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Chemical peels

A chemical peel is solution applied to the face to remove dead skin cells and stimulate the growth of new cells.

The aim is to improve the appearance of the skin – for example, by reducing age spots and evening out skin tone.

There are 3 types of peels, called superficial, medium and deep.

Superficial and medium peels are usually safe, as long as they're done correctly. These type of peels are not permanent and they need to be repeated.

Deeper peels are more risky. They're longer-lasting and do not usually need to be repeated.

In the UK, chemical peels cost about £60 to £100 for mild peels. Deeper peels may cost more than £500.

What to think about before you have chemical peels

If you're thinking about having chemical peels, be clear about why you want them.

Read more about deciding whether a cosmetic procedure is right for you.

Choosing a practitioner

Having a chemical peel is usually safe if it's done by an experienced and suitably qualified practitioner.

Check the person doing your chemical peel is on a register to show they meet set standards in training, skill and insurance.

Registers include:

Avoid practitioners who have only completed a short training course.

Read more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure.

Book a consultation with the practitioner before you have the procedure.

Ask about:

  • their experience and qualifications
  • the type of chemical peel they would recommend for you and why
  • any risks or possible side effects
  • what aftercare they provide
  • what will happen if things go wrong
  • what insurance cover they have

Different types of chemical peels

Superficial peels

  • skin cells are removed from the top layer of skin (epidermis)
  • the solution is applied to the skin and left on for a few minutes
  • your skin may feel tight for a couple of hours afterwards
  • regular treatment is needed to maintain the effects

Medium peels

  • skin cells are removed from the top and middle layers of skin
  • the solution is applied and left on for a few minutes
  • you may feel burning or stinging when it's on your face
  • your skin may go brown or red for a few days afterwards
  • it can take up to 6 weeks for your skin to return to normal
  • treatment is needed every 6 to 12 months to maintain the effects

Deep peels

  • affect the deeper layers of skin 
  • a local anaesthetic and sedative may be needed to numb any pain
  • the solution is applied to the face and can be left on for 30 minutes or more
  • your heart and blood pressure need to be watched because the chemical used (phenol) can affect your heart and kidneys
  • you'll have some peeling, redness and discomfort for a few days
  • swelling can last up to 2 weeks, and redness can last up to 3 months
  • often lightens the skin so it's not really suitable for darker skin
  • it has long-lasting effects so does not usually need to be repeated

Risks

Possible risks of chemical peels include:

  • darkening or lightening of the skin – this can be permanent
  • cold sores returning if you've had them before
  • scarring or an infection – although this is rare

Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun as it heals, so you need to use sunscreen for at least a month after treatment.

Your practitioner should give you advice about how to reduce your risk of getting side effects and complications.

What to do if you have problems

If you're not happy with the results of your chemical peel, or you have problems, talk to your practitioner at the clinic where you were treated.

If you have complications that need medical attention, go back to the practitioner who treated you. If this is not possible, speak to your GP or go to your local accident and emergency (A&E).

You can report side effects of chemical peels through the Yellow Card Scheme website. By reporting side effects, you're providing valuable information about the safety of the product used.

Page last reviewed: 6 August 2019
Next review due: 6 August 2022