As the seasons change and the weather becomes cooler, you might start to notice some changes in your skin. It might feel drier, thanks to the drier air and lower humidity levels and you might be more aware of wrinkles or other imperfections on it. A chemical peel can be a great way to refresh your skin in the fall or winter. The treatment exfoliates the skin, encouraging the production of new skin cells. It can help minimize fine lines and areas of hyperpigmentation.
How you care for your skin before and after a peel has an impact on the results. You want to avoid irritating the skin or doing anything that might make redness or swelling worse.
Type of Peel Matters
How you care for you skin after a peel depends in large part on the type of peel you’re getting. Chemical peels vary in intensity. They range from superficial or light peels, which typically contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids to very deep peels, which feature phenol as a primary ingredient. You might not need much recovery after a light peel, but may need as much as two weeks after a deep, phenol-based peel.
There are peels in between a light peel and a deep one, too. Mild peels can leave your skin red for several days, but usually have a short recovery time. Medium strength peels typically contain trichloroacetic acid and can require up to a week in terms of recovery.
What to Avoid Before the Peel
To minimize irritation and to avoid upsetting your skin, there are a few treatments you’ll want to avoid before you receive a chemical peel of any strength. For example, if you’re considering laser hair removal, it’s a good idea to have the treatment well in advance of your peel, or to wait until your skin has healed afterwards. The same is true of any other type of hair removal treatment, such as waxing or using a depilatory cream.
It’s also a good idea to wait for your skin to have healed from any other type of resurfacing treatment, such as laser skin resurfacing, before you have a chemical peel. Even a deep cleansing facial a day or so before a peel can leave your skin too tender and sensitive to handle the peel.
You’ll also want to pay attention to the products you use at home in the weeks leading up to your peel. Depending on the strength of the peel, your surgeon might recommend using a topical cream that contains retinol for at least four weeks before treatment. Retinol, or products such as Retin-A, can help improve your skin’s response to the peel and make it better able to absorb the chemicals.
What to Put on Your Skin
Usually, the best thing to put on your skin after a light, mild or medium peel is a very gentle moisturizer. There’s no need to use a heavy moisturizer after a peel, as you want the skin to dry up and flake off somewhat. In the case of a medium or stronger peel, your surgeon may give you a special ointment to apply to keep the skin from becoming too dry.
If you are unsure what to put on your skin after the treatment, you can always ask your surgeon. She might recommend a specific product or using a moisturizer that contains gentle ingredients and antioxidants. Usually, it’s best to avoid "active ingredients," such as retinols or alpha-hydroxy acids for some time after the peel.
Your surgeon will most likely give you specific cleansing instructions after your peel. In the case of medium or stronger peels, washing the face, using only tap water, up to six times a day is typically recommended. Frequently washing the face keeps the healing skin from crusting or scabbing over.
Use very soft cloth or sponge when you do wash your face after the peel. Avoid soap, but ask your surgeon if it’s OK to use a gentle cleanser such as Cetaphil.
What About Makeup?
When you can start wearing makeup again depends on the strength of the peel and its effect on your skin. In the case of a light or mild peel, you might be fine wearing makeup a day or two later. You’ll need to wait longer, until the skin has fully healed, before you can wear makeup again after a deeper peel. To make sure your makeup is completely clean and to minimize the risk of infection, you might want to start with a completely fresh product after your peel.
Avoiding the Sun
The sun isn’t your friend after a chemical peel, no matter how light the peel was. Your surgeon will usually instruct you to minimize or completely avoid sun exposure right after your peel. As your skin heals, you’ll want to start wearing SPF everyday, to reduce the risk of any damage from the sun.
Facial plastic surgeon Dr. Jessica Kulak is an aging face specialist, meaning she only performs procedures on the face. If you are considering a chemical peel, she can help you decide on the appropriate strength of peel and give you advice on caring for your skin afterwards. Dr. Kulak practices at the Naderi Center, which has locations in Virginia and Maryland. For an appointment at the Virginia practice, call (703) 481-0002. To make an appointment in Maryland, call (301) 222-2020.