Those experiencing acne may try numerous remedies without achieving relief. A chemical peel uniquely formulated to address acne-prone skin could be the solution!

What Is a Chemical Peel?

A chemical peel is a dermatologic exfoliating treatment that reduces the appearance of uneven skin tone, melasma, acne outbreaks, sun damage, fine lines and other textural issues. A chemical solution is applied to the surface of the skin, which accelerates the removal and shedding of dull skin cells. This stimulates young, healthy new skin cells to come to the surface, resulting in a smoother, healthier, and more even skin tone and texture. There are three levels of this procedure:

1. Light chemical peel
This superficial peel removes only the outermost surface layers of skin and may be used to treat acne, fine lines, wrinkles, dryness, uneven skin tone, and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This type of peel can be performed every two to five weeks.

2. Medium chemical peel

This peel removes the outer skin layers as well as some of the upper epidermal skin layers, and it may be used to treat acne scars, moderate wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. This type of peel may be repeated occasionally to achieve and maintain desired results.

3. Deep chemical peel

This peel removes even deeper layers of skin and may be used to treat severe wrinkles, deeper scars, or precancerous growths. Usually, only one treatment is necessary. Deep chemical peels are not traditionally used to treat acne-prone skin.

How Does a Chemical Peel Help Acne?

As an acne treatment, chemical peels can be incredibly effective by encouraging skin cell turnover, resulting in newer, healthier, blemish-free skin. A chemical peel can significantly reduce the appearance of acne and restore a more even skin tone. Chemical peels can also minimize many acne scars since they remove the surface skin containing the scar tissue. Often, the new skin will show little to no indications of a former acne scar.

What's it Like to Get a Chemical Peel for Acne?

Before the Procedure

Your Dermatologist will conduct a physical evaluation of your skin to determine what type of peel and chemical formula should be used. They'll assess anything that may affect your results, including your physical features, skin color, and skin thickness.

Preparation for a chemical peel also requires a review of your medical history. Your Derm will also need to know whether you scar easily and if you have any history of getting cold sores. In the days or weeks before your peel, you may be advised to:

Take antiviral medication: This can help prevent infection during healing.

Use a retinoid cream: This can help prepare your skin for the chemical peel.

Avoid sun exposure: Too much sun exposure before a chemical peel can result in permanent irregular skin hyperpigmentation.

Avoid certain behaviors: Certain hair removal treatments, facial masks, and facial scrubs can interfere with the treatment.

During the Procedure

A chemical peel is usually performed at the Dermatologist's office or in an outpatient facility. Your skin will be cleansed, and your hair and eyes will be covered for protection. The procedure itself takes approximately 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the depth of the peel. A light chemical peel usually doesn't require pain relief, whereas a medium chemical peel may require a painkiller or sedative. Only these two treatment depths are generally used for acne and acne scars.

Light chemical peel procedure: A chemical peel solution will be applied to your skin using a brush, gauze, sponge, or cotton ball. The solution will usually contain salicylic acid or glycolic acid, two natural substances that have been well-established by the scientific community as acne combatants. The treated skin will whiten, and you may feel a slight stinging sensation. Afterward, a neutralizing solution is often applied.

Medium chemical peel procedure: A chemical peel solution will be applied to your skin using gauze or a cotton-tipped applicator. The solution will usually contain trichloroacetic acid, which has been medically proven as an effective treatment for acne and post acne scarring. The treated skin will immediately whiten, and you may feel stinging or burning. Cool compresses or fans may be used to cool the skin during treatment. No neutralizing solution is needed.

After the Procedure

After the procedure, your skin will be red and may feel tight, dry, irritated, or swollen. Your skin may also feel more sensitive to the sun for a time. It's important to avoid rubbing, scratching, or picking at your skin while it heals. The treated skin will form a crust, sometimes with dark patches, which will ultimately peel off on its own. Gently soaking and cleansing the skin and then applying EltaMD Moisturizer or EltaMD Skin Recovery Toner for three days facilitates re-epithelialization, your body's wound healing process. Cold packs and over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce any discomfort during healing. Sun protection should be a daily habit, but using a mineral sunscreen like EltaMD UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is extremely important during this time.

If you had a light chemical peel, you may be able to wear makeup by the next day and should expect full healing within about seven days. The new skin may temporarily appear lighter or darker than normal. If you had a medium chemical peel, you should wait five to seven days to wear makeup. You should be able to expect full healing within seven to 14 days, but your skin may appear redder than normal for up to several months.

A light or medium chemical peel can noticeably improve the appearance of acne and acne scars. If you've been struggling to find a proper solution for your skin, talk with your Dermatologist about chemical peels for acne. With this treatment, you can experience dramatic results and achieve smoother, healthier skin.


  • Brandon Kirsch, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Brandon Kirsch is the President and Chief Executive Officer at, a dermatologist-led online platform providing personalized prescriptions to treat skin conditions. Dr. Kirsch also serves as Chief of Dermatology for the Naples Community Hospital and is the founder of Kirsch Dermatology in Naples, Florida.

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