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An Intro to Chemical Peels

Have you tried every product at the luxury cosmetic counters only to be disappointed that your skin still sucks? Have you considered taking the next steps in your skincare by calling your dermatologist or medical professional? If you said yes, then maybe you are a good candidate to receive a chemical peel treatment. Come on this journey with me in this intro to chemical peels blog.

What it is like to receive a chemical peel?

Before discovering chemical peels I had good skincare habits yet my skin was dry, uneven, and I had many issues with recurring cystic acne. No matter what expensive cream or facial cleanser I used, I just couldn’t get my skin to look nice.

Things didn’t change for me until I met medical esthetician, Elizabeth Weiler. Elizabeth educated me and encouraged me to begin doing a series of chemical peels every year. With Elizabeth’s help, my skin has become soft, even in color, and with fewer fine lines for my age. I haven’t had a cystic pimple in YEARS! People tell me I look “thirty-something”!

The idea is to “bulldoze” the face to encourage the skin to produce healthy new cells. I thought it would be fun to document what it is like to get a series of facial treatments at a medspa. I also thought it would be nice to describe some basic information regarding the types of peels available and how to prepare for receiving them.

My Experience:

Visit 1 (initial visit in the series):

The first thing Elizabeth did was dermaplane my face. A light alpha hydroxy mask and a heavy extraction followed the dermaplaning. The goal was to prep my skin to absorb further treatments. 

Visit 2 – Chemical peel #1 (a couple of days after the dermaplaning and alpha hydroxy mask):

After my face “cooled off” we did a superficial chemical peel (salicylic acid) with a “modified Jessner” solution. The salicylic acid aids in the breakdown of congested skin and the Jesner reduces signs of sun damage.

Here are some pictures to show the progression of my face after the chemical peel:

Day one

9 hours after application: My face looks shiny and wind burned. There’s some tightness and a little residual peppery feeling from the initial application of the peel.

Day 1 of chemical peel

Day two – 21 hours after application.

I feel some sensitivity similar to sunburn. The texture of my skin does not feel much different than usual yet it looks like there have been changes. The abrasions you see near my eye and cheek were extractions that required the proper use of a lancet.

Day 2 after chemical peel application

Day two – 27 hours – after light foundation application.

It was relatively easy to cover up the redness from the peel. I was able to go to work without feeling insecure about the appearance of my skin.

Day 2 after chemical peel application – I am wearing some makeup

After airbrush makeup application (I had a date… this chemical peel won’t stop me!):

Day 3 after chemical peel application

Day three

My skin feels tight yet it also feels like it is hovering over my under layers of skin. It definitely feels like the top layer is foreign. I can feel the texture of my skin starting to break up on my chin. The look of my skin is rough as if I’ve aged and all my wrinkles are apparent. I know that I don’t usually have many lines on my face so I won’t freak out. I know that is just a looser layer of yucky skin.

Day 3 after applying sunblock

Day three – First signs of flaking.

Flakes were highlighted by a HEAVY application of sunblock (Obaji Medical Nu-Derm Sun Shield SPF 50). My face itches.

Day 4 after a chemical peel. The closeups look WAY worse!

Day 4 and 5

I look terrible! But I know it’s for the greater good! I have to remember to not pick the skin off of my face! NEVER try to remove the dead skin flakes before they are ready to fall off.

My face looks like I was on a boat too long!
Looks terrible! But there’s amazing-looking skin under all that!
Just gorgeous!
My temple looks like I used liquid latex aging effects!

Two days later – While the flaking and peeling have ended I notice my wrinkles have become more prominent. I freaked out a little but calmed down after contacting Elizabeth. She explained to me that this was a temporary effect due to a lack of “superficial moisture” also know as Glycosaminoglycan – GAGs. GAGs have several functions and in this case they promote the ability of the collagen and elastin fibers to retain moisture.

Visit 3 – Chemical peel #2

Two weeks later. (I didn’t have time to document all of the changes with photos). Rest assured my skin went through the same stages of peeling as the last time.

The third peel I received was a Glycolic Acid peel. The Glycolic peel felt tingly and needle-like while the others felt hot and somewhat spicy. Elizabeth allowed me to use a fan on my face during the process. It was mildly uncomfortable for only a short period of time. Over the years I have gotten used to the burning sensations.

Here is my face directly after the peel (the sun was in my eyes!). Notice that I am not wearing any makeup other than mascara. I had already shown improvement from the last session. This next peel really pushed my skin to produce healthy cells.

The after picture. I feel beautiful!

I really love the way my skin looks and I can’t wait to do it again next year! Now that you have heard my experience I want to provide you with a little more information:

What is a chemical peel and why do we want them?

