How to Use Chemical Peels and Exfoliation at Home Safely

Chemical exfoliation is a very effective way to remove wrinkles and age spots, and treat acne and scarring.  Unfortunately, it is also easy to damage your skin.  If you are careful and introduce chemical peeling gradually to you skin, you can have great results all in the comfort of your own home.

You don’t need to visit a dermatologist anymore to get a strong peel.  There are products on the market today that are very strong; some are even intended for professional use.  Sometimes when people are frustrated with their skin, they opt to start out with a strong product.  Unfortunately, this can easily lead to skin damage, including scarring and skin thinning.

The most important thing to remember when you start to chemically exfoliate is to start out slow.  This skin treatment requires patience.  You won’t remove acne scars or wrinkles over night, or even in a month.  It can take a long time, depending on the amount of damage that you have.  Start out using gentle products like a glycolic acid lotion before you move up to a traditional chemical peel.  If you are trying to remove acne scars or wrinkles, you may need to exfoliate 4-6 times a week.  But don’t start out there.  Use a low concentration lotion or serum a few times a week, perhaps eventually working up to daily use.  Then add a peel ever two weeks, and gradually increase the frequency and strength.  By going slowly, you can acclimate your skin to chemical exfoliation and peeling and avoid damaging side effects like a chemical burn.  If you have sensitive skin, it may take as long as 3 to 6 months to get used to chemical peels.

Hydroxy Acids

The most common types chemical exfoliation treatments use hydroxy acids.  Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic acids are more often used for peeling than beta hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid, which is found in wart remover.  You’ll most likely want to start with the alpha hydroxy acids.  Look for a lotion or serum with a concentration at or below 10%.  The pH of these products also indicates its strength.  The pH is not always listed, especially for serums and lotions, but if it is, try to start out around 3 or higher.  A pH of 1.9 is very strong, and a pH of 4 or higher may not be effective.  You can also start out with peels at 10% if your skin isn’t sensitive, but be very careful.  Don’t leave them on for more than a minute or two in the beginning and don’t use them more than once a week.  You can always move up to something stronger or use it more often, but you can’t un-burn your face if something goes wrong.

Combining Different Types of Exfoliation

You can use chemical exfoliation with a manual method like microdermabrasion for maximum results.  But this has the potential to damage skin severely, so use caution.  Use them at separate times until your skin is used to chemical peels, which can take some time.  Some people like to use manual exfoliation to remove dead skin before peeling, so the peel works on fresh skin.  This is usually used when trying to remove or reduce acne scars or wrinkles and is not typically needed if you are just trying to improve the skin’s texture and tone.

Sunscreen and Moisturizers

Exfoliation can make your skin very sensitive and dry.  You should follow up with a moisturizer every time.  If you’re using serious peels, this moisturizer should contain active ingredients like Vitamin C, Retinol, or Copper Peptides to rebuild the skin.  Chemical exfoliation only removes skin; it doesn’t rebuild it.  If you skip the rebuilding step you are going to damage your skin after a while.

When you use alpha hydroxy acids, it causes your skin to become photosensitive, or burn extremely easily when exposed to the sun.  This effect usually lasts 2 weeks, so if you are peeling regularly, you may be in a perpetual cycle that increases your risk of burning.  You need to use a sunscreen daily.  It’s an essential part of using chemical peels.  The sun is one of the biggest factors in premature aging, even when your skin is in its normal state.  Once you’re peeling though, sun damage can increase exponentially.  It is absolutely critical to use a sunscreen daily if you are using any type of alpha hydroxy acid, like glycolic or lactic acid.


You’re skin care goals will determine how often to chemically exfoliate.  Most people can use a peel or leave on product like a serum or lotion daily if the concentration is only 10%.  A weekly peel of 15% to 20% is the maximum that most people need if they are just trying to fight off aging, treat very fine lines, or just trying to achieve extremely smooth skin.  If you are dealing with severe acne scarring or deep wrinkles, you may wish to chemically exfoliate 4 times a week or more, but you should take ample time to work your way up to this level.  The more you peel, the more you need to use skin rebuilding creams and serums.  Because you’ll be gradually using stronger products and peeling more frequently, it may be easy to find the level that works for you skin’s unique needs.  Don’t use more than you have to, just because these products are available.  If you notice that you’re acne scars are improving at 20%, stay at that level until you stop seeing results.

The nice thing about more chemically exfoliating several times a week is that you can actually get the same results that you’d achieve using a strong peel every few months.  You may not need to ever go above 20% concentrations to get results.  Remember that if you are trying to fully remove deep acne scars or wrinkles, the process can take a year or more.  If you need to see quicker results, it may be best to seek out the services of an esthetician or dermatologist.