Chemical peels are performed at 3 main levels or depths
Light (superficial) chemical peel
As superficial chemical peel only removes the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, to address uneven tone or texture resulting from acne, dryness, and fine wrinkles.
In a light peel, your doctor will use a brush or cotton ball to cover your face with a chemical solution that is typically glycolic acid or salicylic acid. It will whiten the skin and cause a slight stinging sensation. Soon a neutralizing solution is used to remove the chemical from your treated skin.
Your skin will mildly be red and irritated for a couple of days, which can be soothed with a protective ointment such as petroleum jelly. Within a week, it will heal but the new skin might have a lighter or darker tone temporarily, which will be resolved after full recovery.
With this level of treatment, you might need a few sessions to achieve your desired result but the downtime is short.
Medium chemical peel
This level not only removes the epidermis but also the upper layer of the dermis, which is the middle layer of the skin. Medium-depth wrinkles, scars, and tones can be addressed with a medium chemical peel in multiple sessions to maintain the results.
In a medium-depth dermapeeling, your doctor may numb your skin with topical anesthetics or you might be given painkillers to relieve the pain resulting from the process. A cotton-tipped applicator or gauze will be used to apply the chemical solution which contains trichloroacetic acid sometimes combined with glycolic acid. It will whiten your skin with some stinging and burning sensations that might last for 20 minutes. During this time, however, cool compresses will be applied to soothe your skin.
Your skin will be red and swollen after the procedure and it may be protected by an ointment such as petroleum jelly. It takes about a week for your skin to recover. During this time, you may need to use ice packs to soothe your treated area. You will likely be back in the office for a checkup by your doctor. If needed, OTC pain killers might be prescribed that include ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
In the healing process, a crust will be formed on your skin that might be dark and brownish. It takes at least 2 weeks to heal from this level of peel but some redness might remain for months. The result is clearer, more even, and noticeably smoother skin.
Deep chemical peel
As the name implies, a deep peel removes the skin from deeper layers to address deeper issues such as deep wrinkles and scars. This is the best chemical peel for aging signs, deeper wrinkles, extensive sun damage, and severe acne scars. It is often a one-time-only procedure due to the strength of chemicals.
The procedure starts with intravenous (IV) fluids, and heart rate monitoring. Your skin might also be numbed by topical anesthesia. A cotton-tipped applicator is used to apply carbolic acid (phenol) to the treated area which will turn white or grey immediately. Given the strength of phenol used in this procedure, the substance is applied in small portions every 15 minutes. That is why a facial peel treatment might last up to 90 minutes.
Severe redness and swelling will follow with a burning sensation that might shut your eyelids. The treated area must be covered in the ointment 24/7 for the next 2 weeks.
New skin will develop after 2 weeks but redness remains for months. The new skin tone might be darker or lighter. After this period, sunscreen must be applied for protection.
It is better to stay at home during your deep chemical peel recovery period but you will need to visit your doctor for checkups. Follow the directions given by your doctor for cleansing and moisturizing routines. Do not rub, pick or scratch your skin. This level will deliver a dramatic makeover but it takes several months to reveal it.