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Comparing Chemical Peels – Mild to Intense

Woman receiving chemical peel on face with fan brush

Chemical peels are among the most common and popular cosmetic treatments available to improve your skin’s appearance. During a chemical peel, a solution that removes the top layers of the skin is applied, uncovering newer, smoother, and healthier skin below. According to the American Academy of Dermatology,¹ a chemical peel may be a good option if you are looking to improve the appearance of:

  • Aging skin
  • Fine lines of wrinkles
  • Age spots
  • Crow’s feet
  • Acne scars and other scars
  • Melasma or hyper-pigmentation

Three general levels of chemical peel are available – mild, moderate, and intense. Generally, mild chemical peels cost less, require less recovery, but offer less dramatic results. Moderate and intense chemical peels cost more, have a longer recovery, and provide more noticeable results. You and your healthcare provider will work together to decide which is best for you.

Chemical peels should be done by a provider with knowledge and experience. The skill of the person doing your chemical peel can significantly impact the results. When performed by an experienced provider, chemical peels are considered safe and carry little risk.

More About The Types of Chemical Peels²

Mild Chemical Peels

These are also known as light or superficial peels. A mild chemical solution – most commonly a type of alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), is used to remove the outer layer of the skin. When new skin grows back, you will notice modest improvements in your skin’s texture, tone, and overall appearance.

We recommended mild chemical peels for improving the appearance of fine lines, uneven pigmentation, acne scars, and dry skin. Several mild peels may be needed to achieve the desired result.

Moderate Chemical Peels

Moderate or medium peels use a more intense chemical solution – most commonly trichloroacetic acid (TCA). This solution removes the skin’s outer layer and the upper parts of the middle layer. Moderate peels result in more significant improvements in the appearance of skin with fewer applications.

We recommend medium chemical peels to improve the appearance of uneven skin tone, surface wrinkles, and acne scars. More than one moderate peel may be needed to achieve the desired result.

Intense Chemical Peels

Intense or deep chemical peels use a powerful chemical solution – most commonly Phenol. This solution removes the skin’s outer layer and extends deeper into the skin’s middle layer than a moderate peel. Once an intense chemical peel has healed, you will see dramatic improvements in the skin’s appearance. You will see significant reductions in fine lines, wrinkles, and blemishes, but with an intense recovery period.

We don’t often recommend intense chemical peels except to improve the appearance of deep wrinkles, severely sun-damaged skin, and sometimes to remove pre-cancerous growths. Intense peels are recommended only once due to the strength of the chemical used. Of course, their results last the longest.

Comparing Chemical Peels – Recovery

The recovery period³ of each peel varies due to the strength of the solution used and the depth of skin removed, and each person can have variations in their healing time. All chemical peels require you to minimize sun exposure and wear sunscreen while the skin heals, as the newly exposed skin is susceptible to sunburn and damage. Your provider’s instructions may vary depending on your procedure and skin type. Always follow the directions given by your doctor.

Mild Chemical Peels

  • Mild chemical peels heal within 1-7 days.
  • Makeup can be worn the same day or the day following the procedure.
  • No follow-up appointment.
  • Patients experience temporary redness, dryness, and skin flaking following the peel.
  • Moisturizer will need to be applied while the skin heals, and sunscreen will need to be used daily.

Moderate Chemical Peels

  • Moderate chemical peels heal within 7-14 days.
  • Makeup can be worn 5-7 days after the procedure.
  • A follow-up appointment is needed.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications may be needed.
  • Patients will have discomfort, redness, and facial and eyelid swelling. This swelling will typically worsen in the 48 hours after the procedure. Blisters can form, and the skin will crust, peel off, and then regrow during healing.
  • After-care includes daily soaks followed by moisturizer. The sun must be completely avoided until the skin is healed.

Intense Chemical Peels

  • Intense chemical peels typically require 14-21 days at home to heal.
  • Makeup cannot be worn for at least 14 days.
  • Several follow-up appointments are needed.
  • Pain medication may be needed, and you may be sedated during the peel.
  • You will need someone to drive you home from the procedure.
  • Intense peels require the longest recovery period. Your skin is bandaged after the procedure, and after-care includes multiple soaks each day, followed by ointment.
  • Once the skin begins to heal, a thick moisturizer must be applied. The sun must be completely avoided for 3 to 6 months.

Comparing Chemical Peels – Cost

Finding a chemical peel within your budget is essential in deciding which suits you. Insurance and HSAs do not typically cover chemical peels as they are a cosmetic procedure– payment will be out of pocket. More experienced providers will charge more for their services. Mild chemical peels start at $125, while intense chemical peels may cost upwards of $3,000

How Do I Prepare for a Chemical Peel?

  • Stop smoking.
  • Your doctor may recommend a pre-peel skin care regimen, including cream and ointment, in the weeks before the procedure.
  • Your doctor may prescribe anti-viral medications, especially if you have a history of cold sores.
  • Your doctor will ask about current and past medications, supplements, medical conditions, and other cosmetic treatments.
  • Ask questions! You should feel comfortable with the peel you receive and be informed of the procedure, recovery period, after-care instructions, and side effects to watch for.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

All cosmetic procedures have some risks, and side effects5 may occur. When chemical peels are performed by experienced healthcare providers and after-care instructions are followed, the risk for side effects is generally low. Mild chemical peels typically have the lowest risk of side effects, and intense chemical peels have the highest. Some side effects are:

  • Persistent redness
  • Prolonged lightning or darkening of this skin
  • Allergic reaction
  • Persistent sensitivity to sunlight
  • Infection
  • Scarring

Depending on your goals, lifestyle, and budget, a chemical peel can be an effective way to improve the appearance and health of your skin. While chemical peels enhance your skin, they may not completely remove signs of aging, wrinkles, and skin damage. Consult an experienced medical provider and skincare specialist like Dr. Boger to find the chemical peel that is most effective and beneficial for you.


  1. (n.d.). Chemical peels: Overview. [online] Available at:
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). Chemical peel – Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at:
  3. (n.d.). Chemical peels: FAQs. [online] Available at:
  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (n.d.). Chemical Peel Cost. [online] Available at:
  5. Mayo Clinic Staff (2018). Chemical peel – Mayo Clinic. [online] Available at: