When peel virgins think of peels, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Samantha Jones’ cringe-worthy Sex and the City moment. Super red, blistering, scabbing skin that resembles a Freddy Krueger mask would be putting it nicely.
“That episode traumatized an entire generation of women,” says Dr. Ken Howe at Wexler Dermatology, “but chemical peels are actually quite safe and well-tolerated in nearly all cases – they just have to be done right.” We could not agree more. Peels have so many incredible skin benefits so it would be a shame to stay eternally afraid of them! Here’s everything you need to know about chemical peels.
What is a Chemical Peel?
So what exactly is a chemical peel and how can you avoid looking like a monster, post-peel? Well, for starters, never do one before a big date, event, or selfie moment. That’s peel 101. As for what it involves and why people can end up à la Jones if they go overboard, that’s because a peel involves actual chemical peeling agents, such as glycolic acid (GA) or trichloracetic acid (TCA), according to Howe. “They work by loosening the bonds between the cells of the outermost layer of our skin (the stratum corneum), leading to shedding of those built-up layers of dead skin cells,” he explains.
The Benefits of Chemical Peels
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If you’re less than hesitant to try one out, we hear you. While the above visual doesn’t necessarily entice one to sign up for a peel, its numerous benefits might change your mind. Softer skin, less breakouts, visibly reduced fine lines and hyperpigmentation are some of the pros. As is the appearance of that sought-after glow. “In addition to these superficial effects, GA also influences the deeper, dermal layer of the skin and stimulates fibroblasts in the dermis to produce increased amounts of collagen,” adds Howe. Needless to say, we’re sold. But the best way to ease into a peel is to try a more gentle at-home version, as long as you keep a few things in mind…
The Rules of Chemical Peels
Rule 1. Use a good, trustworthy brand and be wary of online third-party sellers selling discounted products. “There have been cases of third-party sellers selling expired products and at-home peels are definitely one product category where you’d want to avoid that,” says Howe.
Rule 2. Howe recommends doing a peel when your skin is dull, with dry build-up. So, after a long flight is often a good time, or towards the end of the day, vs. the beginning. No sense in exfoliating and then heading straight out into the sun.
Rule 3. Always use SPF the day after doing a peel. Your skin is super sensitive and basically butt naked after shedding its top layers, so you want to protect it from the sun’s strong rays. Otherwise, you could be veering towards tomato red territory.
At-Home Chemical Peels the Pros Like:
“A multi-tasking face serum like iS Clinical Active Serum, $135, is the perfect peel for newbies since it’s gentle enough to leave on overnight, but it’s an effective solution for dull, acne, or rosacea-prone skin. It also clears up white and blackheads and softens overall texture.” – Stalina Glot, esthetician at Haven Spa in New York City.
“Neova Serious Glypeel Peel-Off Mask, $58: It’s a great way to provide an instant glow that lasts 24 hours and it’s unique, exfoliative formulation is fun to peel off the face when it dries. Also, if you’re on the oily side, this is the peel for you.” – Dr. Rita Linkner, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist.
“Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, $88, is a simple, easy-to-use, but effective treatment that exfoliates evenly and thoroughly, and I’ve never had a patient get burned by it.” – Dr. Ken Howe, celebrity dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology. We can confirm, these are the easiest to use, as they come in a wipe form.
“At JTav Clincial, we use Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads, $40, which are enriched with 15% glycolic acid to help exfoliate dead skin cells, remove impurities, and absorb excess oil. I’ve also been into Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial, $80, for its 25% AHA blend (glycolic + (T) tartaric, (L) lactic, (C) citric acids). It blasts away surface flakes and revs up surface turnover to smooth and brighten the appearance of skin.” – Joie Tavernise, celebrity esthetician and founder of JTav Clinical Skincare.
“My go-to is Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel, $64. This peel helps smooth fine lines and wrinkles and is great for in-between visits with your derm or esthetician.” – Joshua Ross, celebrity esthetician and founder of SkinLab Med Spas
“The Nelly De Vuyst Gommage BioTense, $51, is a great exfoliant option as it’s certified organic, vegan, and gluten-free, and it helps eliminate dead cells to immediately restore a natural glow to the skin. When you first apply the product, it’s white, however as you massage it in, a darker residue forms and the darker the residue, the more dead cells, toxins, and impurities have been removed from the epidermis.” – Manon Pilon, medical esthetician and author of the book Anti-Aging The Cure: Based on your Body Type
“Savor Beauty Pumpkin Enzyme Peel, $80, is a gentle, natural, alpha-hydroxy acid and fruit enzyme peel that dissolves dull skin for an instant glow, thanks to 5% lactic acid and brightening pumpkin enzymes. It also contains beta-carotene to help fade dark spots. Just leave it on for 1 to 3 minutes, 1 to 2 times per week to avoid irritation.” – Dr. Howard Sobel, celebrity dermatologist and founder of Sobel Skin
Our top tip with doing chemical peels at home is to always do it for less time than the product recommends, the first time you use it. This just minimizes any potential reaction. If your skin is fine, then the next time you use the peel, you can use it as directed. Every peel is different, some are more potent so you may only need to use them once or twice a month, whereas others, like the Dr. Gross Universal Daily Peel Pads, can be used daily as they are much more gentle – also a great way to start if you’re a beginner to peels.
Let us know if you guys have any other questions about doing chemical peels at home!