chemical peel guide pca skin
Beauty, Skin Care

Skin Care Spotlight: Guide to Chemical Peels

brooklyn, ny

Whenever I talk about chemical peels, I get inundated with questions and quizzical looks. And I totally get it, because it sounds crazy. Everyone remembers that episode of Sex and the City where Samantha Jones, at her doctor’s suggestion, gets a chemical peel right before Carrie’s fabulous book party and comes in wearing a veiled hat to cover her raw, red face. Horrified by the state of her very painful looking skin, Carrie asks her to go home. With that image in mind, I can completely understand why someone may question my love of them. *Cue Samantha voice* But honey, peels have come a long way. There are many different types of peels (and that kind of peel does still exist), but the ones I get from PCA Skin have no actual downtime. No beekeeper getups required, no looking like beef carpaccio. After a peel, my skin feels a little tight on day two, and then another day or two later, I lightly peel as though recovering from a mild sunburn. Sometimes I don’t peel much at all, since I exfoliate with acids regularly, but the results are always there. That being said — if you’ve never had a peel and don’t use acids, you might wake up a few days later looking like you are a snake who shed its skin. Is it weird that I’m jealous of that? My first peel (years ago), that’s what happened, and it was so cool. 

I think of it this way: getting a chemical peel is like pushing my skin’s reset button, and once my skin is back to where I want it, my facials help me maintain. But when my skin is in need of that reset button, there’s nothing quite like a chemical peel — it leaves my skin feeling baby smooth and clear, makes my pores look smaller, and my skin tone more even. And ever since I’ve been going to Kevin at KUR Skin Lab for PCA SKIN peels, I’ve come to realize that not all peels are equal. Every time I go in, I pick his brain about the different types of ingredients and their benefits, and he is so knowledgable. He’s all about the science behind everything, explains everything in detail, and still makes the whole process a relaxing spa experience. It’s not my first time getting peels — and full disclosure: my first three PCA Skin peels were complimentary — but what I like about their approach is that it’s not one size fits all. Different blends are used depending on the individual, skin type, and the desired results. I have gotten different peels on my visits, depending on my skin’s needs — and Kevin loves to “cocktail” different acids to get truly tailored results. He’ll start with the detox pore treatment, then go to retinol and a blended TCA, or when I had a couple of hormonal cysts that were (not to be dramatic ) ruining my life!!, he went with the deeper PCA Peel with hydroquinone that knocked them right out and cleared everything up. While the best thing to do is have your skin assessed by a professional, but I’ll list some of the different peel options (spotlighting PCA because that’s what I’ve been doing/researching) and their benefits, according to their ingredient breakdowns:

Blended TCA Peels from PCA SKIN

Great for anti-aging, managing breakouts, improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and evening out skin tone. It is a blend of TCA, a peeling agent that treats textural concerns and lactic acid (alpha hydroxy acid / AHA), with the addition of phytohormones for plumping and hydration.  Their blended TCA options are:

Sensi Peel is formulated as a unique peeling option for all patients,
including those with highly sensitive skin. This gentle 6% TCA solution
will improve surface texture and brighten the skin while helping to
promote an even skin tone. This is a great option for a first time peel. I get these regularly for maintenance purposes, and rarely ever peel — but I still see great results.

Ultra Peel I is specially formulated to treat maturing skin. It’s great for people like me who use acids regularly and need something stronger than the Sensi Peel. It will help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while promoting an even skin tone and clear complexion. If you’re not using acids regularly, you might peel a little more or a little longer than I do, but even with the deeper peels, I usually just have small patches that last a few days. Nothing I need to stay home for.

Ultra Peel Forte is a more active treatment, yielding greater results.  It rejuvenates the skin and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while promoting an even skin tone. It’s only available for use with physician’s, so your esthetician won’t have this option.

