It is spring time in Boston and a great time to exfoliate away all the dead skin that winter helped build up. Chemical exfoliation is my preferred way to get rid of dead skin cells. A common misconception is that a chemical peel will leave you with red, flaking skin. Sex and the City introduced us to chemical peels in an episode where Samantha decides to get a “freshening” peel just days before Carrie’s book launch party and ends up with red, flaking skin that was a hot mess! I often hear “If I get a chemical peel, am I going to look like Samantha?”
I’ll be honest, for some people a chemical peel will leave you with some redness and irritation, but it is unlikely that you will look like Samantha did after her peel. As a dermatologist, I can offer very strong peels that will require a small amount of downtime. There are more mild peels that also have great benefits so it is worth discussing options before jumping into a peel.
Why a peel?
There are so many benefits to a chemical peel – many women like that the peel will help to smooth any fine lines and wrinkles and increases collagen and elastin (so helps you look younger!). A peel will also even out skin tone and will eliminate acne and prohibit further breakouts. If you are a person of color with stubborn post-acne hyperpigmentation, peels can help to eliminate these brown spots in a safe and effective manner. Peels can also be used to fade away the stubborn age spots that can appear in Caucasian skin with age and sun damage. Chemical Peels can be applied at any age – I’ve used chemical peels to treat teenagers with acne as well as women in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s to treat the effects of aging.
Things to consider
If you are going to get a peel and already use some type of prescription medication for your skin, you will need to stop any prescriptions for three to five days before and wait five to seven after the peel before using again (speak to your dermatologist about this and they can make specific recommendations based on your prescriptions).
A chemical peel is not a one-time treatment but is repeated based on the condition we are treating. Uneven skin tone is treated every 4 weeks while acne may be treated up to every 2 weeks. In general we do a series of peels until we achieve the desired results. Afterwards, peels can be used intermittently along with good skin care to maintain the results you’ve achieved. Sensitive skin may be treated every 6 weeks. I suggest doing a peel at least two weeks before any planned events (ie prom, wedding, etc) so that the skin will have a chance to calm down before you need to be looking your best.
After the peel
Skin that has been exposed to medical-grade chemical peels need intense hydration to promote healthy healing and prevent excessive peeling, redness and dryness. I suggest using a hydrating, hypoallergenic moisturizer like Vanicream or Cerave cream in the days following the peel. You want to use a gentle cleanser to wash the skin twice a day. Avoid harsh toners and cleansers for at least a week after the peel. Be sure to use ample SPF daily, limited sun exposure is also important. For those to experience excessive redness and peeling a mild OTC hydrocortisone cream can be used to soothe the skin. Finally, you will want to avoid exercising for 24 hours after your peel as the skin needs to stay cool.
With so many peels out there, it’s hard to know what to ask for! Remember, when you go to a spa you are not getting a medical grade peel. The spa peels are similar to at home peels that provide temporary exfoliation and a temporary glow. Often the peels you get at a spa can be similarly priced to the ones you would get at your dermatologist’s office. So, I recommend getting the most bang for your buck!
Finally, I will share a few words about the peels I offer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will given you some ideas about what to ask for when you go to your dermatologist’s office.
Salicylic Acid/Glycolic Acid Peels – Mild superficial chemical peels that are great for acne, hyperpigmentation, sun damage, and fine lines.
Modified Jessner’s Peel – This slightly stronger peel gives dramatic results after even one peel. It is more effective for textural changes resulting from sun damage and acne scarring. In addition, it is an excellent choice for acne, fine lines, and discoloration.
VI Peel® – All the rage in Hollywood, the VI Peel is a custom blend of peeling agents that result in a glowing complexion within a week. The VI Peel is particularly effective in clearing hyperpigmentation quickly. It is also very effective for acne, wrinkles and sun damage.
If you have ever had a chemical peel I would love to hear more about your experience in the comments below.