So... What Is a Chemical Peel, Exactly? An Esthetician Explains
There are few words that can strike quite as much skin care fear and uncertainty as “chemical peel.” We almost instantly evoke images of red, peeling skin, and the need to hide away—for what seems like ages—until our complexion calms down. But, are chemical peels really that frightening? Turns out, we may simply be experiencing a case of the fear of the unknown. To shed a little more light on the topic, we turned to Meredith Kiy, an esthetician at SkinCare Physicians—where board-certified dermatologist, and Skincare.com expert, Dr. Michael Kaminer practices—for a little Q&A.
What is a chemical peel…exactly?
“There are many different ways we exfoliate our skin, we like to categorize them as physical vs. chemical. Physical exfoliation is when we use a tool to remove build-up, while chemical exfoliation is a way for us to dissolve the buildup. There is no right or wrong way to exfoliate. Depending on the concerns/skin type you have one might be more suitable than the other. A chemical peel is a form of exfoliation where we can breakdown the surface skin allowing products to work better, oxygen to flow thoroughly through pores, and address aging and/or pigment concerns.”
Are there different types of chemical peels?
“There are many different types of peels, depending on your skin type and concern your esthetician or provider will choose the right one for you. With different sensitivity levels, it’s important to gradually increase to stronger peels in order to not damage the skin from burning or complications. Some acids are derived naturally through plants and fruits, while other peels are specially made from skin care companies. Some examples that I work with daily are glycolic acid, salicylic acid, retinoic acid, and lactic acid.”
What are the benefits of chemical peels?
“I’m such a big advocate for chemical peels for many reasons. After a peel you immediately feel like your skin is breathing again. We tend to forget how much build-up accumulates on skin’s surface day by day, through environmental pollution, products, makeup contouring, and just natural oils sitting on our skin. The biggest benefit, above all, is the brightening benefit.”
What are the side effects of chemical peels?
“Of course there is always a downside to every situation. I think the biggest side effect to peels is the post-peel healing and complications that some can experience. I like to over-inform people on the negatives a peel can bring and sometimes that terminology can be scary. It is very important to follow all instructions post-peel even when you think it is not working anymore. The acid can stay on our skin and some people have reactions post-peel if you’re not careful. Sometimes the problem you are trying to fix can appear to be worse before it gets better.”
How can you best prepare for a chemical peel and subsequently take care of your skin after one?
“Checking with your esthetician is HUGE before and after a peel if you’re new to the peel club. Even if you have silly questions that you think are annoying us, we’d rather have you overly informed than have a bad reaction.
One week prior to peel, avoid electrolysis, waxing, depilatories (chemical) and hair color/bleaching
Avoid abrasive scrubs, exfoliates, facial sponges and masks for at least 48 hours.
Do not use self tanning for 48 hours
Do not use Rx prescriptions (such as Retin-A, Differein, Tazorac) or benzoyl peroxide for 48 hours
Avoid sun exposure or sunburned skin
Should reschedule if any cold sores or fever blisters occur
Allow skin to breathe, makeup can be applied one day after treatment
Avoid exercise for a few hours after treatment
Direct sun exposure without SPF30 or higher should be avoided during the glycolic acid treatment cycle.
Wait 48-72 hours before using topical Rx from doctor
Are there any peels that don't require downtime?
There are many peels that don’t require downtime. At our practice we have gentle enzymes for more sensitive clients. Enzymes are superficial peels that remove dead surface skin without penetrating deep enough to cause severe peeling. I love pumpkin peels. They smell like the classic pumpkin spice latte we all love and pumpkin is a natural exfoliant. I usually use these for an ‘event facial’ if a client needs to get the dead surface skin off for a makeup application or a nice glow for a special day. Some skin types can handle an aggressive chemical peel with no peeling or irritation, so they can have this treatment a few days before and have no side effects. If you aren’t sure how your skin will respond or if this treatment is right for you I would stay away from chemical peels 10-14 days before a special event just to be safe.”
Turns out chemical peels are not so scary after all!