Chemical Peels: Myths & Truths Revealed!

Hi and welcome! This blog has been a long time coming and for that I apologize. We are at last going to talk about chemical peels! Many of my clients have expressed that peels are something that makes them nervous. As a holistic esthetician, I primarily work with botanical peels for regular maintenance for my clients. However, I do see the value in gentle, progressive peels from time to time when my clients are ready for that level of skin care.

So how do you know if a peel is for you? There are a lot of rumors going around about chemical peeling and not all of them are positive. Today I'm here to clear up some of those rumors. Being that autumn is affectionately known in skin care circles as "Peel Season" I figured this was the perfect time to go there!

Image by @gagewoodphoto Courtesy of Sorella Apothecary

Chemical Peel Myth #1 - Chemical peels leave the skin red and/or peeling for days

Other esthetician's can probably back me up on this one, but I would say hands down, the number one thing I hear when talking about chemical peels with a client is, "I don't want to look like Samantha from Sex and The City."

Although this iconic comedic moment happened on the show 20 years ago, many people still fear the chemical peel gone wrong - the one that will leave them red faced and hiding in the house for days. The truth is that those types of peel experiences are increasingly rare.

Truth: Peels (and results) vary in strength depending on formula and application

To be honest, there are still some peels on the market that will quite literally burn your face off. HOWEVER, this is only one version of a chemical peel and is typically only performed by a dermatologist or medical esthetician. Most peel treatments performed by estheticians are much less aggressive and exist on a scale in terms of intensity. We are also limited by state laws as to the intensity of peeling we can do - certain pH levels cannot be exceeded and other treatments are completely off limits. So trust me, the peels I'm performing are nowhere near the face-burning-off level.

Fun fact! While we refer to them as "chemical" peels, most peel acids are actually naturally derived. Salicylic acid comes from willow bark. Glycolic acid from sugar cane. Lactic acid from milk or a plant derived source. Tartaric acid comes from grapes, malic acid from apples and so on and so on. From there, they can vary greatly in terms of concentration, strength and blend.

A trained esthetician will first discuss your goals and previous experience with facial treatments before selecting the proper strength of peel for you. In my own treatment room, I work with a wide range of botanical and chemical peels and usually like to start my clients out with the gentlest option first, before working our way up to more exfoliation. I also work with my own holistic techniques - LED light therapy, hydrojelly masks and facial massage - to support the skin's healing process and reduce inflammation. This ensures that you will not walk out of your facial red-faced, nor will you need to take a week off from work to peel like a snake.

Chemical Peel Myth #2 - If I didn't peel, I didn't get results

So for every person who's afraid that a chemical peel will burn their whole face off, there are just as many clients who are disappointed that the chemical peel won't burn their whole face off. Early in my career, a client once wrote a scathing email to my spa boss, insisting that I must have performed her peel "all wrong" because she wasn't seeing sheets of skin shedding off as she expected. This client was the most extreme case, but she wasn't the last client to express doubt or become frustrated when their chemical peel treatment didn't produce dramatic visible peeling.

Truth: Peels technology has advanced and not all peels involve extreme peeling

This news should come as a relief to clients wanting results and also clients not wanting to peel: You do not have to experience any peeling for the peel to have done it's job.

Although in the early days of chemical peels, it may have been more common to see visible shedding of skin, modern day peels are formulated with much more nuance and sophistication. They work on multiple levels - first exfoliating the skin and digesting dead or unhealthy surface cells at the time of the peel, then infusing active ingredients that work over time.

New peel technology allows peels to penetrate the skin and then self neutralize. This ensures that they work progressively, deep within the layers of the epidermis, doing corrective work. For about a week or two post-peel, the skin will be in a state of transformation - shedding old unhealthy cells with each cleansing and revealing new healthy cells which surface and begin to heal the skin. This process happens on a micro-level. So while you may in fact see light flaking or micro peeling post-treatment, the days of "peeling like a snake" are mostly over and the term "peel" has become a bit of a misnomer.

Chemical Peel Myth #3 - One peel is going to fix everything

Perhaps because of the perception that chemical peels are more "aggressive" than other exfoliation (which you probably also recognize is a myth by now, right?) there's a bit of a misconception that one chemical peel will magically erase years of acne scarring, sun damage, wrinkles and any other skin concern you can insert here.

It's true that you should experience some immediate results from one peel treatment - overall brighter and more youthful looking skin, smoother and softer skin, decreased acne and signs of aging. However, expecting one treatment or even a couple of treatments to completely transform your skin, may be somewhat unrealistic.

Truth: When done correctly, peeling is a progressive process with cumulative benefits

Because your skin concerns didn't all appear overnight, treating them will similarly not be an overnight process. In my experience working with many clients through the peeling process, there is really one factor that determine their success and their results.

That factor is consistency. Both with treatments and with homecare. Clients who do a series of three to six peels get better results than those who do only one peel. Clients who do peels quarterly get better results than those doing them only sporadically. Clients who keep up with quality home care - gentle exfoliation, targeted serums, hydration and sun protection - between visits to see me, get much better results than those who invest in a peel treatment and then continue with inconsistent care or non-supportive products at home.

This may seem like bad news to someone looking for a quick fix, but it's actually good news, for anyone wanting real and lasting results! I've used the fitness metaphor before, but skin treatments really are like starting an exercise routine. When you put in the work over time, you'll reap cumulative benefits and develop habits for your skin that set you up for long-term success


So now, that we've cleared all that up, I feel like I can officially wish you a Happy Peel Season!

Still have questions or concerns about peeling? I'm happy to answer! Send an email to jenny @

Until next time,

<3 Jenny

About the blog:

This is a blog about everyday skin health. As an esthetician I strive to provide comprehensive skin care advice and knowledge to anyone who wants to know more.

Read on and please don't hesitate to reach out! I love educating people about their skin and am always happy to respond to questions.

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