Published on July 5, 2023
Dealing with acne breakouts can take a toll on your sanity. But dealing with acne scars can scar you for life – figuratively and oftentimes, literally.
While acne disappears after some time, acne scars often stay with you forever – marring your face and doing a number on your self-esteem.
The good news is you don’t have to suffer from acne scars forever. Thanks to science, there are now many effective ways to get rid of acne scars, with chemical peel being the most popular.
But do chemical peels really work for acne scars?
In general, they do. In fact, the results of various studies supported the use of chemical peels for acne scars. It not only gets rid of skin imperfections but also tightens and rejuvenates it. Though, depending on the severity of the scarring, you may need multiple sessions to achieve your desired results.
Chemical peels, however, come in various types and depths. The best one will depend on the severity of your scars.
To help you figure out which type of chemical peel you should get, we’ll look at the available scientific evidence. But first, let’s refresh our knowledge of acne scars.
Understanding Acne Scars
Not all types of acne will leave scars. Acne scars only happen when the breakout reaches the deeper layers of your skin and damages the tissue underneath.
As your skin tries to heal the damage, it produces collagen – a type of protein that gives our skin structure and elasticity. It stitches back the damaged tissues to promote faster healing.
If your body produces too little collagen, the tissues won’t heal properly, and indentations can form. This leads to recessed acne scars. Too much collagen, on the other hand, can cause a raised acne scar.
Certain factors can also increase the risk of you getting acne scars, such as:
- The severity of your breakout. The more severe your acne is, the more likely it is to leave scars.
- How you treat your acne. Pricking, popping, and squeezing your acne will only worsen the inflammation.
- Your genes. If you have relatives with acne scars, you’ll likely have them too.
- Your skincare routine. Certain skincare habits and products can worsen your breakout, increasing the risk of scarring.
Some people may also relate acne scars with hyperpigmentation and dark spots. But they are two very different acne-related skin issues. Hyperpigmentation does not necessarily lead to acne scars and vice versa.
Why Are Chemical Peels Ideal for Acne Scars?
Chemical peels, as the name suggests, involve using acidic substances to peel away layers of your skin. This process not only gets rid of imperfections but also reveals the newer, healthier skin underneath.
As mentioned, acne scars can penetrate the deepest layers of your skin. Because of this, chemical peels are often recommended for them.
Very few procedures can reach into and peel away your deepest skin layers like chemical peels. Studies have also shown that a series of chemical peels can significantly improve the appearance of acne scars over a short period.
Some dermatologists also recommend combining chemical peels with other procedures for best results.
What Are The Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars?
Chemical peels come in different depths: superficial, medium, and deep. The best chemical peel for acne scars will depend on the type and severity of the scar.
That said, here are some of the best chemical peels for different types of acne scars based on clinical evidence:
1. Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Chemical Peel
Best for: mild to moderate acne scars
TCA peels can vary from superficial to deep peels, depending on the concentration of trichloroacetic acid.
A study in Iraq showed that a series of 25% TCA peels followed by manual dermasanding can gradually improve the appearance of mild to moderate scars. Results also indicate that the improvement became more significant after each session. No permanent side effects were also observed.
2. Phenol Peels
Best for: severe and atrophic acne scars
Also known as carbolic acid, phenols are the strongest type of chemical peel available. It penetrates all the way into the dermis, breaking down the scar tissues and promoting dermal regeneration. This makes them ideal for severe acne scars that don’t respond to other types of treatment.
In a 2014 clinical trial, patients with post-atrophic acne scars were subjected to one session of deep phenol peel. Most patients reported a high degree of improvement 8 months after the procedure.
3. Glycolic Acid Peel
Best for: boxcar scars, superficial and moderately deep scars
Glycolic acid (GA) is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a common ingredient in exfoliating treatments. It’s used for medium-depth chemical peels as it reaches deep into your epidermis.
According to a 2011 clinical trial in India, 35% GA peels combined with microneedling can work wonders for superficial and boxcar scars. The patients subjected to the study also reported improved skin texture and lesser post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
4. Jessner Peel
Best for: mild and superficial scars
A Jessner peel is a superficial peeling agent made of resorcinol, lactic acid, and salicylic acid. It’s relatively mild and only rarely goes deeper than the skin’s top layer, making it ideal for superficial acne scars.
As per the Journal of Clinical Aesthetic Dermatology, Jessner Peel destroys your skin’s top barrier by breaking up your individual skin cells. This prompts the skin to grow new skin cells and repair cellular damage, leading to smoother and better-looking skin.
How Much Does It Cost?
Chemical peel cost depends on various factors like:
- the type of peel you’re getting
- your location
- your medical provider
- the number of treatments you need
In general, deep chemical peels are more expensive than superficial peels. It also costs more in highly urbanized areas like New York than, say, Des Moines, Iowa. And, obviously, the more treatments you need, the more you’ll have to pay.
Should You Get a Chemical Peel for Your Acne Scars?
Though chemical peels are generally safe, it’s not recommended for all skin types. It can cause unwanted side effects like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, especially in people with darker skin types.
It’s also not recommended for pregnant women and those who tend to have frequent and severe cold sore outbreaks.
If you’re not sure whether a chemical peel is right for you, don’t hesitate to ask your dermatologist. They can tell you if you’re a good candidate for a chemical peel and what type of peel is ideal for your acne scars.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio has been writing about health and beauty topics for years. As an experienced writer, she makes sure to only use information from reputable sources and peer-reviewed studies. Her writing has also appeared on various US-based sites.