Is It Possible for Your Skin Not to Peel After a Chemical Peel?

July 22, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | by L'Oréal
Is It Possible for Your Skin Not to Peel After a Chemical Peel?

Chemical peels have come a long way from the painful, red and skin-shedding treatments they once were. In fact, you can now reap the skin-glowing results sans the sunburn-like peeling process. But that begs the question, how do you know if your peel is working when the actual act of peeling doesn’t occur? We weren’t sure, so we turned to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, founder of Entière Dermatology, and Dr. Kenneth Howe of Wexler Dermatology for answers. 

How Does a Chemical Peel Work?

In-office chemical peels, which are administered by a licensed professional, are designed to help exfoliate the outermost layers of the skin, promote radiance, stimulate collagen and target the appearance of hyperpigmentation. “A chemical peel uses chemical agents to resurface the skin by inducing a controlled wound and removing a specific layer of the skin, whether that’s superficial, medium or deep,” says Dr. Levin. “As a result, the peel promotes growth of a healthy, fresh, new top layer of skin, helps the appearance of different types of pigmentary conditions and improves the appearance of pores, texture, fine lines, wrinkles and more.” 

Dr. Howe explains that the chemical solution used in the in-office treatment typically contains peeling agents such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or trichloroacetic acid (TCA). “Chemical peels exfoliate our skin by loosening attachments between skin cells,” he says. “While naturally occurring exfoliation takes place when enzymes called proteolases break up the bond between skin cells (called the desmosome), a chemical peel breaks up the desmosome by the direct action of the acid.” 

Why Do Some People Peel but Not Others? 

Peeling of the skin can happen post-chemical peel, however, it’s not a requirement. Your likelihood of peeling relies on a few factors: the concentration of the acid, the type of acid, how long the solution is left on for and the amount of solution applied. Light glycolic peels often produce little in the way of visible desquamation, but salicylic acid or TCA peels are more likely to cause more visible shedding,” says Dr. Howe. “Patients will also peel less after their skin has been naturally exfoliated, like if they’ve recently peeled from the sun.” 

Dr. Levin agrees that the type of peel and the strength of your peel are major factors in how much peeling you’ll experience. She adds that how you care for your skin post-peel can also determine how much and how long your peeling lasts. “Immediately after the peel your skin will likely feel tight, it might be a little red and any visible peeling will be fluffy or light,” she says. This typically lasts around five days. “But if you’re using a gentle cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen, it’s going to enhance the healing process and the results as well as the down-time.” 

Did My Peel Work If I Didn’t Peel? 

Rest assured, your peel is still working even if you don’t see peeling. “Visible peeling results from the peeling agents action on the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin), but peeling agents also exert influence deeper in the skin,” Dr. Howe says. While surface layer peeling may not ensue, the dermis and epidermis are still undergoing changes. “Peels can reduce visible pigmentation by their action on the basal layer of the epidermis and they stimulate collagen production by their activity in the dermis.” What’s more, it’s important to give yourself time to see results — they won’t be immediate. “You don’t judge the success of a peel by how much you peel, but by the end result the peel will produce,” says Dr. Levin. “Depending on the type of peel, I tell my patients they’ll start to see results as early as seven days after their peel or up to two weeks after their peel.” 

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