Even with all of the world's technological advancements in skincare, the notion of the chemical peel procedure alone can incite fear, with many assuming that the result of the treatment will leave them with a beet red and a burning face. However, mishaps such as those are actually extremely rare and usually the result of self-application — not that of a trained professional well-versed in the ins-and-outs of the procedure.
"A major misconception is that all chemical peels will leave you with lots of downtime and extreme peeling," Josie Holmes, esthetician at SKINNEY Medspa, tells TZR. "This is not the case."
However while it may not result in a week's worth of face inflammation, that doesn't mean that a chemical peel should be approached lightly. Ahead, check out everything you need to know about chemical peels, and safety precautions medical spas are taking to protect the safety of clients and employees during COVID-19.
What Is A Chemical Peel?
"A chemical peel is an age-old technique of applying a chemical solution to the skin's surface," Holmes says. "This process is intended to treat the outermost layers of the skin to help exfoliate and peel off troubled skin, revealing a fresh and smooth new layer." The content of said peel consists of a blend of chemical exfoliators. "Chemical peels are generally made of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid TCA, or resorcinol," Dr. Caren Campbell, board certified dermatologist, notes. "Depending on the potency, number of layers applied, and time left on the skin, the depth of the peel becomes deeper and downtime is increased. Peels assist in ridding the skin of fine wrinkles, soften deep wrinkles, and fade age spots."
However, the kind of chemical peel required varies by skin type. "They range from superficial to very deep depth peels," Dr. Suneel Chilukuri of Refresh Dermatology and a PCA Skin Ambassador says. "The type of depth of the peel will be determined by which ingredient your dermatologist, aesthetician, or health care provider uses. The peel can loosen impacted cells allowing them to more easily shed, or it can act as a chemical cauterant that is used to destroy surface keratin protein in a controlled manner. I often use the superficial blends from PCA Skin to treat patients who have sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea or eczema. I also use a physician-only medium depth peel to treat patients with more extensive sun damage or those who exhibit advanced signs of aging."
Setting Up Your Appointment During COVID-19
As elective procedures begin again, Dr. Chilukuri and Refresh Dermatology are taking tremendous steps to ensure the safety of the patrons and staff. Before any cosmetic treatments such as chemical peels occur, the office is suggesting distanced consultations. "For the first time in over 20 years, we offer virtual consults," he says. "While this option has always been a possibility, I am finding that patients are more willing to embrace this option."
During the appointment, masks are required upon entry and exit, and waiting may only occur outside in the customer's car. "For the actual procedure the doctor and patient sterilize hands again," he shares. "Lasercyn spray is applied to the area being treated as this mediated spray kills bacteria, fungus, and viruses within 60 seconds or less. If a peel or facial is being performed, the aesthetician is wearing a face shield over her N95 mask. We are avoiding ablative (or resurfacing) lasers as they can aerosolize any viral particles."
Before You Do A Chemical Peel
None of us want to end up like Samantha from Sex and the City, so it's important to do your research to determine if you're a good candidate. "Chemical peels can be very intense depending on the solution, so if you have never received one before, it may be best to start slow," Holmes says. "If you have any active cold sores, you should not receive a chemical peel as it may spread. I always suggest to take Valtrex three days prior." Additionally, if you're someone on potent acne medicine, you may not be eligible for the treatment. "You cannot receive a chemical peel if you are on Accutane or have not been off Accutane for at least six months," Holmes says. "And of course, you may not receive a chemical peel if you are pregnant or breastfeeding."
Dr. Chilukuri agrees, always conducting an extensive evaluation of his patients. "I always take a full medical history including topical and internal medications," he says. "I also ask if the patient has any underlying medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders including lupus or history of abnormal healing. In addition, I always make sure to review what other treatments the patient may have had in the past and his or her reaction to those treatments. Finally, I perform a physical examination of the skin to be treated. The combination of the history and physical exam will help me determine which peel will be the safest and most effective to treat the patient’s concerns. The good news is that every person can have a peel to improve his or her skin quality."
How To Prep For A Chemical Peel
As your peel approaches, it's important to take a minimal approach to your skincare routine, avoiding makeup, moisturizer, oils or hair preparations for 12 to 24 hours prior to your peel. It's also important to cease certain topical treatments. "Stop all medications such as Retin A, Differin, Tazorac, and bleaching creams three days prior to your peel, and stop waxing or exfoliating one week prior to your peel," Campbell says. Reason being, products such as these inhibit the healing process, often resulting in burning of the skin or improper peeling.
How To Apply A Chemical Peel
The application itself should only take about five to 10 minutes, with the expert applying a light layer of solution across the skin that may cause a light tingling sensation that should subside rather quickly.
However, chemical peels will not always result in tingling of the skin. "The more intense a peel is, the more stinging sensations you will have," Holmes says. "Superficial and light peels such as a mandelic peel will have little to no stinging sensations."
What To Do After A Chemical Peel
"Post-peel, it is important to stay cool and avoid heavy perspiration for approximately 48 hours," Chilukuri says. "I also remind patients to not pick or pull at any exfoliating skin, as that can lead to post-treatment hyperpigmentation and discoloration." Most importantly, stay inside to avoid further damage — and if you do go out, apply plenty of SPF. Extended exposure to the sun while the skin is in the healing process makes the barrier more prone to severe uneven hyperpigmentation. The sun can also damage skin cells, resulting in advanced aging like sun spots and wrinkles.
But that doesn't mean to leave your skin alone completely. Washing your face is a must, however, avoid exfoliants and ingredient-heavy skincare. "Gently cleanse with a mild soap followed by a gentle moisturizer (like Cetaphil Gentle, CeraVe Hydrating, or Vanicream) twice daily for the first few days until the redness dies down and the skin begins peeling," Campbell says. "Ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil, Nuprin) can be used as directed for any swelling and tenderness."
And contrary to the name, not all peels result in peeling. "There are superficial peels that truly make the skin glow with absolutely no visible peeling," Chilukuri says. "There are medium depth peels that can be used to correct deeper wrinkles, acne scars and advanced photo-aging. Each peel can be controlled to minimize downtime while achieving excellent results. The best news is that peels are safe for every skin type."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.