel: The chemicals used for this can be Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Salicylic Acid, and Maleic Acid. These are combinations of Alpha-hydroxy Acids and Beta-Hydroxy acids. You will feel stinging during the treatment and there will be redness after, but you can return to work that day. Skin flaking as the dead skin sloughs off will happen within 48 hours to a few days.

Medium Peel: This is for more severe acne scars, deeper wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. In addition to Glycolic Acid, other chemical agents include TCA (Trichloroacetic Acid) and Jessner’s solution, which was developed by New York dermatologist Max Jessner. It is a combination of Lactic Acid (AHA), Salicylic Acid (BHA) and Resorcinol (an exfoliant). Your skin will be red for a few days, with flaking beginning within 48 hours and lasting for a week. Basically, it feels like a bad sunburn. But the results can be amazing and can even prevent acne breakouts and treat dark spots more effectively than lasers. People with melasma (dark spots caused by hormonal shifts and surges like during pregnancy) will find peels are one of the best methods to keep skin tone even.

Deep Peel: This is a hardcore peel for people with deep scars and wrinkles or extreme sun damage. The chemical is called phenol and you will require local anesthetic and even a sedative for the comfort factor. You’ll be swollen, red and have flaking skin and need approximately two weeks of downtime before returning to regular activities.

What does after-treatment care involve?

Of course, you should be wearing a high SPF sunscreen every day, all year round, but following a peel of any strength, you will need to be very strict with your sun care routine. When you leave the treatment room, the nurse or dermatologist who applied the peel will ensure you are wearing sunscreen already. But ensure your supply at home is plentiful because your skin will be uber-sensitive to UVA/UVA rays immediately following treatment and for weeks after.

There are also some at-home peels you can try but again, it is wise to get a dermatologist to weigh in on your specific needs and skin type before attempting a DIY product. But there are some amazing products on the market – the beauty brands you know and love pretty much all have a version – so take your time to research your specific issues and what combination of chemical peel is right for you. These peels fall into the “light” category but you will see results if you stick to the regime.

Here are 5 DIY at-home peel solutions that work:

QRxLabs Glycolic Acid 20% Resurfacing Pads

These pads are made at an FDA-registered facility and contain 20% Glycolic Acid and are also formulated with Vitamins B5, C, and E, to help hydrate skin and repair sun damage. The product contains 50 pads per jar.

Dermalogica Rapid Reveal Peel

This professional-grade peel uses lactic acid to achieve the radiant skin you desire. Each treatment is contained in one small tube (also makes this great for travel). The brand suggests you kick-start your routine by using a tube every day for 3 days before going to weekly usage. This product includes 10 peels and a travel bag.

The Ordinary AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution

A cult-fave with a combo of alpha hydroxy acid (to dissolve that top layer of dead skin) and beta hydroxy acid (which help clear pore congestion) offers up a deep exfoliation to give you the glow you crave.

Neostrata Perfecting Peel

The kit comes with 13 peels pads and 13 neutralizing pads which can be used weekly. The combination of Glycolic and Citric Acid works perfectly to exfoliate and smooth skin. We also like the convenience of the individually wrapped pads for travel.

Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment

Another cult favorite, this Kate Somerville product is formulated with Lactic, Glycolic and Malic Acids to dissolve dead skin cells and rejuvenate skin. Fruit enzymes and tea tree extract help soothe and calm inflammation.


Kim Izzo