Jessner Peel



Everything You Need to Know About The Jessner Peel

The Jessner Peel has a rather interesting beginning, dating back to the 1940s when German/American dermatologist Max Jessner created the solution. Jessner was working in the Navy and originally intended for the solution to be used as an antiseptic for submarine crews. Not only did this solution prevent infection from spreading among the crew during the voyage, it also gave the mariners fresh, radiant skin! Soon, doctor Jessner’s solution was being used by the crew as an aftershave lotion. Today, the Jessner Peel is used by dermatologists and estheticians to treat a variety of skin conditions. Read on to learn more about chemical peels, Jessner Peel ingredients and benefits, potential side effects, and what to do before and after Jessner Peel. 

What is a chemical peel?

Before we discuss the Jessner Peel in detail, it’s imperative to understand exactly what chemical peeling is and how this process can improve the skin. 

Chemical peeling is the process of applying chemicals to the skin to create a controlled form of injury: the chemicals destroy the outer damaged layers to a specific skin depth. The goal is to stimulate new epidermal growth and collagen production while improving surface texture and appearance. 

Chemical peels can be used to reduce the appearance of signs of aging, such as lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Chemical peeling is also very helpful for the treatment of skin lesions and scars, particularly acne scars. 

What are the different types of chemical peels?

Chemical peels are classified by the depth of action into superficial, medium, and deep peels.

Superficial peels affect the epidermis and dermal-epidermal interface. Available agents for superficial peels include the following:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid (GA)
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid (SA)
  • Tretinoin
  • 10 to 20% Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) 

Medium-depth peels reach deeper layers than superficial peels, but aren’t as aggressive as deep peels, and typically involve a combination of ingredients: For example:

  • Jessner’s solution
  • 35% Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) 
  • Monheit’s combination (Jessner’s solution with TCA)
  • Brody’s combination (solid carbon dioxide with TCA)
  • Coleman’s combination (GA 70% + TCA)

Deep chemical peels penetrate the reticular dermis (the lower layer of the dermis) and may be used for severe photoaging, deep or coarse wrinkles, scars, and sometimes precancerous skin lesions. Deep chemical peels use very strong chemicals, including phenol and croton oil, which rapidly denature surface keratin and other proteins in the dermis. Since these peels penetrate so deeply they maximize the generation of new collagen. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, this type of peel may require a local anesthetic and a sedative to manage any discomfort. Additionally, the healing time after a deep peel is much longer than other peels, ranging anywhere from two weeks to two months.

What is the Jessner Peel?

As you read above, Jessner solution is a medium-depth peeling agent, which means the combination of ingredients only affects the upper layer of the dermis. It is a leave-in solution that is self-neutralizing and takes several days to complete the peeling process (typically about 7 to 8 days). The Jessner Peel is intended to improve the appearance of minor hyperpigmentation, scarring, wrinkles, and elasticity.

What to do before and after Jessner Peel

You’ll need to prep your skin before undergoing the Jessner Peel. While you’ll need to follow the instructions provided by your dermatologist or esthetician, here’s typically what’s involved in the preparation for a Jessner Peel:

  • Avoid use of skin care products with certain ingredients (AHAs, BHAs, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide) for one week
  • Avoid exposure to UV light for two weeks
  • Avoid antibiotic use

Similarly, you’ll need to closely follow post-peel instructions from your provider, but the general guidelines after a Jessner Peel include the following:

  • Skin should be minimally touched for the first 1 to 2 days
  • Never peel off the skin; allow the skin to shed naturally
  • Avoid UV exposure. If you need to go outside, do not forget to wear sunscreen. An SPF of at least 30 should be worn at all times during the daylight hours.
  • Avoid extreme temperature exposure and exercise or activity that will cause sweating during the first several days after the peel
  • Do not apply water or oil based products on the application area for six to eight hours (preferably overnight). Water can push the solution deeper into the skin, and oil will neutralize the action of the peel. 
  • When the skin begins peeling (typically around day 3 post-peel), add hydrating skin care products to your regimen
  • No makeup until peeling is complete

Jessner Peel ingredients

It turns out there are quite a few variations of Jessner’s solution. First, we’ll discuss the original Jessner Peel ingredients, which include salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol in an ethanol base. We’ll explain how each of these ingredients works in more detail below.  

