The first time I was scheduled to get a chemical peel I was a bit nervous, because I didn’t know exactly what to expect. More than anything — before asking a number of questions and sitting down for the treatment — I envisioned walking out of my doctor’s office with a lobster-colored face and discomfort rivaling a massive blister. “Have no fear,” my dermatologist assured me, easing my nerves. “That’s not going to happen.”
He was spot on — I didn’t walk out with any redness, beet-resemblance, or in any pain at all. After all, the superficial, gentle exfoliating peel I was given was an alpha-hydroxy acid, and therefore, very mild.
Beyond my easy-breezy “lunchtime” peel, there are medium and deep peels, too, which penetrate with a bit more power. According to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery℠, medium peels use glycolic or trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to improve fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration, and age spots. Deep peels use TCA or phenol, which is applied to improve the skin’s appearance, focusing on moderate lines and shallow scars. (Learn more about light, medium, and deep peels here.)
Depending on your skin’s condition and the chemical peel you receive, you can expect healing to take anywhere from one day to three weeks. Needless to say, that’s a wide range of recovery time! Of course, while it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the best care plan for your skin’s needs, there are some basic guidelines you can stick to in order to help expedite your recovery. Keep reading for some dermatologist-recommended tips regarding what to expect after a chemical peel, what to put on your face after a chemical peel, and how to take care of your skin while it’s healing.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.
First things first: Is there anything special I should do before a peel?
While aftercare is very important, it’s imperative to plan ahead as well, especially when it comes to your beauty routine. “About a week before the peel, stop waxing, using depilatory hair-removal products, and retinoids,” advises Sapna Palep, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology℠ in New York City. She also advises patients resist bleaching, massages, or facial scrubs in the week before a peel. Another tip she has is to avoid direct sunlight for two to three weeks. “Sun exposure can cause the breakdown of the skin cells, and small cracks or fissures in the skin, which you don’t want before applying a chemical peel,” warns Dr. Palep. “They can lead to complications and sensitivity.” Of course, talk to your provider about anything they may recommend to avoid, too.
Retinol shouldn’t be used by women who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.
OK — I got my chemical peel. Can I wash my face? What do I use?
Dr. Palep says using a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen for a couple of weeks is important and will enhance the healing process and results. Marie V. Hayag, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, agrees. “La Roche-Posay® Toleriane® Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser is great because it contains their well-known thermal spring water, which has minerals to help soothe and repair the skin,” she says. “CeraVe® Hydrating Facial Cleanser contains ceramides to help the skin barrier and hyaluronic acid to help hydrate the skin, which is important after a chemical peel.” You want to err on the side of soothing hydration rather than anything stripping post-peel, so if you tend to rely on foaming, acne-fighting cleansers, take a break and opt for something gentler until you’ve recovered.
Interestingly enough, you’ll also need to change your fitness regimen a little bit, too. Though working out is great for your health, it’s not ideal after a chemical peel. “Strenuous exercise and heavy sweating should be avoided for two to three days,” says Dr. Palep. “You don’t want the sweat glands to get occluded when they are the most sensitive, because that is when the initial effects of the peel are taking effect, and you don’t want the inflammation to occlude sweat gland excretion.”
When can I get back into my regular skincare routine after my chemical peel? I love active ingredients!
Your skin is highly sensitive right now, so give it a bit of a break. Dr. Hayag recommends waiting until your skin heals to restart retinols, prescription retinoids, and glycolic acids. She also says to avoid Clarisonics® and other high-tech cleansing devices during the same timespan. “After a chemical peel, the skin goes through exfoliation or ‘peeling,’” notes Dr. Hayag. “For most superficial chemical peels, the skin can take up to seven days for this to be completed. Using these products too soon would increase the chance of redness, irritation, and slower healing.” Keep things simple while you recover!
So if I can’t use my go-to products, what can I use on my face after a chemical peel?
As previously mentioned, you need a gentle moisturizer. There is absolutely no shortage of moisturizers on the market, and thankfully, Dr. Hayag has narrowed it all down to three favorites: Alastin Skin Nectar®, AvèneTM Cicalfate® Post-Procedure Cream, and Valmont® Prime Regenera IITM. The latter two immediately work to hydrate, cool, and soothe skin after a chemical peel, while the former fights redness and inflammation with proprietary technology. Remember, the ultimate goal is to keep your skin hydrated, soothed, and comfortable, so when in doubt, stick with simpler formulations with hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid — and avoid anything potentially irritating, like alpha and beta hydroxy acids, retinoids, and vitamin C.
How long do I have to wait to get other treatments after a chemical peel?
You might be eager to go back for another round, or try another treatment, but being patient is key. Dr. Palep says you should wait until your skin heals from the peel to get injectables, microdermabrasion, or another peel. “When you are injecting needles into the face, you want to make sure the integrity of the skin is intact, so there’s less risk of infection,” adds Dr. Palep.
For lasers, Dr. Hayag notes that it’s also best to wait until you are fully healed. “Lasers can affect the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin,” she explains. “If this layer is still compromised from a chemical peel, there can be increased side effects including redness, burning, blistering, and pigmentation changes with the use of lasers.” Lastly, she also suggests that her patients wait to book a facial appointment — better safe than sorry. However, you don’t have to ditch your skincare, beauty, and aesthetics regimens in their entirety. She says makeup can be applied the next day if you have a superficial chemical peel. For a medium-depth or deep peel, consider waiting five to 14 days, depending on the type of peel. Learn more about which makeup products you can apply after an aesthetics treatment here.