Chemical Peels When You Have Brown or Black Skin

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on June 14, 2024
4 min read

Chemical peels sound like something an evil villain does to the superhero. So, what could the benefits possibly be?

Chemical peels can treat many superficial or aesthetic skin problems. Chemical peels can treat:

  • Scars
  • Discoloration
  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles
  • Acne
  • Age spots (liver spots)
  • Freckles
  • Rough skin
  • Sun damage

Chemical peels are ordinarily safe for treating wrinkles, scars, and other skin conditions, but chemical peels when you have brown or black skin can cause problems.

A chemical peel is a cosmetic process that resurfaces your skin. It makes bumps, crevices, and discolorations less noticeable following treatment.

A professional applies a chemical solution to your skin. The type of chemical peel determines what chemical solutions are used during this procedure. 

The solutions are often mixtures of multiple chemicals prepared to suit the treatment. The most common chemical solutions include:

Most of the chemicals in a chemical peel are acids. The chemical solution removes the top layers of skin, forcing it to grow back. When it does, it's likely to be smoother and more even than it was.

Why get a chemical peel? You may get a chemical peel to treat various cosmetic skin problems like scars or age spots. Peels may not remove the problem entirely, but they can reduce the severity.

For example, you may have a scar on your face. A chemical peel can make it less noticeable with enough treatments. 

Chemical peel depth. A chemical peel can penetrate different depths of your skin. A deeper chemical peel often leads to a more dramatic result.

For example, you may get a light chemical peel to treat minor wrinkles or acne. You may need to repeat a light chemical peel after a few weeks.

On the other hand, you can use a deep chemical peel to treat deep scars or wrinkles. A deeper treatment is only performed once so that your skin isn't damaged.

You can get a medium-depth chemical peel for something in-between. You and your doctor can figure out which treatment depth is best for you

Chemical peels are typically for your face, but you can get a chemical peel on your neck, hands, or other parts of your body.

Steps of a chemical peel. You'll likely need to follow a prescribed skincare routine to prepare your skin for the chemical peel. 

This routine may include:

  • Avoiding ultra-violet exposure
  • Applying specified topical products
  • Avoiding retinoid products

You'll be awake as your doctor applies the chemical solution to your skin unless you get a deep chemical peel. You'll get a deeper chemical peel in a surgical setting, along with anesthesia.

The application only takes a few minutes for lighter peels, followed by several minutes of cooling time. Deep chemical peels, on the other hand, can take up to 90 minutes.

Once the chemical peel is halted, your skin will need time to heal. The time it takes and the care steps will vary depending on the depth of your chemical peel.

For example, a light treatment heals after about 2 weeks and requires lotion to treat your skin. Your skin will feel like it's sunburned. 

A deep chemical peel takes at least 3 weeks of recovery includes bandaging, soaking, applying ointment, taking antiviral medication, and avoiding sunlight.

Chemical peels are safe, but there can be some side effects. Some side effects are more common in people with darker skin. 

You should avoid chemical peels if you have sensitive skin, a history of irregular scarring, or lesions near the area being treated, or if you would have to spend time in the sun during the healing period.

Most chemical peels can cause your skin to redden, scab, or swell temporarily. This side effect is expected and part of the healing process. A chemical peel can also sometimes cause scarring, but antibiotics or steroid medications can prevent the scars.

Because chemical peels damage the skin, you are at risk for infections. You could get a new bacterial or viral infection or have a flare-up of an existing infection.

You can get hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation. These terms describe your skin becoming darker or lighter than it typically is.

Dermatology and people of color. Many dermatological procedures seem to cause problems for people with dark skin. One of the biggest reasons is that many dermatologists and estheticians aren't trained to treat dark skin.

Dermatological resources, literature, and schooling underrepresent people of color. This leads to groups of professionals who have little to no experience treating people of color.

Skin conditions appear differently for people with darker skin. Many conditions are misdiagnosed, which leads to mistreatment and damage to the skin.

Chemical peels for dark skin. Chemical peels can be particularly harmful to people with dark skin. Melanin-rich skin responds differently to temperature, chemicals, and other parts of dermatological procedures.

Along with the other potential side effects of chemical peels, people with dark skin are at a higher risk for developing hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is darker-than-normal spots on the skin.

Deep chemical peels are the worst offenders. They cause hyperpigmentation the most often, whereas light chemical peels are generally more gentle on the skin and won't lead to complications as often.

When looking for chemical peels for dark skin, look for a dermatologist or esthetician with experience treating people with melanin-rich skin. You can look for alternative treatments to avoid unnecessary complications.

Alternatives to chemical peels. There's not a treatment that works perfectly for everyone. Talk with your dermatologists if you're concerned about a chemical peel but would like treatment for scars, wrinkles, or other skin conditions.

There's no direct substitute for chemical peels, but there are other procedures you can explore if you want to avoid them.

For wrinkles and scars, you can try laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion, or tissue fillers.

Laser treatments can also pose problems for people of color, though. Always work with a specialist who understands skin of color.