Chemical peels can help your skin look younger and smoother, but chemical peel recovery can take time.
According to a 2018 study, chemical peels are the third most commonly performed non-invasive cosmetic procedure in the U.S., with over 1.3 million procedures performed in 2016. Nearly all peeling agents are safe and effective.
Still, no matter how good your chemical peel is, you’re likely to experience some side effects that will require post-peel treatment. Here, we examine how you can make your recovery easier and increase the likelihood that you’ll be happy with the results.
What is a Chemical Peel?
A chemical peel is a technique used to improve the appearance of your skin, usually on your face, but you can also perform it on your neck and hands.
The idea is to get rid of the old dead skin cells on the surface of the skin so that the newer, younger cells can emerge from underneath. The regenerated skin typically looks smoother, younger, and more radiant than the old skin did.
To achieve this updated look, you (or your dermatologist) apply a chemical solution to the skin that helps exfoliate it. That chemical solution causes trauma or injury to the skin’s layers, forcing them to peel away and reveal more youthful skin underneath.
There are three basic types of chemical peels:
Superficial or light peel
This peel uses alpha-hydroxy and other mild acids to penetrate the outer layer of skin and gently slough away old, dead skin cells. It helps to improve mild discoloration and rough skin and gives your appearance a nice pick-me-up.
Recovery takes between a few hours to a few days, depending on the chemicals used. The skin may appear red or be slightly irritated. You can repeat the procedure every 2-5 weeks.
This is a more aggressive peel and uses glycolic or trichloroacetic acid to penetrate the outer layer and part of the middle layer of the skin. It removes dead and damaged skin cells and can help improve the look of age spots, fine lines and wrinkles, freckles, and moderate hyperpigmentation. It can also smooth rough skin.
Recovery takes between 7-14 days. Skin will be red and swollen for the first 48 hours or so. Blisters may form and break, and skin will crust and peel off within a couple of weeks. You can repeat the procedure if needed after a few months.
The most aggressive of the three, this peel uses trichloroacetic acid or phenol to penetrate the outer and middle layers of the skin even more deeply than a medium peel. It helps to remove moderate lines, age spots, freckles, and shallow scars and may help treat precancerous growths. This peel can produce a dramatic improvement, but recovery will take longer.
Expect 14-21 days for healing. The treated area will need to be bandaged and the skin soaked four to six times daily for the first 14 days. Patients must avoid all sun exposure for 3-6 months after this sort of peel. A repeat procedure is usually not recommended.
Why Is Chemical Peel Recovery Necessary?
Except for the very mild chemical peels, most produce some side effects on the skin. The most common include:
- Redness: Since a peel removes some of the skin, it will likely be red and irritated.
- Swelling: That removal of the upper and potentially middle layers of the skin can cause swelling as the immune system works to heal the “injury.”
- Scabbing: As part of the normal healing process, the skin may scab over the “injured” areas for a time.
- Scarring: Sometimes, a peel can cause scarring, typically on the lower part of the face.
- Changes in skin color: Though not common, a chemical peel can cause the treated area of the skin to turn darker or lighter than usual. These changes are more common in people of color and can be permanent.
- Infection: Usually after a medium or deep peel, your dermatologist will prescribe antibiotics to help you avoid an infection. With the removal of the dead skin cells, the skin becomes vulnerable to bacterial, fungal, or viral invaders.
7 Ways to Make Chemical Peel Recovery Easier
How you care for your skin after a peel can make a big difference in your results.
We suggest the following 7 steps to help your skin heal quickly and thoroughly.
1. Stay Away from the Sun and the Heat
Your skin will be fragile after a peel, particularly if you get a medium or deep peel. If you expose those new, young cells to the sun, you risk permanent scarring and damage to the skin. Therefore you must take all the precautions necessary to avoid sun exposure until your skin is completely healed. That includes staying indoors, using hats and umbrellas, and applying sunscreen.
Extremely hot showers and excessive sweating can also rush the peeling process and may result in scarring. So it’s best to use only lukewarm (or cool) water and to take it easy with your workouts while your skin is healing.
2. Use Cold Compresses
If your skin is swollen after a peel, use cold compresses to ease the swelling and discomfort. A soft cloth immersed in cool water is best—avoid placing ice directly on the affected area. Soaking your skin in cool water can also help and is often advised after medium or deep peels.
We also recommend using our Rescue + Relief Spray as needed. It helps soothe redness and tame inflammation without you having to touch the sensitive areas, reducing your risk of infection. Ingredients like valerian and comfrey also produce calm while providing anti-inflammatory benefits.
If you store this spray in the refrigerator, it will feel cool and refreshing on your skin and will give you instant, hydrating relief.
3. Apply Skim Balms and Ointments
When your skin has gone through the trauma of a chemical peel, it typically needs more than just your normal moisturizer. Your dermatologist may recommend an ointment or cream that will help keep the skin moist while it heals. Moisture is critical to smooth healing and can help you avoid scabbing and scarring.
We recommend our Restorative Skin Balm as a healing balm post peel. It’s an all-natural, petroleum-free balm that contains vitamin E to aid in wound healing as well as beeswax to safeguard the moisture barrier. Seabukthorn oil and arnica provide antioxidants that help heal and regenerate skin.
Our customers love that this balm encourages faster restoration of healthy skin for a speedy recovery!
4. Don’t Pick!
Your skin may peel after a few days. No matter how tempted you are, it’s critical not to pick or pull at your peeling skin or scabs. If you do so, you could increase your risk of infection or scarring. Instead, simply apply moisture to those areas.
5. Moisturize More Than Usual
The best way to aid your skin in recovering from a peel or any cosmetic procedure is to step up your hydration. Rather than moisturizing only in the morning and before bed, you should moisturize every two hours, particularly if you had a medium or deep peel.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon to moisturize 10-20 times a day after a cosmetic procedure. For a light peel, it’s best to moisturize at least one extra time per day for a week.
Moisture helps the skin regenerate more evenly and will reduce your risk of hard scabs and scars. You can use the Restorative Skin Balm we mentioned above, or in between balm applications, use our Calming Moisture to smooth and camouflage the peeling areas. Make sure you’re using a moisturizing, creamy cleanser as well.
6. Hydrate Hydrate!
While you’re applying balm and moisturizer to the surface of your skin, it’s important to stay hydrated inside too. A chemical peel can be like a burn to the skin, and your skin will react by pulling moisture from the deeper layers to heal. You need to replenish that moisture from the inside out by drinking water throughout the day.
7. Wait Before Using Makeup
Though you can probably use makeup a day after a superficial peel without repercussions, for more serious peels it will be best to avoid makeup at least for the first few days. With a medium peel, you’ll want to wait 5-7 days, and with a deep peel, at least 14 days.
Applying makeup too soon can irritate your skin and may increase your risk of infection. Whenever you go back to using makeup, make sure your brushes have been cleaned and that you’re using newer products that are less likely to be contaminated with bacteria.
Talk to Us About Your Cosmetic Surgery Recovery
If you’ve gone through a cosmetic procedure like a chemical peel and you have questions, feel free to contact our skin care specialists. They can help recommend products that may speed up your healing as well as techniques to tame inflammation and swelling.
How do you speed recovery after a chemical peel?