I Just Had My First Chemical Peel, Here’s What Happened

Hint: it involves glowing skin.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to mask the fact that my skin is as sensitive as my emotional state is in the days preceding my period. (Very). My first weapon of choice in the fight against rouge epidermis was L’Oreal foundation, which I applied liberally and religiously for much of my teen years. As I ~matured~ the focus moved away from camouflaging, and more towards hydration, diet and a more targeted skincare routine to fix the cause. My pores rejoiced!

While I’ve become pretty, pretty skilled at minimising redness, other skin concerns have decided to take up residence on my face—in no particular order: dullness, dryness, fine lines, *gulp* wrinkles—thanks to a little thing that I like to call entering my late twenties. While I’ve often danced around the idea of experimenting with chemical peels, the word ‘chemical’ has always sent a chill down my sensitive skin’s spine, bringing to mind both images of Freddie Kruger and that one time I got so sunburnt at age 15 that my skin detached itself from my face/body with the ease of a banana being peeled.

Never one to turn down a trip to the Dermalogica HQ, my stance on chemical peels swiftly changed last week when I was invited in to try out their new Pro Power Peel treatment. I left my chemical peel-related neuroses behind in the waiting room, after bombarding the skin therapist with a million and one questions (Yes, the peel is customisable and therefore perfectly fine for sensitive skin; No, you won’t have to go all Boo Radley on the world in the aftermath). 

If you’re thinking of joining the chemical peel club yourself (Welcome!, Glad your soon-to-be glowing skin could make it!), below is everything you need to know (according to both my experience, and the wise words of a skin expert)… 

Who is the ideal candidate?

According to Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica (and my skin’s BFF), just about everyone is the right fit for a chemical peel, “depending on the peel’s strength and its benefits.” Lucky for me and my burgeoning fine lines/wrinkles, chemical peels are one of the most effective ways to address anti-aging, as well as “uneven skin texture, breakouts and acne, mottled skin and hyperpigmentation.” They also help to “decongest the skin, create even tone and texture, speed up cell renewal and turnover, and create glowing, healthy skin.” Not to toot my own horn, but there is some pretty persuasive pictorial evidence of that ‘healthy glow’ at the bottom of this article…

What about if my skin is sensitive?

“Not all professional peels are created equal,” Emma tells me. “Some do need to be avoided on sensitive skin, others are designed to work on sensitive skin and even rosacea such as the Pro Power Peel.” I can attest to that, having just successfully had a chemical peel with sensitive skin. My therapist was super communicative throughout the treatment, and tailored my peel to accommodate for my sensitive skin. I had three layers applied with a total duration time of around 15 minutes and was asked to rate my pain levels on a scale of 1-10. I experienced mild discomfort and stinging throughout, but was assured this was perfectly normal, and so spent the majority of the 15 minutes internally debating how accurate the pain scale system is. What if mine is abnormally low?

How should I best prep my skin? 

The best prep for your skin its ensuring it’s well-hydrated with a good barrier, as this “kick-starts the skin’s cell renewal process.” Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise, people! Avoid strenuous exercise on the day of the treatment, and prolonged exposure to heat sources like dry saunas or steam rooms, as these activities “increase blood circulation to the face, which can lead to discomfort, redness, swelling or other side effects.” 

So, what’s actually involved in the peel?

Expect the whole thang to take under 30 minutes. The skin is prepped, first by way of a cleanse and then the addition of a prep solution (to de-grease and “prepare the skin for optimal penetration of the peel itself”). The peel is highly customisable, and can be done by “choosing one peel solution to be used all over the skin, or up-to three various peel solutions to be ‘patchworked’ over certain areas of the skin”, or by applying layers of the peel to intensify the effect by using one peel solution layered, or two to three solutions in various layers. Again, my therapist was great at talking me through each step–so if you feel like the peel is too strong on your skin, just let them know! 

Ingredients list: The PowerClear peel solution contains a Salicylic Acid and Mandelic Acid blended with Bitter Orange Peel. The UltraBright Peel contains Lactic and Phytic Acid blended with Tangerine Peel and Grape Fruit. The AdvanceRenewal Peel contains Glycolic and Phytic Acid blended with Opuntia Flower Extract and Vitamin E.

Afterwards, a neutralising product is applied to the skin, as “every peel needs to be neutralised to ‘turn it off’”, and is then cleansed away. Hydrating dermal layering products are applied, and should always be concluded with a sunscreen SPF50+. 

What changes should I make to my skincare routine after the peel? 

Emma says that it’s essential to wear a sunscreen with an SPF30-50+ after any chemical peel (the Super Sensitive Shield or SkinPerfect Primer, both SPF30, are great, as is the Mecca To Save Face Superscreen 50+), and to avoid direct sun exposure for 2-3 weeks to prevent hyper pigmentation. This is non-negotiable. No ifs, certainly no buts. On the night of the treatment, she recommends rinsing the face with cool water and cleansing with UltraCalming™ Cleanser, then moisturising with Barrier Defense Booster and Calm Water Gel (all included in the Pro Power Peel Post-Procedure Kit). 

My UltraCalming Mist and I were inseparable in the days following the peel, and it was not a uncommon to see me moisturising in the office at certain points throughout the week to stave off flaking/satiate my thurrrrsty skin.

Hydration is key, right? 

Abso-tootly (my words, not Emma’s). “The better the hydration the better the results,” she confirms.” Use plentiful hydrating products such as spritz toners (Anti-Oxidant Hydra Mist), Hydrating Masks, Hydrating Serums/Boosters and hydrating moisturisers (like the Dermalogica Skin Smoothing Cream). 

Should anyone avoid chemical peels?

Before a professional peel you will need to check what is required of you to avoid such as:

  • Having a resurfacing skin procedure such as IPL (laser),  microdermabrasion or a chemical peel within the past two weeks
  • Having received Botox or other injectables within the past week
  • Having used Retin-A  or Retinol within the past 48 hours
  • Having waxed within the past 72 hours
  • Have received sunburn within the last 72 hours

You can’t have a peel if you are contra indicated due to the following:

  •     Have a contagious skin disease or infection such as an active cold sore
  •     Pregnant or breastfeeding
  •     Have used Isotretinoin (Accutane) in the past six months  

The verdict: 

Guys, you are looking at the latest convert. As it transpires, you CAN get a chemical peel with sensitive skin. Hoorah! My skin feels/looks/IS juicy, plump, healthy and quite possibly the glow-iest it’s ever been. Most importantly, the lines collecting around my eyes have faded into obscurity. Bye, Felicia! Have I received compliments on my skin in the aftermath? You betchya. Did the chemical peel inflate my ego? I’d like to think not, but considering I uncharacteristically took about 7,000 selfies (and even uploaded one to Instagram), I’d say, yeah probably. As you might have ascertained by now, my skin is not NOT sensitive, and so it was a touch red immediately after the peel—but no more than it is after a glass of vino, and flakey for around 3-4 days afterwards—but not to the extent of being unable to leave the house without a paper bag. I was tempted to reintroduce an exfoliant to help expedite the flaking process, but Emma stressed the importance of not doing this. “Your therapist will advise you when you can pick up your exfoliation again post your last treatment, which is normally between one to two weeks,” she cautioned. It’s not good-bye, dear exfoliator, it’s just c u l8r. 

As they say, a picture says a thousand words so instead of racking my brain for more synonyms for ‘glowing’, I’ll just leave you with this piccy I took a week after my first (and definitely not last) chemical peel…

(How’s that ego?)

Words, Madeleine Woon | With thanks to Dermalogica (you can book your own treatment here)