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is oil soluble, which enables this ingredient to easily enter the pores after application. After entering the pores, salicylic acid exfoliates the pore lining, which loosens clogged dirt and oil and helps to wash these impurities away. It also has the ability to dissolve keratin, the protein that acts as a “glue” to keep dead skin cells together in the stratum corneum. This is effective because dead skin cells can build up on the surface of your skin, leaving it looking dull and also possibly clogging pores. 

Lactic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that has the ability to exfoliate the skin, stimulate the skin’s natural regeneration process, and help the skin to retain moisture. When lactic acid is used in high concentrations, such as with a chemical peel, it has the ability to lighten the skin and correct skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation). Specifically, lactic acid has been shown to directly inhibit tyrosinase activity. Tyrosinase is a key enzyme involved in the synthesis of melanin, the pigment that gives skin color and also contributes to the formation of undesirable dark spots. Therefore, by inhibiting tyrosinase, lactic acid may be able to reduce abnormal pigmentation associated with aging and exposure to UV light. 

Resorcinol is a derivative of phenol and has been used as a peeling agent for almost 150 years. This ingredient works by disrupting the hydrogen bonds in keratin, so it is primarily used for addressing pigmentation. Resorcinol has historically been used in the Jessner formula thanks to its natural antiseptic properties. In recent years, resorcinol has been taken out of Jessner’s solution due to possible health risks (myxedema, thyroid dysfunction and cardiac arrhythmia).

Resorcinol may be replaced by TCA (trichloroacetic acid) or glycolic acid (another type of AHA). Additional ingredients that may be added to the Jessner Peel include retinol, hydroquinone, and different types of AHAs. The concentrations of these ingredients also varies depending on the type of skin concern being treated and the patient’s history with chemical peels. 

What are the benefits of a Jessner Peel?

As we explained above, chemical peels work by destroying the outer damaged layers of skin in order to reveal the healthier skin underneath. This process can lead to numerous skin benefits. Jessner Peel benefits include the following:

  • Smooths out fine lines and wrinkles
  • Reduces the appearance of acne scarring
  • Reduces the appearance of large pores
  • May improve the overall complexion of the face
  • May lighten areas of skin discoloration
  • Reduces existing acne
  • Restores skin to a more healthy, youthful glow

Are there any side effects after a Jessner Peel?

Jessner Peel side effects are the same as any medium-depth chemical peel, which include skin redness, swelling, peeling, and mild discomfort. If the pre- and post-peel instructions are followed, there should be no serious side effects or complications after the Jessner Peel. However, if too many layers of solution are applied and the peeling solution penetrates too deep in the skin, you could experience skin blanching (the skin turns white). This is why it’s imperative to only have a licensed professional apply the Jessner Peel. 

Avoiding exposure to UV light after the Jessner Peel is also very important to avoid side effects. As you have learned, chemical peels remove the outermost layer of skin, the stratum corneum. When this protective layer is removed, the skin underneath is more susceptible to sun damage since the sun’s UVA and UVB rays can more easily penetrate deep into the skin. Thus, sun exposure after a chemical peel can lead to serious sunburn and even hyperpigmentation. 

Who should avoid the Jessner Peel?

There are several conditions that are considered to be contraindications for anyone considering a Jessner Peel, which include the following:

  • Use of Accutane 6 months prior to the Jessner Peel, during the treatment, and 6 months post peel
  • Allergy to aspirin, milk, salicylic acid, lactic acid, and/or resorcinol
  • Active cold sores, sunburn, or severe asthma
  • Lupus
  • Eczema
  • Rosacea
  • Psoriasis
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic skin disorders and dermatitis conditions

References: “Jessner Peel”, “Acne Scars: Pathogenesis, Classification and Treatment,” Dermatology Research and Practice, vol. 2010, Article ID 893080, J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2010 Jul; 3(7): 32–43.



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