Chemical Peels for Skin Discolouration

Chemical Peels for Skin Discolouration and Everything You Need to Know

Chemical peels are some of the beauty practices that have existed since time immemorial. While the mechanism remains the same, the methods and equipment have changed over time.

From soaking in sour milk in Ancient Egypt to using poultices containing corrosive substances by Greeks and Romans, today you can have the procedure done at a dermatologist’s office or DIY at the comfort of your home depending on the intensity of the treatment.

One of the many benefits of using chemical peels is the ability to diminish or improve hyperpigmented skin. If you are considering having this treatment, here is everything you need to know on chemical peels for skin lightening.

What Are Chemical Peels?

As the name suggests, chemical peels are minimally invasive procedures where a chemical solution is applied on the skin to destroy the superficial layer of the skin in a controlled manner. Once this is done, the skin exfoliates and peels off.

When the target layer is exfoliated, the skin beneath is lighter, less blemished and has well distributed melanin. Some weaker peels can be done at home while stronger ones and those that may even require anaesthesia are done at a dermatologist’s or a plastic surgeon’s clinic.

The intensity of the results depends on the condition of the skin and the type of chemical peel being done.

Types of Chemical Peels

There are three types of chemical peels. These differ in terms of the chemicals used and the strength of those chemicals. Below are more details on each.

Superficial Peels

This is the mildest type of chemical peels and can be done on all skin types. It involves the use of AHA or fruit acids such as Glycolic acid, Citric acid or Lactic acid. The peel is usually done on the face, neck, hands and/or chest.

It shows significant improvement of the skin but can only deal with mild forms of hyperpigmentation. Additionally, it helps to take care of fine lines, skin tone, skin texture, and wrinkles.

This is the go to procedure for people with busy lives because of the short time it takes heal. Several superficial peels are needed for great results. Each can be done every few weeks.

After the treatment, the results are instant. You should however expect a short term redness of the skin. As your skin heals, apply cream or lotion. With this peel, you can use makeup immediately.

Medium Peels

These go deeper into the skin than superficial peels. They penetrate the upper and middle layer of the skin. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is mainly used. However, the same acids used in the superficial can be used at greater concentrations.

The treatment works for more pronounced forms of hyperpigmentation, acne scars, coarse wrinkles, sun damage, and leathery skin.

Due to the deep nature of these peels, the skin becomes inflamed and forms blisters that break and crust. The swelling is especially bad in the first 48 hours. This is followed by peeling which can take 1-2 weeks. The skin also heals in about the same period.

During the healing process, you can use cream or lotion on the treated area and avoid exposure to sunlight. You should hold off makeup to about 7 days post treatment. Sometimes, your dermatologist may prescribe antiviral medication especially if you have a history of cold-sores.

Deep Peels

These are the strongest peels. They penetrate several layers of skin and are only used on the face. A chemical called phenol acid is usually used. These take longer to perform compared to other treatments and take 14-21 days for the skin to heal.

Due to the risk of skin hypopigmentation or bleaching, they are not recommended for people with dark skin. In fact, they may cause bleaching even in light skinned people. Their deep nature may also necessitate the use of anaesthesia. This type of peel can be done only once in most cases.

Deep peels give long lasting results for environmentally damaged skin, extreme cases of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and other deeper skin blemishes.

As with the medium peels, crusting and redness occurs and can last for weeks. During recovery, you may take antivirals for 10-14 days. You should then hold off makeup until at least two weeks have lapsed and apply a moisturizer in the process.

DIY Chemical Peels

DIY peels can be acquired over-the-counter at a drugstore or a doctor’s office. While they contain the same ingredients as other peels, they come at much weaker concentrations.

They come in form of gels or pads that you apply on your skin and wash off after about 10 minutes. Before you apply the product on your entire face, do a patch test to avoid redness, stinging or irritation that may occur if the product is too strong for your skin.

The DIYs give your skin a glow and can also help with mild skin imperfections and discolouration. They can be done weekly or there about but they should be coupled with a strong sunscreen.

