Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/11/2021
Getting your skin to reach envy-worthy levels can require a lot of work — and a lot of product.
Exfoliants are available in different forms, but one format gaining fast popularity is the chemical peel, which on first thought may sound like a terrible addition to your skin.
However, this form of exfoliation has been in use for centuries, and is a common option for skin rejuvenation in the present.
But should you really use chemicals to take bits of your skin off? How safe is this practice, and what kinds of results should you expect?
The surface of your skin may have acne, hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles to deal with, but right underneath it is fresher, smoother skin, just waiting to be shown off. Chemical peels can help with that.
Otherwise known as chemexfoliation, chemical peels require the application of chemicals to — and stay with us here — destroy the outer, and sometimes inner layer of the skin.
This destruction is typically mild, and is purely to encourage the skin to regenerate itself for a younger, fresher appearance.
Chemical peels for men are a useful way to manage acne, sun damage and issues with pigmentation, as well as scarring.
If you're looking to zap away any of these skin conditions, or other challenges you may be dealing with, a superficial, medium or deep peel may be recommended, depending on the severity of the issue you’re dealing with.
The most important thing to consider when looking at chemical peels for men is choosing which peel is correct for your skin issues. There’s a big difference between a superficial peel and a deep peel — trust us.
These include chemicals like glycolic, salicylic, retinoic and mandelic acid — usual suspects if you're looking for safer alternatives to physical exfoliation.
These types of chemical peels are very mild, and usually only affect the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. Getting the benefits of this procedure can generally set you back a couple hundred bucks.
Taking things a little deeper, these peels go beyond the epidermis, to target problem areas within the inner layer of the skin, more accurately known as the dermis.
Medium peels include glycolic acid, but are more commonly associated with trichloroacetic acid. These chemicals help to roll back the usual effects of age like wrinkles and fine lines.
Going all the way into the middle layer of the skin, these chemical treatments can produce a literal peeling effect, and have been known to cause the skin to peel to improve its appearance.
Deep peels produce the greatest change to the skin and are usually spread on to manage severe photoaging, deep wrinkles and scarring.
To receive this treatment, you may need corresponding deep pockets, as they may cost thousands of dollars.
A lot of people swear by chemical peels to handle their most pressing skin issues, but what does science have to say?
Superficial and medium-depth chemical peels for men have a lot going for them when it comes to managing acne: they won’t set you back a lot of money, they’re typically safe to use and are also known to reduce the chances of dead skin cells, bacteria and oil getting together to form acne.
Added to that, these peels have the divine gift of reducing both pore size and sebum production. They are also great for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial abilities.
Even better? They work.
A study that tested glycolic acid, salicylic acid plus mandelic acid, and phytic acid among 45 men and women with acne found that they had significant improvements after 12 weeks.
These improvements also covered pigmentation caused by acne. However, those with inflammatory acne responded most positively to the salicylic and mandelic acid mix.
Deep peels are the big guns to call when dealing with severe cases of aging. They are useful for managing severe cases of photoaging, and deep, coarse wrinkles.
Through a combination of phenol and croton oil, deep peels are able to go deep into the skin, taking out portions of the dermis and epidermis.
This may sound scary, but it’s actually good news for the skin as it allows for the production of collagen, a protein necessary for skin elasticity which is lost as we progress in age.
This collagen can help to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and other signs of aging on the skin.
Melasma is a fairly common skin condition which is easily identified by dark/discolored patches on the skin.
Chemical peels for men are a popular choice for getting this condition under control thanks to their melanin-removing abilities. They are also able to improve skin tone and texture.
To manage this condition, you can have your pick of chemical peels — alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid are popularly used as peeling agents for managing this condition.
Likewise, salicylic acid, tretinoin and lactic acid get the job done when treating melasma.
When it comes to superficial peels, not a lot has to be done. With a peel like glycolic acid, the skin has to first be examined for dryness or open sores.
Where none are observed, the skin may be primed with hydroquinone or topical retinoids. This can help with reducing hyperpigmentation caused by inflammation.
Glycolic acid may then be applied with a cotton pad or brush over the entire face. It's important to steer clear of the nose and lips.
The peel may be neutralised after three to five minutes and may be repeated every 15 days for four to six months, or until you achieve your desired look.
For salicylic acid, the face is first cleansed before applying the peel. It is usually advisable to begin with a 20% formulation — just enough of the peel should be applied to the skin for suitable coverage.
When enough time has passed, the peel may be rinsed off. Post-peel care is usually required for the first 48 hours.
For more intense, deep peels, you may be placed under general anaesthesia to help you sleep right through the procedure. Like less intense peels, the skin will first be cleansed before administering the chemicals.
Once you're asleep, the peel will be applied quickly and evenly across your skin. Right when it's set to go off, your dermatology practitioner will take the peel off gently to reveal newer, smoother skin.
This process is usually done in bits for deep-peels, and is usually taken off one section at a time for safety reasons.
When that's done, you'll probably need a cold compress to soothe all that newly exposed skin. This will typically be followed by a lotion or cream. For deep peels, the after effects are likely to produce a wound, and surgical dressing will be required.
After getting your peel, your skin will need some time to cool off before you start to see results. The recovery process usually depends on the kind of peel you received.
These usually have a prescribed healing time of one to seven days. During this time, you may notice some redness and a little skin scaling. All of this is expected and it simply means your skin is healing nicely.
You may notice the scaling for around three to seven days. During this time, you'll be doing your healing process a lot of favors by applying lotion or cream, and using sunscreen for protection.
However, it's important to note that your first skin peel won't be a one-time affair. To get the results you truly want, the chemical peeling process has to be repeated every two to five weeks.
These require a longer healing time that may set you back about seven to 14 days. They usually cause the after-effect of red and swollen skin, plus, there's a chance that your eyelids get swollen.
Again, all of these are a part of the process and should calm down in due time. During this period, it isn't uncommon for blisters to form.
To manage these outcomes, you will need to carry out a daily soak, which has to be accompanied by ointment to get your skin to heal at a healthy pace. Lotion or creams should also be applied to soothe your skin.
To avoid complications, antiviral medications may be necessary for about 10 to 14 days. You'll also want to have easy days indoors, where the sun and its harmful rays are avoided.
Medium peels usually require follow-up visits with a dermatology practitioner.
Because deep peels penetrate far into the skin, your skin will be placed in bandages while it takes time to heal.
About four to six daily soaks are required, while ointment has to follow the process for at least 14 days. After that, you can switch things up and apply a thick moisturizer to the skin.
Antiviral medications are also necessary for 10 to 14 days, while you may not be seeing a lot of the sun. Deep peels require that you avoid the sun entirely for about three to six months to get the results you want.
When done correctly, side effects from chemical peels tend to be very mild. You can, however, expect:
Lighter skin color (following medium or deep peels)
Again, these effects are usually mild and may not occur where an experienced dermatologist is used.
Serious side effects might be experienced where care isn't taken after the peel is administered. This may be due to sun exposure, indoor tanning, or scratching the healing skin. These can lead to infections and scarring.
There are different treatment methods when it comes to handling wrinkles, acne, skin dullness, or scarring, chemical peels for men are however a relatively trusted and effective way to get these under control.
To get the best results, visit a dermatologist for advice on the best measures, and safety precautions to adopt for your skin.