I Had My First Peel, And Here’s What Happened

A few months ago I looked in the mirror and thought, It’s time to stop screwing around here: I’m not 20 anymore, and I need to take this whole skincare thing a little more seriously. I’ve been blessed with generally good skin, so this sudden cause for concern is coming well into my 30s, while many of my friends started focusing on heavy-duty procedures and expensive face creams ages ago. Regardless of whether or not I am late to the game, I knew it was time to get off the bench and start playing. But where to start was the real question.

Photo: Sam Deitch/BFA.com

I had heard a lot about peels from friends—some horror stories, others that were triumphant successes that resulted in comparisons between one’s face and a newborn’s butt. And yet despite these countless stories from “real” people, my main point of reference came from the infamous Sex and the City episode in which Sam has to leave Carrie’s book party because she has been subjected to a peel that made her looked like uncooked bacon. This may help explain my irrational fear of peels and, until now, complete avoidance of them.

Regardless, I book the Signature Peel at The Face Bar in Los Angeles, which is attempting to revolutionize the peel process by making it more affordable ($69) and therefore more attainable—all of this while ensuring they achieve the same results of a several-hundred-dollar procedure done in a doctor’s office. In fact, Face Bar cofounder Tricia Dikes has been essentially doing the same procedure in a plastic’s surgeon’s office for the last two decades. This signature peel promises almost no downtime and immediate results. They also promise it’s safe and effective enough to be part of an ongoing monthly or bi-monthly program thanks to sea-based products and custom-compounded blends and botanicals. I’m sold.

However, I still feel hesitant, and I insist on torturing the kind people of the The Face Bar with my worry. After reading their website 50 times to try to understand what will happen to me, I ask if someone can talk on the phone to tell me what I can expect (will my face shed like snake’s skin?) and to see if I can go to work during this process, or if a day off is necessary (“Why yes that IS a piece of skin that just fell onto the table during our meeting, but by all means go ahead with what you were saying about Q4”). My hesitancy is compounded by the fact that I'm flying home to Ohio at the end of the week for a family event and my mother has made it clear that if I come home looking a mess or with my face coming off in strips, the peel will be the least of my worries.

The Face Bar manager, Stacy Sterman, is both patient and informative on our call. She assures me the results will be great (turns out I’m a good candidate because I’ve never had a peel before and have pretty good skin) and that the actual “shedding” can be likened to a really bad sunburn. (Read: No personal days are needed.) She also assuages my concerns that because this peel is both affordable and not taking place in a doctor’s office it won’t work, promising me that in fact it will. I take her word for it and confirm my appointment.

I show up for my appointment days later and am greeted by Stacy and Tricia Dikes, who will be doing the treatment. They sit me right down and get to it.

First, there's a steam with a vitamin cocktail that will open my pores, then it’s extractions, followed by exfoliation that feels like sand being rubbed on my face. An acid peel is then put on my face to resurface and brighten skin, followed by a cold collagen roller and Echo-2 pure oxygen. Finally, the peel is applied, which I’m instructed to leave on for eight hours (I intentionally booked my appointment for late in the day so I could go home and sleep in the peel, which they say is fine to do).

The whole process is surprisingly quick, and soon I’m on my way home. The peel feels slightly tight on my face, but for the most part, it’s barely noticeable. I also leave with some Face Bar products and instructions for care for the next few days, which involve heavy moisturizing, a tinted sunscreen to make sure my skin is protected and a scrub to use eventually. I promise to follow the instructions word for word.

The next morning I wake up and take the peel off. My skin feels tight and looks a little red. I put on the moisturizer and sunscreen as directed, and then apply makeup to even out my skin tone. Off to work! No. Big. Deal. I got this. By the end of the day, my face is feeling kind of itchy and hot. Again, nothing too problematic, but I’m definitely aware of the peel and think (hope) it’s working. I’m beginning to get a little nervous about day two.

[I] pray I don’t look too much like a freak. It turns out much of my embarrassment is in my head.

Day two arrives and I wake up to a face that looks like a beet. It’s seriously red—so red I’m a little self-conscious at my workout class (where I obviously don’t wear makeup). For work, I put on the tinted sunscreen and as much makeup as I can to dull the pink shade of my skin. I pray I don’t look too much like a freak. It turns out much of my embarrassment is in my head. I tell anyone who will listen at work that I had a peel, which is why my skin was so red and—by midday—starting to peel. Most of them say they hadn’t even noticed. By the end of the day my face is seriously peeling, so I have to keep checking a mirror so I don't embarrass myself with a little piece of skin hanging off without my knowledge. Truth be told though, Tricia was right—it’s basically like a bad sunburn. You don’t look great while your skin is peeling, but you don’t look awful. My face still feels tight and itchy, and to be honest, that’s the most annoying part. Other than that, so far, so good.

Day three brings more peeling, but I can tell it’s coming to an end, and frankly, my skin looks great. Dark spots and sun damage have been lightened, and my face looks downright dewy (this may be a result of the heavy moisturizer, but I’m choosing to ignore that possibility). I even go to dinner that night, and no one notices the peeling—at this point it’s mostly around the hairline, which is easily covered by my curls. By day four I’m all but glowing, and when I arrive home in Ohio on day 5, I feel like a younger, fresher version of myself. Even my mom is thrilled.

It turns out I had no reason to be petrified of a peel. The process wasn’t painful, the few days after weren’t nearly as traumatic as I had expected, and the results were 100% noticeable. In fact, The Face Bar encourages you to get one every four weeks or so, and since their procedures have reasonable price tags, I’m already making plans for my next one. Watch out aging, I’m coming for you.