Are chemical peels safe?

Chemical peels are a wildly popular procedure in a dermatologist’s office.  Patients often wonder, however, “are chemical peels safe?” Below we address your concerns, questions, and things to know, about the safety and benefits before you get a chemical peel.


Are chemical peels safe?
Chemical peels are safe if you stop and consider the risks and benefits before the procedure

What is a chemical peel?

A chemical peel is a procedure during which a substance is put on the skin to cause cell turn over, exfoliation or peeling.  This benefits the skin by improving the appearance and or treating skin conditions, such as acne, acne scarring, wrinkles, melasma and sun damage.  Chemical peels also treat precancerous lesions such as actinic keratoses. The peel can be superficial, medium depth or deep.

What are the risks of chemical peels?

While chemical peels are generally considered to be safe, there are potential side effects. The risks of any chemical peel are peeling, burn, infection, scar, discoloration and discomfort. The risks are reduced when the peel is performed by a board-certified dermatologist who understands how to match the right person with the right peel to best prevent and manage any side effects.  Superficial peels, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid,  malic acid and lactic acid, are much lower risk than, for example, deeper peels such as trichloracetic acid. Interestingly, some of the side effects of a chemical peel, such as discoloration, peels are also used to treat.

Are chemical peels safe during pregnancy?

Acne flares and melasma due to hormonal changes are some of the skin problems of pregnancy.  These conditions respond well to chemical peels. Absorption into the blood stream of superficial peels, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, is low. These types of peels should be safe for pregnant women (with the exception of salicylic acid which is pregnancy category C). During pregnancy, however, we try to limit elective treatments. Although there appear to be no proven safety concerns with doing most chemical peels during pregnancy, as these problems tend to be self-limited, many professionals decline despite the low risk. Medium depth and deep peels are not advised at this time.

Read: A review of the safety of cosmetic procedures during pregnancy and lactation

Are peels safe in pregnancy and with breastfeeding?

Are chemical peels safe while breastfeeding?

We address the safety concerns of chemical peels during breastfeeding in the above section on pregnancy.

Are chemical peels safe for sensitive skin?

Many people describe themselves as having “sensitive skin.” This can mean a variety of things.  It may be that they are prone to acne, rosacea, eczema, or allergies.  Many people don’t realize that they have a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis, or dandruff, on their faces.  They think they have excessively dry, sensitive skin when in fact they have a rash. This is why if you have dandruff or dry scalp it’s important to consider that you may need treatment before having a chemical peel. Many people with “sensitive skin” can safely get a chemical peel if they manage their skin condition.  This is one of the reasons it is best to got to a board-certified dermatologist for a chemical peel as they will be able to recognize the cause of “sensitive skin” and address it before the procedure.


chemical peels for dark skin
In the right hands chemical peels are safe and effective for patients with dark skin

Are chemical peels safe for dark skin?

Dark skin is more prone to the side effect of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, also known as scars, dark marks or blemishes. Professionals who are not experienced with treating skin of color, may be uncomfortable doing chemical peels on this population. In the right hands, however, chemical peels are safe for all skin types including people with dark skin.  In fact, these patients often have the most to gain from a chemical peel as they often seek to have one to treat post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation as condition for which chemical peels are very effective. The exception would be phenol peels. Phenol peels are the deepest peels.  People with dark skin should avoid phenol peels as they can cause depigmentation in darker skin. Trichloracetic acid peels (TCA) should also be done with caution as they are more prone to cause discoloration of the skin. TCA peels done on dark skin may require pretreatment with hydroquinone for a few weeks.

Related: Cosmetic dermatology

At home chemical peels -are they safe?

The popularity of at home, or DIY chemical peels, also presents the concern of safety.  A chemical peels for at home use by someone untrained tends to be much gentler than professional peels.  Even so, these peels have a risk of side effects.  There is more to doing a chemical peel than just applying the acid. The combination of even light peels and some skin care products can cause irritation.  Unrecognised skin conditions can also cause complications with at home chemical peels. Understanding chemical peel after care is also important. Additionally, illegal access to professional-grade chemical peels to the public creates the concern that someone is using a strong peel they don’t know how to mange. It is best to  get the procedure with an experienced, licensed professional  or consult with your dermatologist even before using an at home chemical peel.

Dermatologist for chemical peel – why it’s the safest choice

Although may types of professionals can perform a chemical peel, if you are concerned about safety a dermatologist is your best choice.  Estheticians licenses permit the independent performance of superficial peels.  Under physician supervision they perform deeper chemical peels.  Plastic surgeons also do peels. They are generally not, however, as expert in recognizing and managing skin conditions that may contribute to complications when doing a peel.


So, how safe are chemical peels? This popular procedure is generally safe in the hands of a trained professional who understands the risks and benefits.  At Aglow Dermatology we are highly experienced at doing chemical peels on patients of all skin types.  Contact us  to schedule a consultation and chemical peel today cosmetic dermatologist!




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