Ingredients Used in Chemical Peels



Ingredients Used in Chemical Peels

Over the years, chemical peels have become a go-to cosmetic skincare treatment to effectively address an extensive array of beauty concerns, from simple ones like rejuvenating dull and lacklustre skin to major dilemmas, such as correcting hyperpigmentation from melasma or erasing acne scars

Female client getting a chemical peel

The biggest secret to a successful peeling experience comes in knowing the right depth and which active chemical peel ingredients your skin needs. In this article, we’ve created a list of the most common active ingredients used in light to deep peels, along with their beneficial skincare properties. 

Continue reading to learn more!

Chemical Peel Ingredients for Light Peels

A light or superficial chemical peel, also called aesthetic peels, produces gentle exfoliation of the skin’s outermost layer, also known as the epidermis. Light peels are recommended for individuals who want to:

Light peels involve minimal skin redness and usually see the skin fully healed within seven weeks. The most popular ingredients used in light peels include:

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid or BHA that naturally occurs and is derived from willow bark. It is a perfect chemical peel ingredient for treating acne-prone skin by removing dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and dissolving the deep-seated acne-causing oil and debris inside the pores. Aside from clearing up existing acne issues, it also prevents new pimples and blackheads from developing. 

Unlike other acid-based chemical peel ingredients with risks of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, light peels that use salicylic acid can also lighten dark spots without irritating skin. They are anti-inflammatory, meaning they are safe and effective for all skin types, including those with darker skin complexion who want to address sun damage or aging. 

When choosing chemical peels with salicylic acid for acne treatment, your doctor may combine it with other products that have antibacterial ingredients or benzoyl peroxide since it cannot kill P. acnes bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) in the skin. Mild skin dryness is a known downside of this chemical peel ingredient, so do not forget to moisturize post-treatment.

Application of a gold-coloured chemical peel on a woman’s face

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that naturally occurs and is derived from sugarcane. It is the smallest hydroxyl molecule and is deemed the best-performing acid by skincare experts, penetrating the skin’s deepest layers at record speed. 

Apart from scraping off dead skin cells, this chemical peel ingredient can also stimulate collagen production, resulting in better fine lines and wrinkle management and giving you a gorgeous glow after a light peel. A light peel with glycolic acid can also address photoaging, making it an excellent choice for anyone who wants to fight the visible signs of aging. If you have dry skin, you’ll notice a boost in hydration after peeling with glycolic acid because of its ability to seal in moisture and increase hyaluronic acid.

If you have sensitive skin, your doctor may advise against glycolic acid, as this chemical peel ingredient can be potentially irritating. 

Lactic Acid

Lactic is a naturally occurring AHA often found in milk, but there are vegan sources such as fermented corn starch, beets and other sugar-rich foods. When used in light peels, it does a great job with gentle skin exfoliation, resulting in a brighter and more refreshed complexion. Unlike glycolic acid, this AHA chemical peel ingredient has a bigger molecular composition and cannot penetrate the skin deeply. They are more suitable for sensitive skin types because they can produce the desired results without significant skin inflammation.

Mandelic Acid

Another known chemical peel ingredient frequently used for a light peel is mandelic acid, an AHA that naturally comes from bitter almonds. It’s a versatile acid that can work wonders, enhancing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, treating acne, eliminating skin discolouration, and revealing tighter and firmer skin. 

Mandelic acid has the largest molecule of all AHAs, making it kinder for those with sensitive skin and darker skin tones because it has less risk of causing inflammation or triggering hyperpigmentation like other AHAs. It also has a potent antimicrobial function, making it an excellent chemical peel ingredient if you want to do something about mild acne, breakouts, and clogged or enlarged pores without worrying about the potential side effects. 

Phytic Acid

Phytic acid is a gentle AHA derived from legumes, grains, and rice. More than aiding mild skin exfoliation by boosting cell turnover rates, this chemical peel ingredient also has antioxidant properties that can help counteract free radical damage on the skin. It’s a favourite ingredient for skincare products that offer skin brightening benefits and treats hyperpigmentation due to melasma.

In an article by Byrdie, Rita Linkner, a board-certified dermatologist, shares that phytic acid is also a chelator, which appears to work mechanistically to absorb up iron molecules in the skin, which are responsible for causing damage to DNA. It acts more as an antioxidant than an acid, making this chemical peel ingredient non-irritating and a better option for sensitive, acne-prone skin.

Woman getting a black-coloured chemical peel

Ingredients Used In Medium-Depth Chemical Peels

Medium peels are used as a skin resurfacing treatment that removes dead skin cells from the epidermis to portions of the dermis or the upper part of the skin’s middle layer. As it goes a bit deeper than superficial chemical peels, medium-depth peels can be used to treat deeper fine lines, wrinkles and scars.

Chemical peel ingredients for medium peels may cause more visible dryness and a stinging sensation to the skin. Still, they deliver more dramatic results compared to those used in light peels. 

Trichloroacetic Acid

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are medium-depth peels that go deeper in the skin’s layers than salicylic or glycolic acid. This chemical peel ingredient is considered medical-grade and can only be administered by registered medical professionals. TCA peels are an excellent treatment option for darker skin discolouration due to sun damage and scarring concerns. A week’s downtime is required for this chemical peel treatment. It’s not recommended for use if you have sensitive skin.

Jessner’s Solution

Jessner’s Solution is one of the most sought-after chemical peel ingredients because of its incredible skin rejuvenating benefits. It was named after Max Jessner, a German-American dermatologist who developed it in the 1940s. Initially, the solution featured equal parts of lactic acid, salicylic acid, and resorcinol to treat hyperkeratotic epidermal lesions.

Currently, Jessner’s Solution is commonly used to address:

  • Correcting uneven skin tone
  • Fading dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles
  • Treating acne, especially on the back
  • Exfoliating dry and crepey skin on the legs
  • Managing discolouration from skin conditions like melasma 

The chemical peel ingredients and concentration in Jessner’s Solution can be customized to fit particular concerns. Although it’s often used as a medium-depth peeling agent, it can also be modified for light or deep peels. 

Hands with pink gloves applying a white face mask on a woman

Chemical Peel Ingredients for Deep Peels

Deep peels go more in-depth into the innermost layers of the skin. They are usually recommended to combat the appearance of deeper fine lines and wrinkles, scars, or precancerous growth. They also encourage collagen production in the skin, revealing a youthful and radiant glow. Deep peels may be uncomfortable due to the stinging, but they produce significant improvements after one session.


Phenol is also known as carbolic acid. It’s the most powerful chemical peel ingredient that induces aggressive skin peeling for serious skin issues, such as severe acne scars and precancerous growths. Phenol peels reach the skin’s deepest layers, scraping off damaged skin cells and promoting healthy collagen production.  

Due to phenol peels’ intense strength, they should only be administered by an expert dermatologist or plastic surgeon. Never use it for a DIY chemical peel at home. As a deep peel, phenols can be painful with considerable downtime lasting for up to three weeks and skin sensitivity and redness lasting for months. Nevertheless, once the skin has completed its natural healing process, you’ll be glad you took the leap because the results are absolutely worth it. 

Chemical Peel Treatments at McLean Clinic

Whether you’re looking for ways to achieve a clear and glowing complexion or a proactive anti-aging strategy to keep them guessing about your age, there are chemical peel ingredients that will do the trick.

McLean Clinic is a private aesthetic medical facility in Mississauga, offering a wide selection of non-invasive and non-surgical cosmetic treatments, including different types of chemical peels. Find the best peel for your specific beauty and skincare goals. Book a free consultation with our very own Dr. Hugh McLean

Contact us today!

November 12, 2020

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