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Skin Peels: How They Work and What They Can Do for You

A chemical peel is a caustic procedure that burns the outer layers of the skin revealing a younger, fresher looking skin. Usually acids like salicylic, glycolic, lactic, TCA peels, and or phenol will be used.

The sugar and citric acids (salicylic, glycolic, etc… are lighter peels and don’t require much downtime. Some of the deeper peels can have up to 2 weeks of severe discomfort and peeling – a time you probably want to stay inside and not be out in public. These lighter peels can even be done as ‘lunch time’ peels. They are effective for light skin pigmentation problems, reduction of sebaceous gland oil (prime contributor to pimples and acne), sun spots, and other minor skin problems. Usually multiple treatments are needed as it is not a deep peel. The cost is around $100 per peel at a medispa ($150+ at a doctors office).

TCA peels are deeper medium depth peels. They have names youv’e seen on TV like Obagi Blue Peel, Estheticians Choice, etc… TCA stands for trichloroacetic acid and is a more effective and longer lasting peel than the sugar and citric peels. It is actually easier to use as it does not require layering or taping (methods used to drive lesser peels deeper). It is effective on more skin conditions and problems. TCA peels are one of the highest dermatologist recommended treatments for acne vulgaris. It has been found to be every bit as effective as Accutane without any of the side effects (Accutane can have some worrisome side effects). TCA peels are actually able to remove freckles, years of sun damage, bad pigmentation, scars, tighten skin and lessen wrinkles and fine lines. It has even been used by doctors to remove and lighten tattoos. TCA peels cost around $250-$500 at a medispa and usually $300 -$500+ at a doctors office.

Phenol peels are the deepest. They commonly result in a permanent bleaching pigmentation effect. Which can result in a pale, fake look. Phenol can effect heart rate and function, so a phenol peel is always done in a doctors care and with anesthesia as it is the deepest and most excrutiating of the peels. It is a last resort peel due to its harshness and bleaching properties. I won’t discuss it too much here as it is rarely performed nowadays. Phenol peels can reach $2000+ easily as they require anesthesia and more care.

There are other derivatives, but basically these are the various chemical skin peels in a nut shell. The TCA peels are the most effective and most regarded of the peels. and they are also the best buy – 1 TCA peel equals more than 4 or 5 glycolic peels, so it actually works out to be cheaper. And now TCA peels are actually available for home use for under $30. Which makes them the most affordable along with already being the most effective and longest lasting – results can last up to 1 year versus a few weeks to 2 months for a glycolic peel. For more on TCA peels for home use go to

David Maillie is a chemistand an alumni of Cornell University and specializes in biochemical synthesis for public, private, and governmental interests. He can be reached at M.D. Wholesale: