How to Care for Your Skin After a Chemical Peel
There are a lot of skin-care benefits to getting a chemical peel — brighter skin tone, diminished appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduced acne — but there’s also one drawback: the downtime for healing. Chemical peels can take anywhere from one day to a week for your skin to heal. This is because the skin-resurfacing procedure uses a potent chemical solution to exfoliate the skin, causing the top layers to eventually peel off and reveal new skin underneath — gross but also cool. This can leave the skin feeling irritated while it renews itself. While the procedure itself only takes about an hour to perform, the prep work and aftercare are what you really need to understand.
Ahead, Dr. Dendy Engelman, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant, shares her tips on how to care for your skin post-chemical peel and get the best results out of your in-office treatment.
How to Care for Your Skin After Getting a Chemical Peel
Chemical peels can leave your skin feeling more sensitive than usual. This means you should follow a slightly different skin-care routine immediately after getting one to promote healing. After an intense exfoliation treatment, like a chemical peel, you’ll want to replenish hydration. “The most important thing to look for in post-procedure moisturizers are occlusive ingredients, which are designed to prevent water loss,” explains Dr. Engelman. “Preventing loss of water in the skin allows natural oils to nourish and repair.” The face cream you use should contain ceramides, hyaluronic acid and peptides to strengthen the skin barrier. Try the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream or SkinCeuticals Emollience
Know the Healing Process for Chemical Peels
The healing time for dermatologist-administered chemical peels differs greatly from at-home peels, due to the strength of the solution used. “In-office procedures are used with stronger concentrations and penetrate deeper into the skin, thus revealing greater results,” says Dr. Engelman. “The benefit to chemical peels is that you can see results instantly. Immediately, there is a breakdown of the top, dead layer, revealing younger skin cells underneath.” Longterm, cellular turnover in the skin is increased, which promotes clearer, healthier skin to regenerate in its place.
No matter how well you follow doctor’s orders, you can’t necessarily speed up recovery post-chemical peel. It can take anywhere from one day to an entire week, depending on how strong the treatment is, so make sure you take that into consideration before booking your appointment — especially if you have a big event coming up. You can, however, hinder your skin’s healing by making some crucial mistakes.
The Dos and Don'ts of Post-Chemical Peel Skin Care
There are a few key skin-care rules to follow after getting a chemical peel to ensure your skin heals properly and as fast as possible. Consider these your dos and don’ts of post-chemical peel care.
#1 Don’t Go in the Sun
“After a peel, skin is thinner and therefore more vulnerable to environmental aggressors like the sun and wind,” explains Dr. Engelman. Because of this, it’s important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. If you do have to go outside, don’t forget your protective clothing. That brings up to our next point...
#2 Do Apply SPF Even More Consistently Than Ever Before
You should be protecting your skin with sunscreen everyday, but it’s infinitely more important post-chemical peel. That means applying — and reapplying — a healthy dose of SPF before you leave the house and throughout the day. We like SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50.
#3 Don’t Use Other Exfoliants
Until your skin is fully healed — about one to two weeks after getting a peel — avoid using other exfoliants. This means no scrubs, peels or buffs of any kind, chemical or physical. Using another exfoliating product too soon after a chemical peel can cause irritation to your already sensitized skin.
Over exfoliating is a serious skin-care problem. The reason you want to let your skin heal fully before using other exfoliants, especially the chemical kind, is because it can cause long-term damage to your skin. Dr. Engelman explains that excessive exfoliation can break down and weaken the stratum corneum, or outermost layer of your skin, which is supposed to act as a barrier. “If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, and leads to sensitivity and irritation.”
Often, you can tell if you're exfoliating too much by the appearance of your complexion. If your skin looks red, flaky or peely, take a break from exfoliation. “If the barrier function isn’t visibly damaged, the skin may experience a low amount of inflammation, called chronic inflammation, which over time prematurely ages skin.”
#4 Do Moisturize Often
Remember, hydration is your number-one priority post-chemical peel. “Use moisturizers that will support the skin barrier,” says Dr. Engelman. “Look for oils (like Vitamin E), antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, shea butter, lanolin and aloe.”