To help simplify your decision process, I've created a quick and easy quiz that will recommend the perfect chemical peel for you based on 3 key factors:
Skin Type: some types of chemical peels are better suited for particular skin types. For example, salicylic acid peels are excellent for oily skin as it's a lipophilic molecule (it mixes well with oils) that can penetrate your skin's natural lipid barrier.
Skin Concern: in addition, you want a chemical peel that will effectively address your primary skin conditions. Some are "jack-of-all-trades", like glycolic acid, that help with a little bit of everything, while others, like TCA, are more specialized.
Experience Level: lastly, the quiz takes into account your level of experience. Generally, beginners should start with a light peel like mandelic, glycolic, or lactic, and gradually work up to deeper peels like salicylic, TCA, and Jessner.
Ready? Take The Quiz Now:
💡 Editor's Note: there are over a dozen different types of chemical peels right now, plus hundreds of brand name ones like SkinMedica's Vitalize Peel®, Obagi's Blue Peel®, and SkinTech's Easy TCA Peel®. However, to keep things simple, we've decided to focus on the most popular chemical peels (mandelic, glycolic, lactic, salicylic, TCA, and Jessner).
The 6 Types of Chemical Peels (Infographic)
Save or Pin this infographic! (to remind yourself which chemical peel to get next time)
You've tried everything in the "acne" aisle of your local drugstore / Wal-Mart and your dermatologist has already prescribed you countless oral antibiotics and topical creams.
Oh wait, that's actually my story!
But if any of this sounds familiar, I highly recommend adding a salicylic acid peel to your skin care routine to help clear up blemishes and prevent future breakouts.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is very unique - it has no problem penetrating through oily and acne-prone skin, thanks to its lipophilic properties.
This means it goes deep into your hair follicle (where the root cause of acne lies) to help remove the "sticky" piles of dead skin cells, keratin, and sebum, that are responsible for those pesky pimples like whiteheads and blackheads.
(in fact, most drugstore products use 2% salicylic acid to fight acne)
Overall, a salicylic peel will help you open clogged pores, prevent microcomedones from forming (the precursor to pimples), and keep your skin looking clearer and acne-free.
For most people, I recommend starting out with 20% salicylic acid, however, if you want a more gentle option, 10% is also available.
One of the O.G. chemical peels, along with Jessner and Phenol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) has been used for decades to treat wrinkles, fine lines, and acne scars.
That's because TCA is a medium peel that will penetrate beyond the epidermis and into the upper (papillary) dermis, where it's able to remove damaged skin structures to promote collagen production and healthy skin regeneration.
In other words, TCA is a powerful skin peel if your main skin concerns include anti-aging, scarring, and stubborn hyperpigmentation (age spots, sun damage, and melasma).
TCA is especially useful using the CROSS (chemical reconstruction of skin scars) technique where the acid is applied using a wooden toothpick into ice pick scars to break down the underlying scar tissue and encourage healthy skin to grow back.
A word of caution, though: TCA is considered an advanced peel, so make sure you're comfortable working with chemical peels first (including proper safety protocols).
In particular, pay attention to the number of layers as a TCA peel is cumulative (it will actually go deeper as you add more layers).
I recommend starting with 15% TCA, which is considered a light chemical peel that's similar to a 50-70% glycolic acid peel.
For TCA CROSS or body peels, go for 25-30% TCA instead.
Tom is the founder and editor of TheDermDetective.com where he applies his decades of personal experience with skincare problems like acne and acne scarring to provide readers with practical advice and product recommendations.