Licensed Esthetician + Acne Specialist

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A Beginner’s Guide to Acids and Chemical Peels

January 12, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Acids and Chemical Peels

Disclaimer: Please consult a dermatologist or an esthetician before using chemical peels. I am NOT liable for any injuries as a result of improper use. You are solely responsible for any damage that may occur from improper use of acids.

Hi there! You’re new to chemical peels, aren’t you? Don’t be scared. Relax. Take a breath. They’re not as risky as they sound…if you do them right. This post will cover the various types of acids, what they do, how to use them, where to buy, and the pre and post care which is incredibly important to achieving the results your skin deserves.

If you aren’t caught up on what *exactly* I mean by acids, I would highly recommend you read my post about the importance of pH in skin care. It’s important to know the pH of peels because the lower the pH, the deeper and faster a peel will penetrate into your skin, which can result in burns if you have sensitive skin.

What are the Most Common Types of Acids?




  • TCA

Which Acid Should I Use?

The kind of acid you should use depends on the skin condition you are trying to treat. All acids are not made equally. Some are harsher than others and will cause visible peeling while others only cause light flaking. The percentage of the peel and the sensitivity of your skin determine whether you will experience any flaking or peeling. Even in more gentle peels, if you use a very high percentage and do not have experience with acids, your skin will likely burn and peel. But, this isn’t the kind of peeling we want.

Lactic Acid:

  • Great peel for beginners because it has a larger molecule size making it less irritating
  • Treats hyperpigmentation
  • Penetrates epidermis only
  • Works on all skin types
  • Humectant meaning that it also hydrates the skin, making it suitable for dry skin and eczema

Salicylic Acid:

  • Lipophilic (oil soluble)
  • Best for oily and acneic skin types; reduces oiliness and breakouts over time
  • Deeply cleans pores and gets rid of blackheads
  • Penetrates epidermis
  • Softens texture of the skin

Mandelic Acid:

  • Works best for sensitive skin types and darker complexions
  • Treats acne, helps reduce the appearance of pores, sun damage, wrinkles and fine lines
  • Slowly and slightly penetrates the epidermis
  • Loosens blackheads

Glycolic Acid:

  • Best for oily, combination, and normal skin types
  • Treats acne, acne scars, oiliness, dullness, and texture
  • Deeply penetrates the skin


  • Absolute LAST resort
  • Extremely invasive and irritating; can easily cause burns and make hyperpigmentation worse
  • Treats deep skin conditions such as wrinkles, scars, and cystic acne
  • Do not use at home

How to Safely Use Chemical Peels at Home

  • ***Always perform a patch test on hand prior to applying on face***
  • Cleanse skin and pat it dry
  • Soak a cotton pad with solution and apply to less sensitive areas first
  • Do not rub onto skin, apply a single layer in one motion
  • Let acid sit on skin for no more than 5 minutes or until excessive burning sensation begins to occur
  • When burning sensation occurs, FULLY rinse off with warm water and mild soap to neutralize acid (water and soap have higher pH’s which neutralizes acids). Repeat as necessary to ensure all acid is off.
  • Pat skin dry
  • Moisturize intensely
  • If daytime, apply sunscreen immediately
  • If nighttime, apply Cerave Healing Ointment

Pre and Post Peel Precautions

  • USE SUNSCREEN DAILY (Reapply every 2 hours)
  • Do not use manual exfoliants 1-2 days before or after using a chemical peel (or, ever. I’ll explain why in another post!)
  • Do not pick on flaking or peeling skin
  • Moisturize intensely after a peel
  • Neutralize acids if immediately if excessive burning occurs (acids can be neutralized with water, make sure they are completely off of your skin.
  • If a burn occurs, do not pick at it and completely discontinue use of peel until the burn is healed. Use the Cerave Healing Ointment for quicker recovery.
  • Discontinue retinol, benzoyl peroxide, and/or any other acid products at least 3 days prior to chemical peel as using them with peel can lead to further irritation

Incorporate acids into your routine:

Where To Buy

Makeup Artists Choice
Perfect Image LLC
Refresh Skin Therapy

I hope this post calmed your fears about using chemical peels on your face! If it did, comment below and let me know what peel(s) you will be looking into for your skin!

Written by:

  1. Melissa-Clare Oates

    I used to go to a beauty salon for my peels but it is breaking the bank. I am from South Africa so have some yet limited access to the products you mention. I would like to try the ordinarys aha 30% and bha 2% peel. My main goal is to lessen the size of my super large pores. I do have pigmentation but this is due to fluctuations in my hormones, so until that is right I don’t think I can do much about the pigmentation. Will this peel be right for me?

    • Hi, Melissa! The Ordinary's peeling solution would be excellent for you being that you have already gotten chemical peels before. The size of your pores cannot be reduced because pore size is genetic and once they are clogged and expand, they can never contract back to their original size. Bummer, I know :( But, the peel would greatly help reduce the appearance of them as well as any concerns with hyperpigmentation. Make sure you really protect your skin before and after the peel with hydrating, moisturizing, and being consistent with sunscreen!

      • Melissa-Clare Oates

        Ah thanks so much for the info 🤗 I use a Nivea day cream q10 with spf 30 during the day and an oil mixture of sweet almond rosehip vitamin e and frankinscence for night time. I find the Nivea leaves me too oily so will probably switch to Eucerin oil control with spf 50. Will this be enough for after the peel? Hydration wise I mean.

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