How I Conquered My Fear of Chemical Peels—and Got Better Skin as a Result
If you, like me, conjure scary images when you hear the words "chemical peel" (and think of Samantha in Sex & the City with a face like beef carpaccio), give me a minute to explain: I recently tried Skinceutical’s Advanced Corrective Peel (skinceuticals.com) which, after applying a couple of layers of exfoliating acids, sloughs off dead skin with minimal downtime. While many in-office peels can have several days of major peeling, this one promised just a couple of days of slight flaking. I was a little nervous about the expected aftermath of flaky skin; as a beauty editor, I attend numerous events in a day, and having peeling, splotchy skin isn’t exactly the glowing picture of health. (But really, does anyone have time for "downtime" anymore?)
The Day Of
I checked in with N.Y.C. dermatologist Dr. Sejal Shah for her thoughts on chemical peels before going in. She assured me, “a light peel every few months prompts new growth and cell renewal, and will leave you fresh-faced.” With that, my nerves were eased. I had two layers of clinical grade acids (a blend of salicylic acid, lactic acid and phenylethyl resorcinol) brushed on. After the first layer, my face felt a hot, prickly sensation; it was uncomfortable, but not painful. After a couple of minutes, the second layer was applied, and it intensified the hot, prickly feeling. I immediately noticed some redness and blotchiness. I was instructed not to wash my face for the next few hours (which could reactive the acids), and I went home for the evening. (Dr. Shah recommends avoiding the gym post-peel as heat and sweat can further irritate skin.) My skin continued to have a subtle sting over the next couple of hours, but by bedtime, I felt fine.
The Next Morning
When I woke up, my skin felt a bit tight, but there were no other noticeable changes. I washed my face with a basic cream cleanser (I used Skinceuticals Gentle Cleanser, $34; skinceuticals.com) followed by a botanical serum that helps calm irritation (Skincetuicals Phyto Corrective Gel, $62; skinceuticals.com) and gentle face cream (Shah likes Avène Post Procedure Cicalfate, $30; dermstore.com). “The skin is in a more fragile state, as you've removed some surface layers, so its already a bit irritated," said Shah. She told me to avoid acids, retinols and scrubs for a week so as not to over-exfoliate skin. After moisturizing, I noticed I still had slight redness, which I covered with a mineral powder foundation. Finally, I applied a sunscreen to keep my "fragile skin" protected.
Days 2 Through 3
By the end of day two, I noticed that the dark spots I had looked even darker. The acids from the peel were helping to bring pigmentation to the surface. I had to remind myself that it would get worse before it got better. My skin continued to take on a very dry texture throughout the day, but I hadn't started peeling yet. Still, the very dryness made it harder to cover with makeup. I used a primer to help create a smoother appearance.
Days 4 Through 6
The peeling began—but unlike chemical peels I've had in the past, this one didn't make my skin slough off in large pieces. Instead, I experienced what I was warned would be "facial dandruff": small flakes appeared over my face, but I didn’t experience any discomfort. The hardest part was to avoid picking, but I was warned to avoid it by Dr. Shah: “Picking can increase the risk of scarring and discoloration." She advised me to use an ointment like Aquaphor to help seal my skin. Slathering myself in moisturizer helped, still, I didn’t feel as though I couldn’t go on with my normal activities or had to hibernate in the comfort of my home like I had in the past with more aggressive peels.
At the end of the week, I could totally see fresh, new skin. My complexion was glowing, my makeup glided on easily, and my face felt smoother than it had in a very long time. Was a few days of flakes worth feeling more radiant in the end? Totally.