Chemical Peel Before & After

This article has been updated! Read my new chemical peel advice post, which includes pricing, more Jessner peel before and after photos, product recommendations, a helpful timeline for scheduling your treatments, and more.

Chemical Peel Before & After

Since posting my chemical peel photos, detailing the stages of the process, and writing my chemical peel blog review back in 2013, I've had quite a few Jessner peels (my favorite) and TCA peels. However, I've saved a ton of money over the past 6 months by doing my own chemical peels at home. 

At my last professional peel, I made a note of the product being used and did some research when I got home. I was able to buy the exact same one, Dermalure Jessner Solution Acid Peel 14%, from Amazon for less than the cost of a single peel. 

(2/23/19 Update: I've switched to Dermalure 30% TCA Peel for my at-home treatments. It's nothing against their Jessner solution - both are fine. This one was just on sale when I ran out of the other.)

I also use Dermalure's AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser, which I apply before the Jessner. The product is self-neutralizing, despite what the Amazon listing says, and couldn't be simpler. 

Side note: There's currently a 1-star review for the at-home peel that complains, "I had to deal with days upon days of gross peeling and flakey chunks of skin falling off my face (and I have super oily skin). If I happened to laugh really hard on a particular day or take a big bite out of my food, well guess what? The skin around my mouth and cheeks would split apart and I'd have very visible pieces of cracked skin running across my face." As you're about to see from my photos below, THAT'S HOW A PEEL WORKS!

I love the at-home route because the best results are achieved by completing a series of peels, which isn't always feasible when you're working around someone else's schedule. Plus, paying someone else to apply the peels can get pretty expensive, pretty fast! That said...

I'm not sure I'd recommend going the DIY route to a chemical peel newbie, as you're already nervous enough the first time without the added worry of doing it yourself. It's so convenient (and cost-effective!) once you're comfortable with the chemical peel process though. I love being able to spiff up my complexion on my own schedule and from the comfort of my own home.

If you're unsure whether to invest in a peel performed by a beauty professional or attempt to tackle your own, ZenMed sells a Glycolic acid solution that is gentle enough to use daily. It's like a gradual peel, rather that one that will provide instant results. I've used it on and off for about a year. It isn't my favorite ZenMed product, but it's good enough that I'll probably repurchase it when I run out. You can check out my ZenMed reviews to learn if this might be a good choice for you.

Oh, and if you're up for a lighthearted Jessner peel warning (and a laugh), check out A Nightmare Jessner Peel Side Effect. I learned my lesson.

Okay, on to my original blog post:

Considering a chemical peel? I recently underwent my first Jessner peel and thought I'd share my results, post a Jessner peel review, and answer some frequently asked chemical peel questions. (I'm guessing that "Does a chemical peel hurt?" is a biggie!) I'd been planning to order an over-the-counter peel (this one specifically, which I heard of when we were in Iceland. I still haven't tried it but it has great reviews), but my computer led me a different direction.

I decided to do this on a whim after Groupon greeted me one morning with a great $40 chemical peel deal.

Now, I can read your mind. You just gasped in horror and thought You trusted your face to a discount chemical peel?! You're wondering where my mother was and why she didn't stop me. But not to worry. Really!

Here is my Jessner peel before and after:

Chemical Peel Before & After
Chemical Peel Before & After

Also known as "EEEK!" and "Oooh, Ahhh"

Not too shabby, right? To be fair, the "before" is extra bad because the Jessner peel had just been done and I'm making my "not sure sharing this on the internet is such a good idea/my skin is ruined" face and my "after" was taken right before leaving for work, about a week and a half after the procedure. These photos are not retouched or Photoshopped, but I am wearing makeup in one and not in the other. Still, it's hard to argue against getting a chemical peel after seeing the results. 

I wouldn't say the results after only 1 peel are drastic enough that people are going to stop in their tracks when they see you, but you can definitely see a change when looking up close in a mirror. Your face looks fresh, which makes sense because a chemical peel works by peeling off all your old skin. It's like an extreme exfoliation, achieving results you can't get from microdermabrasion. 

