Chemical peels are an amazing way to transform the skin and repair damage, but the very name strikes fear into the heart of many interested clients. This apprehension is most often due to lack of knowledge when it comes to what a chemical peel will feel like and what the recovery process will entail.
What Does a Chemical Peel Do for the Skin?
This commonly asked question has many answers; essentially the effects of a chemical peel will depend on the type of peel, or “chemical,” used in the treatment. For example, lactic acid peels will treat pigment, salicylic acid peels will treat acne, glycolic peels will treat wrinkles, etc. Every peel will exfoliate the skin, but not every chemical peel will actually result in a peeling or sloughing of the skin. Lighter or “superficial” peels may achieve a more subtle effect on the skin without any physical peeling after the application, and they are a great choice for your first peel. However, in order to achieve more substantial pigment lightening, resurfacing, and skin tightening, the skin must undergo a deeper peeling process.
What Does a Chemical Peel Application Feel Like?
The sensation will differ according to the chemical applied, but in general it feels pin-prickly or stinging. Lighter peels that are more superficial will slowly percolate into the skin, so the sensation is not terribly intense but it may stay consistent for a longer duration. Deeper peels quickly dive deep into the skin with an intense onset, but a quicker resolution of sensation. The deeper peels can be applied in multiple layers. Each additional layer will create more results from the peel, but can also cause increasing sensation with each application.
Before your chemical peel appointment, do not overly concern yourself with what peel and how many layers you’ll get. Your esthetician will perform a thorough consultation and discuss your goals to determine the peel and application appropriate for your skin.
What is the Application and Recovery Process Like for a Chemical Peel?
I find that the application and recovery of a chemical peel happens in 3 stages: the sensation, the peeling, and the results.
When the chemical peel is first applied the sensation may cause you to question why you wanted this treatment in the first place, especially initially when the sensation is strongest. You’ll think, “Oh wow, that does feel pin-prickly! $#!@, I really don’t like this…” but after a minute the sensation will start fading and your anxiety will fade with it. Most estheticians will do all that they can to alleviate the sensation during this time, like fanning your face and talking you through it. After the peel, your skin may feel more sensitive, but the irritating sensation should be completely gone by the end of your service and you should leave your esthetician with glowing, discomfort-free skin.
The next stage starts about 3 days after the treatment. This is the point when your skin will actually start peeling or flaking, and at this point you may even start to regret your decision to have the peel. Some remorse is very common during this stage, but it, along with the peeling, will pass!
Because the peeling usually starts 3 days after the peel, I recommend scheduling your peel appointment to work with your schedule. If you have your weekends free, schedule your peel on Tuesday or Wednesday so by the time the more intense peeling starts it will fall on the weekend and you’ll only have a few flakes remaining by the time you get back to work.
The final stage is the best stage, it’s when the peeling is done and you can see the amazing results. You skin will look brighter, smoother, clearer, and younger. You’ll forget all about your earlier hesitation and start wondering when you can get your next peel!
How to Take Care of Skin After a Chemical Peel:
In the week following your chemical peel you should treat your skin very gently. Always follow your esthetician’s advice, but in general I advise my clients to use gentle, hydrating products, and to abstain from their more aggressive products and serums until their peeling has stopped. The more you hydrate your skin the shorter the duration of peeling will be—meaning that well-hydrated skin will peel for fewer days.
During this time, your skin may look and feel like it’s been sunburned. It may be red, shiny, hot to the touch, and very sensitive. I often advise my clients to treat chemical peel skin like you would treat sunburned skin. If you wouldn’t put something on a sunburn, then don’t put it on your face after a peel. And you absolutely MUST apply 30 SPF sunscreen every day after your chemical peel! Sun protection is especially important after a chemical peel because your skin is more vulnerable to damaging ultraviolet rays.
You can apply makeup on peeling skin, but you’ll want to change your application method. Don’t brush or wipe your foundation across the skin, this will cause the peeling skin to become visible. Instead blot or dab your makeup so you don’t disturb the peeling skin. Check your skin more often throughout the day as flakes can dislodge themselves and you don’t want to be talking to someone with a flap of skin waving at them.
Chemical peels are one of my favorite treatments to perform and receive because the results are so dramatic and there is a chemical peel to treat just about every skin concern. Chemical peels are not as intimidating as they seem, and while the process isn’t as enjoyable as other esthetic services, the results are worth the downtime!