All Beauty, All the Time—For Everyone.

Should You Get a Glycolic, Salicylic, or TCA Peel?

Woman having chemical peel
Image Source / Getty Images

Chemical peels are a popular, easy way to brighten your complexion and solve common skin problems. But before you go under the peel, it's important to know the differences between the different types of peels and which one is best for your skin.

How Chemical Peels Work

Chemical peels dissolve your skin's topmost layers of dead skin cells.

Here's how they work: the peel is painted onto the face by a dermatologist or trained cosmetologist. The stronger the formulation and the longer it's left on, the more powerful the "peel." The peel is then washed off and you should notice instant results.

There are three basic types of peels, all which are formulated with acid: Glycolic or salicylic acid (best for oily skin) and trichloroacetic acid (or TCA) which goes super deep.

What is Glycolic Acid?

Glycolic acid is a naturally occurring Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) that is water soluble and reacts with the outermost layer of the skin, dissolving sebum and other dead skin cells.

One thing to note: just because these are called peels doesn't mean your skin will actually peel. The acids break down the dead skin cells, but the shed skin is so small, you won't be able to notice. You will know the peel is working when it's brushed on your skin because it should tingle a little.


All chemical peels help with fine lines and wrinkles and can help reduce the appearance of acne blemishes and pocked skin. Glycolic peels are great for skin brightening while salicylic peels are best for acne-prone skin.

Peels are easier on the skin than scrubs, which can create microscopic tears in the skin. The benefits are also immediate. Once the peel is washed off, you'll be left with glowing skin. But just one peel won't solve your acne problems or fix your dull skin forever. You'll need a series of peels to get the best results.

The cost is about $100 to $300 a pop depending on where you go.

Here are the three types of chemical peels, but we also recommend discussing with a dermatologist or licensed cosmetologist about which peel is best for your skin.

Glycolic Peels

If you are looking to simply brighten skin and get rid of the dullness that comes with age and skin that collects dead skin cells, a glycolic peel is likely your best bet. Glycolic peels (also known as alpha hydroxy acid peels) are the most gentle of the chemical peels. They are made from fruit acids (but can also be man-made) and they penetrate only the top layer of skin, sloughing off dead skin cells. They don't go as deep as TCA peels.

They can remove blemishes and fade sunspots and hyperpigmentation. These peels are great for women with fine lines and wrinkles, freckles, and blemishes. 

You will notice results after one peel, but for best results, you'll need a series of 3 to 6 peels over a period of time.

Don't want to spend the money on a dermatologist's peel? Try these at-home products:

Salicylic Peels

Salicylic acid peels are a great bet for women who struggle with breakouts. The peels not only soothe pimple-prone skin but help keep breakouts at bay and help remove acne scars. This is another light peel; the penetration is not as deep as the TCA peels.

Women with acne swear by these peels.

"I get an enzyme and salicylic acid one, so it’s very light. You just feel a tingling sensation when it’s on. It's only on for about five minutes and then you wash it off. It gives you a refreshed feel, but the process really controls breakouts and evens out skin tone if you have dark spots from acne or just being in the sun. I get dark spots, and it’s so annoying." New Yorker Kai Avent-deLeon said in the beauty blog, "Into the Gloss."

Famed makeup guru Lisa Eldridge also swears by salicylic acid peels for her acne-prone skin that also tends to be dehydrated. "I’ve got really annoying acne-prone skin that can break out, but it can also get dehydrated. My skin’s what I call a ‘lazy’ exfoliator, so I need to exfoliate but in a very gentle way," Eldridge says in Into the Gloss.

Don't want to pay for a professional peel? Try these at-home products that contain salicylic acid:

TCA Peels

TCA Peels penetrate deeper than the glycolic or salicylic acid peels making them a good choice for women with acne-scarring or pigmentation issues. The TCA peels will likely cause redness a few days after use. You'll want to stay out of the sun for a few months after your treatments to protect your new top skin layers.

Not able or willing to pay the price for a peel? For a great peel at home, try:

Related Stories