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Chemical Peel Facts, Information, Benefits and Side Effects

One of the longest-standing skin care treatments that is continuously being used today is the chemical peel.

While some businesses have moved on to newer and grander technologies to perform skincare treatments, here at Dr. Torgerson’s Facial Cosmetic Clinic in Toronto, we still believe there is nothing else quite like it. Chemical peels are amazing at exfoliating the skin and improving the overall appearance and texture, while tackling all skin types and conditions. Chemical peels are great treatments to help perfect texture, tone, and congestion, and they are an amazing anti-aging treatment. There are many different types of chemical peels with a range in strength and potency. The most popular chemical exfoliators are, of course, AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) and BHA solutions (Beta Hydroxy Acid). Below we will explain how a chemical peel works, the acid compounds that are used for specific skin conditions and their corresponding treatment plans, and lastly the benefits and side effects of chemical peels.

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How Does A Chemical Peel Work?

A chemical peel is a liquid acidic solution that exfoliates the surface layers of the skin by causing a controlled injury or wound to stimulate new collagen production, which helps encourage the skin’s shedding of dead skin cells for fresh new cells to appear. Depending on the percentage and strength of the peel, it can cause the skin to physically peel off the dead layers of skin. As the new cells arise, your skin is left with a more even and smooth texture, which means an overall improvement in skin conditions and problems, including hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, congestion and acne, and any surface scarring.

There are two main groups of exfoliators that are favoured in the medical and comedic field: AHAs and BHAs. These hydroxy acids are naturally-occurring compounds derived from fruits, animal by-products or plants. As they work very similarly, each group has a different function, and each solution targets a specific skin type and specific skin conditions.

The first group of exfoliators is the AHA group. These compounds work from the outside of the skin, penetrating inwards to peel the unwanted surface layers of the skin. Though there are multiple acids in this umbrellaed group, there are two main compounds that are the most popular in medical clinics as well as in the beauty and cosmetic industries: glycolic acid and lactic acid.

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Types of Chemical Peels

Let’s begin with lactic acid: this is a compound derived from sour milk. Considered to be one of the milder peels, lactic acid-based products help with hydration and pigmentation, including melasma, sun spots, freckles, and uneven skin tones. Lactic acid can give the skin an overall brighter appearance. Peels range in strength and are great exfoliators for clients with darker complexions rated types IV to VI on the Fitzpatrick scale. These acid molecules are larger than other exfoliators, meaning that they penetrate the superficial layers of the skin. This allows clients with sensitive skin and sensitive conditions (i.e. redness, inflammation, or irritation) to do this treatment without experiencing extreme side effects. This chemical peel is best performed in a series of 4 to 6 treatments roughly 3 to 4 weeks apart for optimal results.

The second chemical peel and the most popular exfoliant is glycolic acid. This compound is derived from sugar cane and is known to have one of the smallest acid molecules, allowing for deep penetration into the layers of the skin to target signs of aging. Glycolic acid is great for improving and eliminating fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation, uneven skin texture, and light acne or acne scarring. You will find this product on the shelves in your local drugstores, cosmetic retail shops, and spas, but it is important to know that for the glycolic acid to actually benefit and penetrate the skin, it is best purchased at a physician’s clinic or Medispa. The concentration of the acid will be stronger, and the pH level of the product will be lower, allowing for stronger acidity in the product and the strongest acidity in the peels you are purchasing. This treatment is best performed in a series of 4 to 6 treatments spaced 4 weeks apart for the optimal results.


The BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) group is a small group consisting of one acid compound. This exfoliator works from the inside out, penetrating the skin through the sebaceous glands, which allow for deeper penetration into the skin, tackling the oil production more effectively compared to the other hydroxy acids. Salicylic acid, derived from willow bark, is the only BHA acid and is the primary ingredient in aspirin. It works best on oily and acneic skin, since it helps control and maintain oil production and helps with the sloughing of the outer layers of the skin to promote new and clearer skin. Salicylic acid is great for minimizing fine lines and wrinkles, improving discoloration (pigmentation) to even out skin tone, clearing and eliminating congestion, and improving the appearance of acne scarring. Salicylic acid is typically the strongest solution of all hydroxy acids and therefore is not recommended for clients with sensitized skin or clients with darker complexions raging from IV to VI on the Fitzpatrick Scale. For optimal results, this chemical peel is best done in a series of 4 to 6 treatments spaced 4 weeks apart.

Benefits of Chemical Peels

In consideration of both hydroxy acid groups and their corresponding acid compounds, there are, of course, benefits and side effects that are standardized for the majority of our clients. The general benefits listed below are achieved with all chemical peels:

  • Improve fine lines and superficial wrinkles
  • Help restore uneven skin texture (i.e. scarring)
  • Even out skin tone and skin discoloration
  • Help with the shedding of old, dead skin cells for new cells to arise
  • Stimulate collagen production
  • Control oil production and clear congestion on the skin

These amazing benefits also involve potential side effects and certain restrictions for clients, which are as follows:

  • Potential swelling and irritation
  • Cannot be performed on women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding
  • Clients must wait a minimum of 2 weeks after any and all injectables as well as other treatments
  • Clients with active herpes simplex infections must wait at least 2 weeks after infections are cleared before treatments
  • Clients with darker complexions ranging IV to VI on the Fitzpatrick scale can experience potential hyper/hypopigmentation
  • Clients on Accutane or clients using any oral or topical medications (i.e. antibiotics, steroids, vitamin A, etc.) on the skin must wait a minimum of 6 months to 1 year before treatments
  • Clients must wait a minimum of 4 weeks prior and post sun exposure before treatments

If you would like to discover more information about the risks and benefits of chemical peels, please contact our Toronto office.

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