Post-Peel Skincare: What You Need To Know
Many years ago, when I was still new to the beauty biz, I was invited by a well-known dermatologist to experience a lunchtime peel in her office. Having heard that a light peel could brighten my complexion with absolutely no downtime, I was more than excited to give it a go.
I remember the way the doctor mixed the peel and the swish of the fantail brush as she dipped it in the mixture. I remember that first cool-feeling swipe on my forehead between my brows and then I remember the pain. Almost immediately it started to burn, and not the little tingly feeling that the dermatologist told me I'd experience, but burn like get-this-off-of-me-right-now pain.
Right before the treatment, when asked about my skincare routine, I'd neglected to mention the deep cleansing facial I'd had less than 24 hours before. Big mistake! My skin absorbed that light peel as if it was practically a deep one and even though it was neutralized almost immediately, I was left with a big scab right in the middle of my brows. Lesson learned the hard way! Now I practice full disclosure and get to enjoy light peels and their many benefits.
Chemical peels can greatly improve the tone and texture of your complexion. Light, medium and deep peels can help with moderate to severe acne, soften lines and wrinkles (from fine to prominent), fade hyper-pigmentation, improve texture, make pores look smaller and reveal brighter, healthier, younger-looking skin--the kind of complexion most of us had in our 20s when we were more focused on our perceived imperfections rather than our blessings. Depending on the results you're looking for and the downtime you're willing to go through, your doctor can help you decide which peel is right for you.
The care you give your skin afterwards can make all the difference in how effective the outcome is. For expert advice on how to take care of post-peel skin, I turned to board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Arthur Perry
Nancy Weinberg Simon: How should your skin look right after a chemical peel? What are the immediate effects and long term benefits?
Dr. Perry: There are different levels of chemical peels:
The lightest peels use chemicals like glycolic acid, a fruit acid. These are often called the “lunch hour” peels because you can return to work right after the treatment and your skin will look completely normal, with no downtime. You can expect immediate exfoliation and with a series of treatments you will also notice an improvement in brown or splotchy pigmentation.
The next level of peel uses trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and it can hurt a bit when it is being performed. Afterwards, you'll have no pain, but the skin will be red the first day, gray the next day, and on day 3 you can expect it to look like someone took saran wrap and shrink-wrapped it onto your skin. That breaks open the next day and it peels on day 5. After that, you can expect some subtle redness for up to 2 weeks, but the results are well worth it. Your complexion will be much smoother for up to 2 years.
The deepest peels are rarely performed anymore. These use a caustic chemical called “phenol”, which basically burns off the upper layers of skin, leaving you with a wound that takes 2 weeks to heal. When it heals, your wrinkles are dramatically improved, but your skin is whiter permanently. It's unpopular because of the intense recovery and the high chance of scarring.
NWS: What can you put on your skin (if anything) immediately after a peel to cover up any redness or discoloration?
Dr. Perry: A simple moisturizer that is fragrance and color free is the best treatment for the lunch hour peels. For a TCA peel, you’ll use either that same fragrance and color free moisturizer or possibly a mild steroid cream and even an antibiotic around the mouth since superficial infections around the mouth are common with the TCA peel.
NWS: What types of products should you use while your skin is healing?
Dr. Perry: Glycolic peels don't require any specific treatment after the first day. When it comes to the TCA peel, as long as the skin isn't healed, you’ll need a moisturizer or a steroid cream. I don’t like to recommend bacitracin because of the high chance of allergic reactions with this. Avoid wearing makeup until your skin is completely healed.
NWS: Are there any red flags to be on the lookout for regarding complications?
Dr. Perry: If you have a history of Herpes infections or MRSA, make sure you tell your doctor. You’ll be prescribed antiviral or antibiotic medication.
NWS: Once your skin has healed completely, what products should you use to maintain results?
Dr. Perry: Sunscreen!!!
If you’re going to go through the time, money and downtime of having a peel, chances are you care enough about your appearance to be proactive. The right post-peel products will set you on the path to a healthier-looking, more beautiful complexion and sunscreen will help you seal the deal for results that last as long as possible. Two main ingredients to look for in sunblock are zinc oxide and/or titanium for protection against UVA and UVB sun rays. Keep re-applying throughout the day. The future of your complexion depends on it!
To find a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area with experience performing chemical peels, use the Find A Surgeon search tool.