As we age, our skin’s natural ability to slough dead skin cells and replicate healthy new cells diminishes. A chemical peel is an acid that provides a controlled burning of the upper layers of the skin. This burning of the skin jump-starts the body’s natural ability to rejuvenate the production of new skin cells. In the end, you’ll have an even skin tone, minimized pores, reduced fine lines, reversal of sun damage, reduction of bacteria causing acne, and a general improvement in the appearance of the skin.

Where can I get a chemical peel?

The strength of a chemical peel determines where you can get the treatment as well as who can administer it:

Light exfoliators – provide light surface exfoliation and minimal results.  You can buy these treatments over-the-counter at Sephora or Ulta.

i.e. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Peel Extra Strength Formula or Peter Thomas Roth’s AHA/BHA Cleansing Gel.

Superficial peels – only affect the epidermal layer and can be administered by any licensed and trained medical esthetician working under a physician. This is the most popular type of procedure and is the focus of this article. Medical estheticians typically work in a medspa (plastic surgeon or dermatologist office). This differs from estheticians found in spas typically associated with beauty salons.

Medium to deep chemical peels- penetrate the dermal layer and stimulate the production of collagen.  A physician can only administer these peels.

Types of chemical peels:

There are many types of acids used in superficial peels. Any combination of these acids can be administered at a med spa by a medical esthetician to produce varying amounts of peeling. The amount of peeling (or depth of chemical burn) is determined by the initial condition of your skin.

Alpha Hydroxy acids (AHA):

There are 5 types of alpha-hydroxy acids: glycolic, lactic, malic, tartaric, and citric. Glycolic and lactic acid are the most commonly used at med spas. Malic, tartaric, and citric are weaker acids that are most commonly used as exfoliates found in over-the-counter skincare products. Alpha hydroxy acids are relatively weak and contain minimal risk in their use. Alpha hydroxy acid is more effective the longer it is left on the skin.

Beta-hydroxy Acid (BHA):

Salicylic Acid peels – These peels are self-neutralizing acids that can be layered to produce different effects. The more layers applied, the more peeling you will experience. Salicylic acid peels are most commonly used for acne, enlarged pores, oily skin, and hyper-pigmentation in dark-skinned patients.  They are also used to pave the way for receiving other, more aggressive treatments that penetrate at a deeper level. Salicylic acid is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is considered generally safe for people with sensitive skin.

*If you are allergic to Tylenol, do not use Salicylic acid.

Jessner’s peels:

Jessner’s peels or “Modified” Jessner’s peels – A Jessner’s peel contains an equal combination of salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol. Like a salicylic acid peel, a Jessner’s peel is self-neutralizing and can be layered. This peel is great for reducing hyper-pigmentation and acne. It can also be used to prime the skin for more aggressive treatments administered by a physician. Most peels created are considered modified Jessner’s peels.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Peels:

Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) is a medium-depth, self-neutralizing peel. Administered by a physician, TCA comes in different concentrations. Use TCA with caution.

Phenol Peels:

While not frequently used, Phenol provided a very deep chemical burn. I do not recommend Phenol peels. There are alternative medium-depth peels that provide the same result with less downtime. A Phenol peel is toxic, uncomfortable to receive, and requires local or general anesthesia.

How to “prepare” for a Chemical peel procedure:

A medical aesthetician will advise prodcts or treatments to prime the skin prior to receiving a chemical peel. Examples include creams, exfoliation treatments, facial cleansers, and masks:

Retin-A (Tretinoin) – a form of vitamin A that helps the skin renew itself.

Salicylic Acid – from the bark of a willow tree, Salicylic Acid is a type of phenolic acid and a beta hydroxy acid. This acid is the main ingredient in Tylenol (a fever reducer and pain reliever). Salycylic Acid is in acne creams, foot creams (to treat warts), dandruff shampoo, and Pepto-Bismol.

Derma Planing / Epidermal Leveling / Blading – a manual exfoliant that removes the outermost layers of dead skin cells. The esthetician uses a #10 sterile surgical blade on the skin at a 45-degree angle. Using a light hand, the blade shaves the upper-most layer of the skin.

Microdermabrasion – tiny crystals sprayed onto the skin to gently remove the outer layer of the skin. Today, we use a wand with a diamond tip instead of crystals.

Skin lightening creams – work to reduce the melanin pigment in the skin.

Some precautions:

DO NOT self-diagnose or self-treat a medical condition. Discuss all chemical procedures with a medical doctor first.

Chemical peels affect the epidermal layer of the skin and result in photosensitivity. Please use an SPF of 30 or higher for a minimum of 2 weeks following treatment.

Please be sure that your esthetician reviews your medical history and goes over any questionable health issues. 

If pregnant or nursing.

Let's Get In Touch!

Have some questions? Ready to chat? That's great! Drop me a message on Whatsap or send me an email and I will get back to you as soon as possible!

Whatsap (USA) +1 630-935-2303

Phone (Italy) +39 347-488-2507

jennifer@jenniferleejohnson.com