In a summary, apart from lightening your skin, chemical peels can improve;

  • Photo damaged skin
  • Some kinds of scars
  • Rough and scaly skin
  • Acne or acne scars
  • Wrinkles and fine lines
  • ​Skin lesions
  • Aging skin

Who Is Not A Candidate for Chemical Peels?

While chemical peels are effective and common, not everybody is a suitable candidate. They are contraindicated in individuals who have;

  • Skin infections
  • Active Skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis or rosacea.
  • Injured skin
  • Active Herpes simplex 1 sores
  • Taken Accutane in the last 6 month
  • Used acidic products, skin lightening agents, prescription skin care products, Retin-A or Renova in the last 48 hours.
  • Facial cancers
  • History of abnormal scarring or recurrent keloids
  • Extreme photo damage
  • Note also that if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is not recommended to do chemical peels. Here are some of the reasons why;
  • While acids like glycolic and lactic are considered safe, trichloroacetic and salicylic acid peels should be avoided or used with caution.
  • If the skin hyperpigmentation is due to hormones, trying to get rid of them before the pregnancy or breastfeeding period is over can prove futile.
  • Deep peels may require anaesthesia which is not recommended during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy may render your skin sensitive to certain chemicals or infections

Before You Get A Chemical Peel

When you decide to get a chemical peel, it is important to have a thorough discussion with your dermatologist to weigh your options, make the right decision and improve the expected results among other things. Here are a few pointers;

  • Notify your doctor of any medications that you are using; prescribed or otherwise
  • Your therapist will most probably inquire about the contraindicated conditions and your best bet lies at being as truthful as possible
  • Discuss your goals, skin condition, skin type, and the risks that you are willing to take among other issues with your aesthetician to settle on the type of peel that best suits you
  • Do a spot test to assess possible reactions and outcomes
  • Prepare your skin 2-3 weeks before the treatment by cleansing, moisturizing and using sunscreen

Side Effects of Chemical Peels

While chemical peels can be successfully done without a hitch, you should be on the lookout for any of the following side effects;

  • Temporary or permanent colour change. Birth control pills, subsequent pregnancy or genetic predisposition to brown discolouration can increase the chances.
  • Mild discomfort such as irritation and burning sensation.
  • Scarring in some people. This can be successfully treated.
  • Reactivation of cold sores especially for people with a history of herpes outbreaks

NOTE: you can reduce the chances of the above effects by providing your aesthetician with all the necessary information and following his/her instructions to the letter.

What to Expect After Chemical Peels?

As outlined above, outcome, care and recovery is dependent on the specific type of peel. However, what runs across the board is cleansing of the skin, moisturization, avoiding any exposure to sunlight during the peeling period and using sunscreen throughout the healing process.

How Much Do chemical Peels Cost?

The cost of chemical peels can be dependent on a number of factors. These range from the type of peel, the condition of your skin, where you are having the treatment, and other issues connected to your case.

For example, in US, the average cost can be between $600 and $900 for deep peels and about $150 for light peels. This only caters for the doctor’s fee. Additional procedural extras such as anaesthesia, use of operating room or a possible in-patient situation may attract additional charges. This can escalate the cost of deep peels to as high as $6000.

In UK, light peels may cost £60-£100. The deep ones may go above £500.

This is just a general reflection; once you are ready to do the treatment, you should shop around for the best deals in your location.


Chemical peels have stood the test of time. There are different types of chemical peels, each meant to target different layers of the skin. The type that suits your skin depends on the results that you are looking to achieve, your skin type, the condition of your skin and of course, your therapist’s assessment.

While chemical peels are known to work for all, several situations can disqualify you from getting the treatment. It is therefore important to work in consultation with your dermatologist to establish if you qualify. For DIY, ensure that you have all the information concerning your safety at your fingertips. Still, a spot test will come in handy before you cover your entire face with the chemical solution.

When all is said and done, the final decision is yours; assess all skin lightening options available for you and if your gut tells you to go for chemical peels, go right ahead.


sonia knight

Sonia Knight is the founder of be:skinformed.

Apart from having her own experience with hyperpigmentation, Sonia has gained vast knowledge in the dermatology field. For more info on this, check out our about us page.