In fact, now that I've had a chemical peel, I feel like the few times I've paid for a microdermabrasion (also Groupon!) were a waste of money. The two procedures cost about the same and the results are just not comparable.

Feel free to comment if you have a question I haven't answered. I'm happy to help! Keep in mind, of course, that everything here is my own opinion from my own chemical peel experience. If you have a special medical condition or have had an adverse reaction to a beauty treatment before, I would absolutely check with an expert before undergoing a Jessner chemical peel.

Now, let's get those questions answered!

Do chemical peels hurt?

In my experience, it doesn't hurt at all. The sensation is like the slight burn you feel after applying astringent to your face. Maybe a teenie bit more extreme, like if you'd exfoliated before using the astringent. It's not something they're going to start offering at Disneyland, but it's nothing to cry about. I might just be an oddball though. Really, it does seem like brushing acid onto your face would hurt, right?

Before starting, the woman who did my peel insisted that I tell her how much pain I was in. She would apply a little of the Jessner peel solution and have me report on a scale of 1 (fine and dandy) to 10 (want to rip my skin off) how bad my face felt. After the first layer, I told her I was a 2. I actually felt pretty normal, except for the areas around my lips and at the top of my cheeks, which were warm and tingly. 

She seemed startled by my low number. She fanned cool air onto my skin, which I've read online is standard chemical peel procedure. I didn't feel like it made much difference - it was actually a little bit annoying! The next layer was applied and I was asked to report on the 1 to 10 scale again. I felt the same as before, but the woman had seemed so surprised earlier that I didn't want to admit to it. I told her I was a 2.5.

Ultimately, 3 layers of Jessner peel solution were applied and my pain level maxed out at a 2.75 (which, looking back, surely drove the woman applying my peel completely crazy!) It felt like the skin around my mouth and at the top of my cheeks was hot, which I told the woman as each layer was applied.

Recovering from the peel wasn't particularly bad either. The worst part was that my face felt uncomfortably tight and slightly itchy. It looked like all the moisture had been sucked out of it, leaving a desert of scorched skin. Every little wrinkle and crease was magnified. It felt somewhat like a sunburn. 

Speaking of which, I'd heard a common chemical peel side effect is that your face becomes bright red for a few days to weeks, but I didn't experience that problem. My skin was red immediately after the peel, but was mostly back to its regular shade within a few hours.

Will I have burn spots after a chemical peel?

I was alarmed after my first Jessner peel, thinking the tops of my cheeks had been burned. However, the skin eventually flaked and peeled off, just like on the rest of my face, revealing beautiful new skin below.

jessner peel side effects
This picture shows the first stage of the Jessner peel process. The circled areas were the most affected by the peel and took the longest time to heal. Since these were the same parts of my face that had been hot/tingly during the procedure, I was concerned that maybe the peel had been too strong in these areas and that I might have permanent scarring or discoloration. The top of my cheeks looked like they had been burned! Everything turned out fine though and, before disappearing, the redness was only noticeable without makeup.

How should I prepare for a chemical peel?

Exfoliate like crazy! I hadn't been sure whether or not to do this beforehand (and, silly me, it never crossed my mind to look it up online or to simply call and ask) so I did a sort of haphazard exfoliation beforehand, with St. Ives Apricot Scrub, unsure whether doing so was harmful or helpful. When I arrived for my peel, I was asked whether I wanted to start with a microdermabrasion to improve the results. I've been kicking myself ever since!

Also, it's good to arrive for your chemical peel with a clean face, free of makeup, and to stock up on sunscreen beforehand. You'll also want to have a gentle moisturizer for later. I checked with the woman who did my peel about whether I should skip my usual moisturizer, which contains retinol, for a week or so afterward. She just about fell over! You must not use retinol right after doing a chemical peel.

