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Professional peels are a bright beacon of hope if you're dealing with acne, scarring, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, or a lackluster complexion. However, for every benefit peels have, there are just as many—if not more—misconceptions that may prevent you from trying one yourself.

Are chemical peels harmful? Do chemical peels cause long-term damage? These are just some of the questions you might be asking yourself if you've gone a little too deep into an internet hole. As a leader of professional peels for over 30 years, PCA SKIN is here to break down the myths and get to their origins. Let's get to it.


Myth 1: Chemical Peels Cause the Same Damage as a Sunburn

The sun emits many rays, the most damaging being ultraviolet A (UVA) and UVB. The former are weaker and responsible for oxidative stress, which speeds up aging, whereas the latter cause burning. So, excessive sun exposure (especially without wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen) can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, loss of elasticity, dryness, and even skin cancer.

But are chemical peels harmful in a similar way? Chemical peels involve controlled injury, meaning the epidermis (surface layer of your skin) and dermis (the deeper layer of skin underneath) are temporarily affected in a measured way. Once your skin heals, fresh, healthy skin cells begin to appear. The result? Significant improvements to concerns such as hyperpigmentation, wrinkling, scars, skin texture, and acne.

The length of downtime largely depends on the type and strength of the peel you get. But, to be clear, this process doesn't cause any permanent damage like a sunburn would. Comparing professional peels to sunburns is like comparing prescribed fires, which maintain forest health, to wildfires.

smiling woman enjoying the sun at the beach


While some would argue that any injury is contradictory to improving the skin, the reality is that you need to affect the dermis to make significant changes. To ensure your peel is as safe as it is effective, always get your peel done by a licensed and experienced professional who understands how far a peeling solution can penetrate the skin before it needs to be neutralized. PCA SKIN professional peels, however, are self-neutralizing by nature of their ingredients.


Myth 2: Chemical Peels Aren't for People with Sensitive Skin

While it's true that not all peels, like a deep phenol peel, are suitable for sensitive skin, people with this skin type can absolutely get a professional peel. Light peels, such as those comprised of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, can help with gentle resurfacing and soften mild imperfections. Consult a licensed skin care professional if you have sensitive skin before considering a peel. They can help you reach your skin care goals.


Myth 3: All Chemical Peels Are the Same

Professional peels are either light (superficial), medium-depth, or deep. Alpha-hydroxy, beta-hydroxy, and Jessner peels are considered light. Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) peels fall into the medium-depth category, and phenol peels are deep. Aptly named, deep peels penetrate deep into the layers of the dermis underneath your epidermal layer.

The type of peel your skin care professional recommends will depend on the concerns you're trying to treat (e.g., wrinkles or hyperpigmentation), your condition's severity, and your skin type.


Myth 4: Breakouts Post-Peel Are a Bad Sign

As the saying goes, sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Even if you didn't have surface breakouts before your peel, underlying bacteria may not have come to the surface yet. Since peels increase cell turnover, a breakout is common. Have patience—it's worth it!


Myth 5: Your Skin Will Peel Excessively Post-Treatment

So, do chemical peels cause long-term damage? Not at all—but you may need a few days of downtime.

Whether or not your skin peels post-treatment depends on the type of peel you receive. When it comes to light peels, any shedding typically lasts for two to five days. TCA peels provide impressive results after the first session, so expect light peeling for seven to 10 days post-peel. Phenol peels require the most downtime at approximately two weeks.

No matter which peel you receive, excessive peeling isn't the norm. You may notice shedding or sheet peeling, when your skin comes off in a layer. You can control most shedding with a good moisturizer (try PCA SKIN ReBalance, a daily moisturizer for all skin types) and trim any large pieces with blunt, sterile scissors.

Also, remember to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, and avoid direct sun exposure while your skin is peeling.


Myth 6: You Only Need One Peel to See Results

Only phenol peels can provide results with one treatment—in many cases, for a lifetime. While you may notice improvements in overall skin tone and texture after your first session, light and medium-depth peels typically require a series of treatments (e.g., three to six peels two to six weeks apart) to achieve more dramatic results.


Myth 7: Chemical Peels Are Unsafe

Are chemical peels harmful to your skin health? On the contrary. Professional peels are an effective treatment for softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, discoloration, acne, and scarring. The key to ensuring a safe and effective treatment is having it performed by a licensed, experienced professional.


Find Your Partner in Skin Health

Hopefully you feel more confident getting a professional peel after squashing these common myths and misconceptions. PCA SKIN performs more than 1 million peels worldwide each year, so take the guesswork out of finding an expert you can trust using the PCA SKIN professional locator. Your skin is in good hands.


Rebecca Taras
A Chicagoland native, Rebecca began her career catering to celebrity clientele as a licensed esthetician at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel. Her passion for skin care ingredients, formulations, and skin histology led her to create custom in-room skin, bath, and body amenities for the Sofitel Hotel Chicago. The Chicago Fashion Foundation recognized her efforts with the Style Maker, Rule Breaker award in the Beauty category. She later went on to co-found Terminal Getaway airport spas. Rebecca’s experience also includes serving as an editor for digital outlets such as Refinery29, PopSugar, Forbes Travel Guides, and Bustle. She continues to refine her skin care knowledge while spending time traveling the world with her husband.