Written by Tianna Manon for Avima.com

A chemical peel allows you to address several issues with your skin by peeling off the top layers and revealing new, healthier skin underneath. A surgeon or dermatologist applies a chemical solution to the patient’s skin, which causes the top layer of the skin to peel off, showing new, typically smoother skin underneath. It can be used to treat light scarring, discoloration and reverse some of the effects of aging and even remove pre-cancerous cells and growths.

There are three basic kinds of peels: superficial, medium and deep.

Superficial: Also called the “lunchtime” peel because it’s so quick, this procedure uses a mild acid to penetrate the top layer of skin only. It’s useful for mild discoloration and smoothing some roughness on the face, neck, chest and hands but doesn’t reach deep enough to fix issues with wrinkling and lining. Skin after a superficial peel typically looks brighter, tauter and healthier. These take just a day to heal, but no more than seven. Patients are advised to use a lot of sunscreen in the first few days as the delicate skin adjusts to sunlight. Makeup can even be worn the next day.

Medium:A medium chemical peel reaches much deeper, down to the middle layers of skin. The acid used is a little harsher and this kind of peel can improve the appearance of age spots, some fine lines and light wrinkles and helps with other issues with discoloration. Healing takes longer than a superficial peel; 1-2 weeks and sometimes there is swelling in the first two days, including some blistering and crusting. Patients are advised to avoid sunlight altogether to keep the skin healthy. A follow-up appointment is necessary to ensure the skin is healing well and to monitor any changes in the skin.

Deep: This peel penetrates the middle layer and sometimes just a bit past to remove more heavily damaged layers of skin. The peel removes more serious wrinkles, fine lines and freckles and some scarring as well. Patients report more dramatic changes after a deep peel and most surgeons only perform it on the face once because it’s so intense. These take almost three weeks to heal and for some patients with sensitive skin it can take even longer. Patients need bandaging to keep the skin soaked and covered in ointment for the first two weeks. Patients will also need to undergo several follow-up appointments to ensure proper healing.

For longer-term results, some dermatologists and surgeons recommend a series of three or more peels, spaced about a month apart instead of just one peel. This allows patients to get a more in-depth treatment without some of the irritation and redness patients sometimes see with the traditional deep peel and it can also make the effects of harsher peels clearer. Your doctor will determine what’s best for you, your lifestyle and your goals for your skin, ensuring that the process minimizes side effects and promotes healing.

Overall, a chemical peel can improve the look of skin problems but it can also keep your skin healthier long-term. In addition to removing pre-cancerous growths and unhealthy cells, peels can help patients see healthier skin overall that responds to products better and resists environmental effects better like dryness.

“Your skin-care products perform better after a peel because there are no dead cells impeding their penetration,” says New York City dermatologist Neal Schultz, who averages at least 50 peels a week in his Park Avenue office.

Underneath the skin, other cells multiply and move up, which increases collagen production and overalls helps skin glow and look more supple- or younger.

Schultz is discussing the new layer of skin, which is sensitive to sun. Because it’s never been exposed to the environment, UV rays can be especially harmful. And most patients report some redness and irritation for a bit as the skin adjusts. A dermatologist can offer creams and gels that will help manage any pain or irritation more commonly seen with medium and deep peels but it’s important to keep the skin covered in ordered to do facilitate proper healing. If you don’t, it can cost you more down the road as you fix the damage caused. It’s also important that you get the procedure done with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon because they have more experience and knowledge with the procedure, again minimizing side effects.

Thinking about getting one? Chemical peels are actually pretty affordable although more intense procedures are more expensive. The typical cost of a peel “lunchtime” peel is about $200. A medium peel starts closer to $1,000 while a deep peel can cost a few thousand dollars.

It’s important to reach out for a consultation. Feel free to shop plastic surgeons and dermatologists to find someone who can do the best work for your skin. However, Schultz says it’s important that prospective patients stay realistic with their expectations:

“It can improve the look of wrinkles, makes your skin brighter, but it won’t make you look decades younger. This is a focus on the skin. Sometimes with sagging facial infrastructure, it’s not just skin but muscle loss and even changing bone density and structure. These contribute to wrinkles and sagging so a peel can help but it may not fix everything.”

Instead, he says it’s best to see peels as a way to get smoother skin but not entirely new skin:

“Either way most people love it and are happy with the new look of their skin. It’s definitely worth looking into at least.”