How do you do your own Jessner peels at home? 

Using the same product a dermatologist had used on me (this one), I start by exfoliating and cleansing my skin. The exfoliation helps achieve a deeper peel and the cleanser ensures I am starting with a clean face. When my skin is dry, I do the following:
  1. Wipe an acne solution onto my face and neck. (This one.) This is a completely optional step. I do it because the company recommended it for my acne-prone skin type.
  2. Put vaseline on my lips and around my the bottom of my nostrils to protect these sensitive areas from the Jessner solution. 
  3. Apply Jessner peel solution to a cotton ball or cotton pad. (Don't overly saturate - I don't want it to be dripping, lest it get in my eyes! I'm not sure what happens if you get Jessner peel in your eyes, but I suspect it's a nightmare.)
  4. Wipe the cotton ball/pad over my face, starting with my forehead and working my way down to my neck. There's no need to be gentle on this first layer - a little scrubbing is fine. Wash your hands when you're done, otherwise your palms will feel annoyingly dry. You can do a peel on the back of your hands while you're doing your face, but it's tricky to get the solution on the back while simultaneously keeping it off the front. For the best results on your hands, enlist the help of another person.
  5. Stop here or wait 5-10 minutes before repeating step 3. I always apply 3 layers of the Jessner peel solution, which I'm told is the maximum you should do. It's sufficient for my face to frost and to peel.
  6. That's it! The product I use is self-neutralizing (I think all Jessner peels are, but double check to be sure if you use a different brand, just to be safe), so there's nothing else to apply and no need to wash it off. Actually, you shouldn't wash it off. The longer you can go without showering or cleaning your face, the better. (Well, up to 24 hours. Don't skip bathing for the next 14 days.) I usually make it about 12 hours.
Note: Sometimes the stinging/burning feels very mild to me and sometimes it feels unbearable, like my skin is being eaten away by acid. (Probably because it is being eaten away by acid. Fair enough.) To reduce the stinging, it helps to cool my face by standing in front of a fan. 

What is a Jessner peel?

With a combination of lactic and salicylic acids, a Jessner peel is a medium-depth peel option that is ideal for treating acne and reducing the appearance of light wrinkles. It is inexpensive and has minimal down time.

How much does a Jessner peel cost?

You can buy professional Jessner peels through Groupon for $20-$50 per treatment. The most economical option is to purchase the same solution to use at home for approximately $30 per bottle.

How long does a Jessner peel take?

I was in the office for just over 30 minutes, from the time I walked through the door to the time I left.

How long does a chemical peel last?

You'll enjoy the glow from your initial chemical peel for several weeks. For best results, a series of peels is recommended with 1 every 4-6 weeks.

How long does a chemical peel take to heal?

With a medium-depth peel, such as a Jessner peel, you can expect your face to be finished peeling (and be radiant!) within 7-10 days. You can still go out during this time, as a Jessner peel has little to no downtime. Be sure to wear a full-spectrum sunscreen.

You're only 30. Isn't that too young for a chemical peel?

Nope! If you've been reading my blog, you might have seen my posts Who Wants Pretty Skin? I Do! I Do! and I'm in Therapy. The skin on my face apparently hates me and only responds to being beaten into submission and blasted by microscopic laser beams. 

As a teenager, I hoped (and, to be honest, somewhat expected) that my embarrassing cystic acne would magically disappear on my 18th birthday. Eleven years later, my annoying skin problem continues to flare up about once a month, leaving dark spots that have barely faded by the time the next month's round of acne fun comes along.

Acne is bad enough when you're in high school and everyone else is dealing with the same problem. It's especially awkward as an adult, trying to look professional at work while your boss "helpfully" suggests that your skin would clear right up if you stopped eating chocolate altogether. 

Like heck I'm giving up chocolate. You give up your chocolate!

What were the results of your chemical peel?