Key ingredients of each are pretty much the same, with different levels of ingredient strength (taken from PCA). The Sensi Peel also has an addition of Kojic Acid, which helps promote an even skin tone.
Lactic Acid (12% in Sensi Peel, 10% in Ultra Forte, 20% in Ultra I) – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in milk and
sugars. It is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) and moisturizes
the skin.
Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) (6% in Sensi Peel, 20% in Ultra Forte, 10% in Ultra I) – is most commonly used as a superficial and medium-depth peeling agent to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Kojic Acid – helps promote an even skin tone.
Azelaic Acid – helps promote a clear complexion and even skin tone.
Arbutin – is an antioxidant that also helps promote an even skin tone.
L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) – is an antioxidant and MMPi that is the only bio-available form of vitamin C for the skin. It minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while promoting an even skin tone.

Bottom line: Sensi Peel is great for both sensitive skin and first timers or for maintenance, Ultra I is best for mature skin and has a higher percentage of moisturizing Lactic Acid, Ultra Forte is stronger with a higher percentage of the peeling agent and only available from physicians.


Deep Pore Treatment & Retinol Peel

Detox Gel Deep Pore Treatment The way I think of this is a chemical version of extractions. Rather than a steam and manual extraction, the deep pore treatment (blend of lactic, glycolic and salicylic acids) is applied to exfoliate and purify. Kevin usually starts with this treatment before moving on to the peel solutions.

Key ingredients:
Glycolic Acid (2%) – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that is excellent for oily skin types.
Salicylic Acid (2%) – is a calming lipophilic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps
promote a clear complexion. You’ll often see this ingredient in acne treatments.
Lactic Acid (2%) – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in milk and sugars.
It is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) and moisturizes the skin.
Totarol – is an extract from the New Zealand totara tree that is a gentle antioxidant
and purifying agent.
Glutathione – is an endogenous antioxidant that is produced naturally by the body.
Hydrogen Peroxide – is a topical oxygen source effective in purifying the skin.


6% Pure Retinol Peel Chances are, you’ve heard that you should introduce retinol (Vitamin A) into your skin care routine for any visible aging concerns, or maybe you’ve used it for acne control. It is the anti-aging magic (along with SPF); it boosts collagen production, smooths out the texture of the skin, and gives a brighter, more even tone / can reduce discoloration. Keeping in mind that most over the counter retinols are anywhere from a fraction of a percent to 1%, this is 6%. So, this is not the same stuff you buy at the drug store — this is for professional application, only. The most suitable candidates for this more active retinoid treatment are those with normal to resilient skin.

Key Ingredients (taken from PCA):

Pure Retinol (6%) – is converted to retinoic acid in the skin. Vitamin A helps to promote a clear complexion and an even skin tone.
Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract – is a skin calming antioxidant that aids in skin rejuvenation.
Silybum Marianum Fruit Extract – is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radical damage.
Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil – is an antioxidant that also aids in the penetration of other actives within the formula.
Tocopherol (Vitamin E) – is an important antioxidant that also provides emollience.


Jessner’s Peels / Deeper peels

PCA Peel with hydroquinone & resorcinol This is a more potent solution that provides more exfoliation for oilier, thicker and more resilient skin types. It’s effective on sun-damaged and thickened skin, and excellent for those with active or cystic acne and asphyxiated skin (dry on the surface, oily underneath), or those who require deeper treatment. As stated above, I got this one when a couple of hormonal blemishes (those painful, deep ones) popped up, and it zapped them. I didn’t peel that much (I rarely do, since I exfoliate with acids regularly), but I peeled for a longer time since it goes deeper.

Key ingredients:
Lactic Acid (14%) – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in milk and
sugars. It is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) and moisturizes
the skin.
Salicylic Acid (14%) – is a calming lipophilic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps
promote a clear complexion. Salicylic acid is in a lot of acne treatments, since it helps unclog pores and can reduce sebum production. It’s not my skin’s favorite acid since it tends to dry me out and I don’t really need it, but it can be great for acneic skin.
Kojic Acid (3%) – helps promote an even skin tone.
Citric Acid – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in citrus fruits.
Hydroquinone (2%) – helps to promote an even skin tone.
Resorcinol – is a flaking agent.

