Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/16/2021
If you have age spots or an uneven skin tone, you may have considered a chemical peel — a treatment known for addressing both of those skin issues (as well as some others!).
This in-office procedure has a few different severities in terms of how it affects your skin and what the recovery or downtime might be. It’s also important to know that after you get one, you will need to take extra care of your face, as your skin will likely be sensitive.
Here, we will dive into exactly how to care for your skin after a chemical peel. But first, learn more about the procedure.
The goal of a chemical peel is to strip away dead skin and, in doing so, remove signs of aging.
It’s most often done as a treatment for the face, neck and chest.
A chemical peel is sometimes called derma-peeling, and it resurfaces your face to reveal a smoother skin texture by removing damaged outer layers.
Peels are also sometimes performed as a way to address acne scars (read more about how long it takes for acne scars to fade).
After a chemical peel, you may notice fewer lines, a more even skin tone, smoother skin and a brighter complexion.
Here’s how the process typically takes place: First, a chemical peel should be performed by a healthcare professional. Before they begin the actual peel, they will cleanse your skin. Next, they’ll apply the peel (which is a chemical solution of some kind — more on that soon).
You’ll likely experience a bit of warmth or tingling on your skin. It may even sting.
There are three different classifications of peels.
Superficial: This is sometimes referred to as a “lunchtime peel” because it doesn’t leave evidence that you had anything done, so you can go about your day as you normally would. An alpha-hydroxy acid (or another gentle acid) is applied to your complexion to slough away dead skin to help reduce mild discoloration and rough texture. These peels can be done weekly.
Medium: This type of chemical peel utilizes glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to penetrate the outer and middle layer of skin. The result: Age spots, fine lines and freckles are improved.
Deep: When applied, trichloroacetic acid or phenol deeply penetrates the middle layer of your skin to remove damaged skin cells. Going under anesthesia is required for a deep chemical peel and it is done in a surgical setting. It can also only be done once.
As with any procedure, there are some possible side effects associated with a chemical peel (especially with a medium or deep peel). Check them out:
Sensitivity to sunlight
After getting a chemical peel, you can expect to see results within two weeks.
Because you are removing layers of skin when you undergo a chemical peel, your skin will need some extra TLC (and a good deal of moisture!) afterward.
The type of chemical peel you get will determine how you need to care for your face. With a superficial peel, it will take up to a week to heal. During that time it’s important to apply moisturizer and SPF on a daily basis.
You can read more about incorporating these types of products into your daily regimen in our guide to building a face care routine.
If you get a medium peel, it usually takes between seven and 14 days to heal, and your skin is likely to be red and swollen during this time. You may get some blisters and will notice your skin crusting and flaking off.
You will be told to soak your skin daily, along with applying an ointment prescribed by your healthcare professional.
A deep peel is the most intense type of chemical peel, and can take up to three weeks to heal. Your face will likely be bandaged for at least part of this time. You will likely be told to soak your skin multiple times a day.
For the first two weeks after a deep peel, you will need to apply an ointment (prescribed by your healthcare professional). After that, you can switch over to a rich moisturizer.
You may also need to take an antibiotic medication to prevent infection. Oh, and SPF is also a must. Plus, you will be advised to avoid direct sun exposure for three to six months.
All in all, a good moisturizer and daily sunscreen will be crucial to healing after a chemical peel.
For your face cream, look for ultra-hydrating ingredients to soothe skin and replenish moisture. Squalene, alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid and jojoba oil are all prime ingredients to consider. Hers has a facial moisturizer and glow oil option that could be good for you.
As for sunscreen, it bears repeating that it is a must. Your skin is extremely sensitive after a peel and the sun can make it worse.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests a broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning that it protects you from UVA and UVB rays. It should also have a minimum of SPF 30.
Getting a chemical peel can improve the texture of your skin and reduce (or even eliminate) uneven skin tone and discoloration. That said, you may notice you have sensitive skin for some time after your peel.
Depending on the type of peel you get (usually referred to as a superficial, medium or deep peel), your downtime varies — as does exactly how you should care for your face afterward. Recovery time is also different for each type.
For medium and deep chemical peels, you’ll be told to soak your face (often in cool water, as you may be told to avoid hot water) in the days following your procedure.
Then, moisturizer and sunscreen will become your best friends: Both will greatly help with your healing process. The first keeps skin hydrated while the second protects healing skin.
If you are interested in considering a chemical peel for healthier skin, it’s a good idea to first speak with a healthcare professional to assess if it would address your skin concerns — and also to see if your skin could handle it.
They can help you identify your skin type, as well as skin care products that can help your skin heal.