My pores looked smaller and clean. My face seemed brighter, as if I'd finally gotten a good night's sleep. Dark spots from recent breakouts literally peeled off with my old skin, leaving a mostly even skin tone in their place. There is a wrinkle on my forehead that I've had for as long as I can remember. It's still there, of course, but it isn't as deep. 

An unexpected bonus was that when my next monthly breakout session rolled around, it was barely noticeable. I would love to be able to do regular Jessner peels just to keep my acne under control.

When is the best time to do a chemical peel?

I've heard that women are more sensitive to pain during their period, so if you have a low pain tolerance, you might want to factor that in when trying to decide when to do a chemical peel. Schedule a peel for when you have time away from work and other social commitments. As for a Jessner peel timeline, I wouldn't do one with anything less than a 3 day weekend. 

Although my peel didn't hurt, I was shocked to see my face in the mirror immediately afterward. It was bright red and looked terrible. This is not a lunchtime cosmetic procedure. You also need to avoid getting sweaty for several days after the peel, lest your sweat become trapped between the fresh layer of skin below and the crispy layer above. (Yuck!)

The first time I had a Jessner peel, I actually had 5 days off from work, including the day of the peel. As a bonus, Sexy Nerd just happened to have a business trip scheduled at the same time, meaning he wouldn't have to see me shuffling around our house like the undead. Hooray! 

Although it seemed like everything was timed perfectly, I wish I'd planned things on a different timescale. The peel was done at 3 pm on Thursday and I was needed back at work Tuesday. Perfect, right? 

Wrong! Although I wouldn't have wanted to return to work that same day, my skin actually looked relatively decent on Friday. It was nothing makeup couldn't have covered. The peeling didn't actually begin until Saturday night.

My timing couldn't have been much worse. After a 5 day weekend, the peeling really started to go nuts on Tuesday morning - just in time for me to go to work. It figures, right? Sometimes, it seems like the universe is just being a jerk. 

I tried to cover my peeling skin with concealer, foundation, and powder (anything I could think of) but it isn't something that can be hidden. And, as the woman who applied the peel made very clear, you must never, ever pick at the peeling skin or you'll risk scarring.

I walked around work all day with giant pieces of skin hanging from my chin, cheeks, and forehead, looking like someone had pressed my face to a cheese grater. Even worse? I kept finding little bits that had fallen off stuck to my shirt and around my desk. It was like the world's worst case of dandruff, but from my face.

photo of jessner peeling
The peeling process continues. Sorry, you're just going to have to go to work like this!

(Even worse, this photo is from Sunday, before my peeling got too wild.)

With a chemical peel, timing is everything!


For best results, consult a medical or skin professional, which I am not. This blog post shares my personal experience with chemical peels and should in no way be interpreted as medical advice.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it...wait, do I really want my gross, peely skin plastered all over the internet? The things I do for this site.

This article has been updated! Read my new chemical peel advice post, which includes pricing, more chemical peel before and after photos, product recommendations, a helpful timeline, and more.

2/5/19 Update: Be sure to check back here in a few weeks. I am currently undergoing Kybella to melt away, or however they magically make it go away, the fat in my hereditary double chin. I've survived the first treatment, which was surprisingly painless (well, painless compared to the horror stories I'd read online) and have just one treatment to go. I'm also trying the Almased diet and will be blogging about the results. After 3 days of a liquid fast, I lost 4 pounds...then promptly gained 5 pounds immediately after moving on to the next stage of the diet! It is not going well.

2/23/20 Update: A blog post about my Kybella experience and an Almased review are both coming soon. Really! I've now completed two Kybella treatments and, although I was initially skeptical, my hereditary double chin actually is almost gone. And it didn't even hurt! Why doesn't everyone do Kybella?? (Probably because it's overpriced due to shady practitioners - more on this in my review.) As for the Almased? Eh, it's okay. I think there are other diet drink options that work just as well for a much lower cost, including the Vitacost version of Almased called Enersed. I've tried both - detailed review coming soon.