Are chemical peels safe for all skin types?

Some deep chemical peels can lead to permanent bleaching of the skin. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
Some deep chemical peels can lead to permanent bleaching of the skin. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
Gary John Norman/Lifesize/Getty Images

If fine lines and scars are aging you unnecessarily, a chemical peel could make you look years younger. These simple procedures work by getting rid of damaged skin cells and allowing newer, healthier cells to surface. They have the ability to diminish wrinkles and get rid of blemishes -- some can even be effective in improving precancerous lesions. Chemical peels are generally safe, but there are possible complications, and not every peel is right for all skin types.

There are three different levels of chemical peels: mild, medium and deep. Mild treatments, like glycolic acid peels, are suitable for many skin types and give the skin a smoother, brighter look [source: AAD]. The least likely to produce negative side effects, these peels remove only the top layers of damaged skin, but you'll probably need multiple treatments to get the results you're looking for. Keep in mind, however, that even the mildest chemical peel still involves using an acid to remove layers of skin from your face or body. There's always a chance that discoloration or scarring might occur [source: Doc Shop, WebMD].


Medium peels, like the popular trichloroacetic acid peel, go just a little bit deeper than mild peels. One major benefit is a reduction in minor wrinkles, which is an effect that mild peels don't tend to produce. The downsides include a greater chance of complications and an increased sensitivity to sunlight [source: Chemical Peel, AAD]. Medium peels are popular because of their versatility -- physicians can mix concentrations to suit many skin types. People with darker skin will most likely get the best results from a medium peel.

Phenol peels, commonly called deep peels, aren't right for everyone. The explanation is in the name. A deep peel takes off several layers of skin and can have dramatic results. However, these results can be accompanied by a permanent bleaching effect, to the point that people with brown or even olive skin might be able to see a line between the treated and untreated areas. As a result, deep peels are usually only a good option for people with fair complexions [source: Loftus, Kuwahara].

Be sure to consult a physician before getting a chemical peel. Someone who is qualified will be able to talk you through the procedure and help you to decide what treatment will best suit your skin type.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Chemical Peeling: What to Expect Before, During and After." (accessed 8/10/09)
  • Doc Shop. "Chemical Peels." (accessed 08/05/2009)
  • Kuwahara, Raymond. "Chemical Peels." eMedicine from WebMD. January 19, 2007. (accessed 8/10/09)
  • Loftus, Dr. Jean. "Phenol Peels." Info Plastic Surgery. (accessed 08/05/2009)
  • The Patient's Guide. "Possible Side-Effects?" (accessed 08/05/2009)
  • WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Chemical Peel Treatments." (accessed 8/10/09)