A Deep Dive Into The History of Chemical Peels

A Deep Dive Into The History of Chemical Peels

Posted by Delasco on January 16, 2024, 6:33 pm

From Ancient Remedies to Modern Marvels

Exploring the Rich History of Chemical Peels

  • Chemical peels are generally safe when used correctly and with caution
  • Documented use of peels dates back to ancient Egypt
  • The Jessner peel was first used in the Navy
  • Chemical peels don’t always require long downtime
  • Light, Medium, or Deep peels can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions with successful outcomes

Chemical peels have grown to be an important part of esthetic, dermatology and cosmetic practices.

Part of their popularity is because peels are affordable for patients and provide glowing results to their skin.

While peels are generally safe, it’s important for practitioners to understand the different types of peels in order to decide which peel should be used for each patient and how they should be used.

In this article, we will explore the origins of peels and how they developed into a highly effective treatment for patients and a critical part of esthetic practices.

Cleopatra loved a good peel. The Romans did too!

Cleopatra Chemical Peel

Good skin has been a human desire since the first time we saw our reflection.
Early records show that Cleopatra and ancient Egyptians were known to apply sour milk to improve their skin.
This sour milk contained lactic acid, and alpha beta hydroxy acid (AHA), which rejuvenates the skin.

In Roman times, records show they used variety of ways to improve their skin.
Fruits like grapes were used to exfoliate their skin.

The active ingredient in grapes and other fruits that helps exfoliate skin is tartaric acid.
Tartaric acid is classified as a gentle AHA in the same family as lactic and glycolic acids.

The Evolution of Modern Peels

Over time, more acids were discovered that could be used to treat specific skin conditions we continue to address.

In 1874, Ferdinand von Hebra, a dermatologist in Vienna, used peeling techniques to treat pigmentation conditions like melasma, freckles, and Addison’s disease.

Paul G. Unna first reported the use of salicylic acid, resorcinol, trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and phenol on the skin in 1882.

During World War I, Douglass Montgomery referenced his use of phenol under badges for healing and “beautifying” skin.

It was not until 1952 that George MacKee published his results in England using phenol for the treatment of scarring. Despite the publication date, MacKee had been using phenol since 1903.

One of the most well-known peels today, the Jessner, was developed by German/American dermatologist Max Jessner in the 1940’s. Jessner was working in the Navy and originally intended for the solution to be used as an antiseptic for submarine crews.

Max Jessner
Max Jessner, Source: Wikipedia

Not only did the solution prevent infection from spreading, the mariners had noticeable radiant skin. The results were so extraordinary, the crew began using it as an aftershave lotion.

Today, the Jessner is one of the most popular peels used by dermatologists and esthetic practitioners worldwide.

Looking for a premium Jessner's chemical peels? Check out Delasco's Jessner's Chemical Peels, Modified Jessner's, and Skin Therapeutic's line of Jessner's chemical peels.


  1. An Overview of Chemical Peels. PMFA Journal. August/September 2016
  2. Jessner Peel. thedermreview.com/Jessner-peel. January 10, 2020
  3. An Overview of Chemical Peels. PMFA Journal. August/September 2016
  4. Types of Chemical Peels. Derm Collective. September 2019

Next: Types of Chemical Peels