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It’s Chemical Peel Season! So what is it all about?

What is a chemical peel? Does it work? Why do it? What’s ‘downtime’ mean? Am I going to look like Samantha from Sex and the City?

Oh my gosh, so many questions and so little time. But what better topic for a blog, am I right? So let's dive in!

As an Esthetician, I get asked so many questions, a lot of them about chemical peels. I’ve learned over the years to gauge my clients’ comfort level with chemical peels before I dive into full-on recommending one even if I think it is what would be the best solution for their issues and the results that they are wanting to see. I get it. Just the words ‘chemical peel‘ can be intimidating. I too was once scared of chemical peels, not knowing exactly what they were, how it would feel, and how sensitive my skin would be. I was once told I would never be able to do a chemical peel because of how sensitive I am. Not true! There are so many misconceptions about skincare in general, but a lot to do with chemical peels. So let's get down to answering some of the most asked questions.

What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is an acid solution (usually salicylic, glycolic, lactic are very common ones) that is wiped or brushed onto the skin. Different acids do different things and your esthetician will pick the ones that are right for you, but basically they all cause a chemical reaction with the skin that stimulates exfoliation or sloughing of dead skin cells, as we say in the industry. Our skin already naturally sloughs dead skin cells to a certain degree, but chemical peels speed up this process and trigger cell renewal. That means it causes a reaction that sends a message to the skin to push more, newer skin cells to the surface. Pretty cool, right?

Does it work?

To answer this question, I will refer to my previous blog post titled "Does it work? Using professional treatments to fix common skincare issues." Even though I speak about treatments in general, not just chemical peels, it does answer the question.

Why do it?

To be honest, (and I pride myself on honesty), chemical peels are not for everyone. I have lots of clients who do microdermabrasion or facials because that is better for their skin. It doesn't happen often, but I have some people who would react in a bad way to a chemical peel if they did one because no matter what level you do, their skin wouldn't like it. For people who I'm not sure how their skin will react, a patch test is always recommended!

But for the people whose skin does love it, (including yours truly), it is like magic! It can get rid of acne, lighten sun damage and pigmentation, smooth out wrinkles, and ultimately leave the skin feeling baby soft and glowing.

Is a chemical peel painful?

While pain is obviously subjective, I do not classify chemical peels as painful. I have always considered myself to have a fairly low pain tolerance and if I can do it, anyone can! I always explain to my clients before applying a peel solution that what they might experience is anything from a mild tingling to a prickliness or itching to a more aggressive stinging. I also always tell my clients ahead of time (after a thorough consultation and questionnaire), that I will ask them how it feels on a scale from one to ten after each layer is applied. This is both to gauge comfort level and help determine* whether more layers will be applied. (*This is not the only determining factor!) And of course, a trained professional never goes in with their strongest peel on a brand new client. Big no no!

What does 'downtime' mean? Am I going to look like Samantha from Sex and the City?

If you remember that episode, you know what I'm talking about, and yes, I do get asked this last question a lot. (It really made an impression!) The short and most direct answer is no, of course not, it was a tv show. But if she had been a real person and her chemical peel came out looking something like that, she probably had it done at a plastic surgeon's office. There are deep chemical peels that can be very aggressive and cause significant downtime, but they require a medical professional, and (in my opinion), you do not have to be that aggressive to see results. Leading to the next answer, 'downtime' is typically the term we use to mean the amount of time your skin will potentially be shedding or peeling after the initial application. Because it is a chemical reaction, the skin takes time to respond and will do so over the next few days. There are all different levels of peels. The more aggressive the peel, the more potential downtime. Lighter, superficial peels are little to no downtime at all. Stronger peels can take about a week to finish peeling. Again, a professional will take you through everything you need to know about potential downtime and after care.


A chemical peel is a great method of exfoliation if your skin can tolerate it, which most can. There is also a lot of flexibility in what chemical peel you use, how it works, the ingredients in the chemical peel, and the desired outcome. An expert esthetician should be consulted, one who has had extensive training in this area, and of course, experience.

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