Everything You Need to Know About Chemical Peels

Victoria Moorhouse
facial peels story

Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Ever since Samantha Jones, Beekeeper attended Carrie’s book launch minus one layer of skin, we’ve been slightly hesitant about chemical peels—and we know we’re not alone. But it turns out that in our fear, we’ve been missing out on an incredible weapon in our skincare arsenal; facial peels are amazing. As with any in-office dermatological procedure, there’s quite a lot that goes into a quality peel—so we caught up with Dr. Dennis Gross, leading dermatologist and chemical peel expert, to learn everything we can about this oft-maligned treatment.

Understand the purpose of any peel.
You’re definitely not going to do these every day, but chemical peels can really help your complexion out. “The purpose of any peel is to exfoliate, but the deeper the peel, the more anti-aging benefits for stimulation of collagen,” he says. “In my office, we offer the Alpha Beta Peel—it’s a micro peel where the benefits of deeper peels are now possible without the down time.”

Micro peels are generally when you’re peeling or exfoliating the outer layer of skin only. Dr. Gross also says that peels can soften fine lines, firm and even out skin tone. Given enough time, he says, they can even reduce the size of your pores, help with skin conditions like rosacea, and treat acne.

Know your ingredients.
Chemical peels involve acids, and when administered by a doctor or a professional, they’re more intense than your average peel from the drugstore. In a chemical peel, Dr. Gross says that dermatologists will brush on a blend of acids and then neutralize the skin. “The most common acids in those chemicalpeel blends are AHAs, salicylic, lactic, and glycolic,” Dr. Gross tells us.

And chemical peels can yield some impressive benefits.
Knowing the end goal will help the process seem a little less daunting. Of the benefits for a chemical peel, Dr. Gross lists dullness, acne concerns, scarring, hyperpigmentation, and signs of aging. “Peels help to firm the skin, increase cell turnover to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while giving the skin an immediate glow,” he also says. Sounds amazing to us!

And benefits are cumulative—so the more often you get them, the better you complexion will look. “Having 3-6 sessions spaced 2-4 weeks apart promotes clearer, younger, and more even skin tone,” he explains. To be sure what suits your skin, talk it out with a professional—and we’re talking your dermatologist or esthetician here.

The side effects and the downtime depends.
We’re always told not to get a dramatic skin care treatment or a drastic haircut before a big event, because the downtime can vary in a big way. Less intense chemical peels require a shorter recovery period—maybe a day of tight skin, a few hours of redness—whereas MAJOR peels can take up to 21 days to fully heal, according the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s crucial to talk through all these details with a professional before your peel is administered. Knowledge is power, after all!

Post-peel skin care.
Again, how you treat your skin after your chemical peel depends on what type you’ve received, but Dr. Gross references sunscreen as an after-procedure ESSENTIAL. “Sunscreen with a high SPF factor is suggested every day after our peel,” he says. “You will not be more sensitive to sunlight, however SPF is essential in prevention of sunspots on the new skin.” Moisturizer is also recommended for most patients, but listen to your derm when they tell you which type is going to be best for you—too greasy a cream can irritate skin even further, and nobody wants that.

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