PCA Peel – hydroquinone free This solution is ideal for more sensitive skin types, people of color, or those allergic to or sensitive to hydroquinone. This treatment will help to rejuvenate and improve the appearance of breakout-prone skin, while also promoting an even, bright skin tone.

Key ingredients:
Lactic Acid (14%) – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in milk and
sugars. It is part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF) and moisturizes
the skin.
Salicylic Acid (14%) – is a calming lipophilic beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps
promote a clear complexion.
Kojic Acid (3%) – helps promote and even skin tone.
Citric Acid – is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally found in citrus fruits.


I know this is a lot of information to process, but since I get so many questions about the chemical peel process, I wanted to give you as much of a breakdown as possible. If you have any questions, please let me know — and if you’re in NYC, I highly recommend scheduling with Kevin at KUR Skin Lab and asking him a million questions. He’s incredibly knowledgable and so kind, and he truly believes in every single product he suggests. Tell him I sent you!

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  1. Destiny says:

    Can you make a post with your skin care routine and what acidic products you use and how often? Also, how often should you be getting a chemical peel?

    LOVE this post! It’s so helpful since it’s something I’ve been interested in for awhile!

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Yes, I will! In the meantime, I use acids on a daily basis — usually just as a toner after my cleanse (most often something mild like Pixi Glow, sometimes Biologique p50). I also love Sunday Riley Good Genes and Luna at night. Kevin recommends getting a series of three peels in a row (once every six weeks) and has clients who continue throughout the year, but I usually do a series of three and then maintain at home and with a few facials the rest of the year.

  2. Madison McQuary says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this! I have been curious as to the process after hearing you mention it and would love to add this to my routine one day. I do have a question though, you mentioned that you exfoliate with acids and I was wondering what your top acid exfoliators were?

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      My acid toners of choice are usually Biologique P50, Pixi Glow Tonic (mild, so I usually use this on day to day), First Aid Beauty radiance pads. I also occasionally use the Peter Thomas Roth Unwrinkled pads (they’re the kind you leave on for a bit and then rinse off) and the Pixi pads that are similar (not to be confused with the glow tonic to go). I also love Sunday Riley Good Genes for lactic acid, and especially in conjunction with Luna (retinol oil).

    • Keiko Lynn says:

      Glad you enjoyed – thank you!

  3. Jacquie says:

    Thanks for your honest and detailed description! I had a total panic attack last week when I went to the dermatologist and she was throwing so many products at me. I later walked into my local medi-spa that same day for a consultation (I’m in Brooklyn) and they threw a whole slew of different services at me. It’s hard to know who to trust or what to do that will truly, but since you’re a fellow New Yorker I feel like I can go to Kur without reservation!

  4. Jen says:

    Hi Keiko! I’m an Esthetician who uses PCA Skin for chemical peels. Your breakdown of the peels are fantastic! I always ask my clients to take a before selfie of cleansed skin, before they start their treatments, and then an after photo around treatment 6. This is because most people don’t notice subtle changes in their skin on a daily basis, and become used to it, but seeing the beginning and end photos helps them see the progress made. Did you by any chance take before and after photos from your 3 treatments?

  5. Marlene says:

    This article is so complete! Thanks for all that info. I remember my first facial, when I was 15 my mom took me to her dermatologist for threatening my teen acne, since that date until now ( I am 37 years old) I am been doing facials ( I just love how I feel when I get one) and chemical peels from my early 20’s I do it every 3 months and I can said I have a really good skin and look more younger that my actual age. The trick with peels is that you have to protect your skin from the sun and hydrated very well after you get one. I use Vasanti Brightenup twice a week and Pixie Glow Tonic twice a day (morning and at night) after I wash my face I swear by these two products are the best for keep your skin bright and with a healthy glow.

  6. TopElectrolysisNYC says:

    Thank you for sharing details about various peels. It is important to understand peels first before use. Useful for new users.

  7. Viva Glow says:

    I’ve learned a lot from this guide. Please continue making more!