• Amy McKinlay

Chemical Peels – Do’s and Don’ts

Updated: Jan 27



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Why Get a Chemical Peel?

I love the Fall season. For me, Fall is about reflection and renewal; the leaves are changing color and starting to fall, the air becomes crisper, the fireplaces and other cozy items come out to comfort us. Our bodies and of course our skin go through seasonal shifts too. Your skincare products and routines should be changed up along with the seasons, and there are certain treatments that are well suited for certain times of year when the sunlight and UV rays are hitting us at a different degree and strength.


Chemical Peels are one of those treatments. Chemical Peels make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so you want to have these done in the Fall and Winter months when there is less exposure to the sun. EltaMD SPF 46 Sunscreen is the sunscreen I often recommend for after your chemical peel – it is effective and gentle so it shouldn’t irritate your delicate post-peel skin. I recommend staying out of the sun and elements for about a week after your chemical peel just to be on the safe side. Wearing sunscreen is a must all the time year-round, but especially when you’ve just had a chemical peel (pro-tip: another good sunscreen for post-peel skin is La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Cooling Water – this is a nice one because it won’t burn when it goes on your sensitive skin).


What is a Chemical Peel Anyways?

A Chemical Peel is a minimally invasive cosmetic dermatology procedure that uses a chemical solution to smooth the texture of your skin by removing the damaged outer layers. They are mostly done on the face, however, sometimes people like these treatments on their hands and neck, as Chemical Peels are a great cost-effective way to give your skin the renewal it needs. If your skin has had lots of sun exposure in previous months, or if you have acne-prone skin, wrinkles, spotting, melasma or scarring, then Chemical Peels often have added benefits of improving your skin’s appearance one step further. Those with irregular skin pigmentation find these treatments helpful also for improving both the look and feel of their skin.


Keep in mind that a Chemical Peel will not remove deep scars or significantly tighten sagging or loose skin. If you’re looking to treat deep facial lines or wrinkles, then my Botox and Dermal Fillers article, is where you should head to next.


Types of Chemical Peels

In terms of cosmetic dermatology treatments, there are 3 types of chemical peels (light, medium and deep peels), all with varying strength. A Light Peel removes the skin’s outer layer and is often used to treat fine wrinkles, acne, uneven skin tone, and dryness. During a Light Peel, you’ll feel a warming sensation on your skin and a bit of a sting; then the peel is removed with cold water and a neutralizing agent. These types of peels can be done every 2 – 5 weeks depending on the results you’re seeking.


A Medium Peel is stronger and uses trichloroacetic or glycolic acid to reach the middle layers of the skin, the dermis. This type of peel is best for treating wrinkles, acne scars and uneven skin tones, and should only be done once every 3 to 9 months.


A Deep Peel is the strongest form of chemical peel, it uses a chemical solution called phenol to penetrate to the bottom layer of your skin. Your doctor might recommend a deep chemical peel if you have deeper wrinkles, scars or precancerous growths. A deep chemical peel can only be performed once, and following the treatment, your skin will experience a more significant degree of peeling, redness and discomfort. Often a local anesthetic or sedative is used to manage discomfort for this procedure.


How Often Should You Get a Chemical Peel?


Never have a chemical peel done right before you go on vacation to the tropics. This same rule of thumb applies to chemical peel beauty products that you buy from retailers too, along with any skin lightening products. Depending on the strength of treatment you receive, you will generally experience dry or red skin and it may feel mildly irritated at first.


There are a lot of products out there these days at places like Macys and Sephora

that promote giving yourself an at-home chemical peel. I’ve seen mixed results with these product lines, and sometimes the skin reacts badly. In terms of how often you should use these, each product is different and also you need to pay attention to how your skin reacts. Some minor irritation and redness are common and expected, however this should be the extent of any after-effects from products promoting a chemical-peel like effect on the skin.


Whether you’re coming into Idaho Skin Institute to see me for an optimized light chemical peel treatment or using products of this nature at home, you should wait at least two weeks, between treatments. Depending on what skin issues you are treating and the type of chemical peel you may wish to give longer intervals between treatments to give your skin a rest and assess the results.


What Can I Expect in the Days Following My Treatment?

After receiving any type of chemical peel treatment your skin will feel extra sensitive. Avoid touching your skin and let the after effects of peeling occur naturally. It’s also a good idea to tie your hair up so that you don’t accidentally contact your skin while brushing back your hair.

Talk with your doctor or dermatologist about wearing makeup after a chemical peel treatment. The type of peel you get is an important factor in your after care, and in how soon you can wear makeup and use your other regular skincare, products. For a light peel you should leave your skin alone until the peeling process is complete and then wait a few more days after that. Medium and Deep peels will need more recovery time. Make sure to keep your skin as clean as possible following your treatment, and if you have any unexpected symptoms or breakouts follow up with your doctor or dermatologist right away. Most importantly, stay out of the sun as much as you can and be extra precautious about making sure you have sunscreen on at all times.


About the third day after your treatment is when you will start to see your skin peel. You need to be really careful as the skin starts to exfoliate. Do not pick at your face no matter how tempted you are! If you need to, then you can use small sterilized scissors to cut away hanging skin. I recommend using an ointment-based product such as Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Emuaid First Aid Ointment instead of your regular creams and lotions following your chemical peels. Cream and lotions typically contain alcohol, which can burn and sting when applied to your skin that is feeling extra sensitive after the deep exfoliation of a chemical peel. If you do prefer a product that’s more similar to a lotion, then try one of the oil-free moisturizers moisturisers that I’ve listed over on my products page. EltaMD Moisturizer is usually the one I recommend for those wanting an immediate oil-free moisturizer after their chemical peel. This one is very soothing and doesn’t burn the skin in its sensitive post-peel state.


This product does wonders for flaking skin and helps speed the healing process after chemical peels and laser treatments. EltaMD AM Therapy smoothens the skin’s texture and evens out skin color and tone. This intense moisturizer also has my favorite ingredient - hyaluronic acid.


Deciding on a light, medium or deep chemical peel isn’t an easy process, and a qualified dermatologist is best at helping you along the way to determine before and aftercare treatments, and also with how intense your chemical peel should be. Chemical peels are a great way to deeply renew and rejuvenate your skin, and should be done with care, patience and caution to achieve the very best results.

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