1. Know the main issue you want to treat
Peels can treat a wide range of skin issues—brown spots, acne, rough texture, fine lines, clogged pores—but focusing on one specific problem can help narrow down the right peel for you.
Plus, peels can actually help treat dry skin. When dry skin builds up on the surface, the dead cells create a barrier that prevents moisturizers from penetrating. A peel helps remove those dead surface cells.
2. A combination of acids is the most effective
Several different acids can be used in a peel, but they work in different ways and may be more effective when combined. Peels most often contain one or more of the following: salicylic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid etc.
3. You'll need more than treatment one to see the best results
"Some peels show a dramatic effect with one treatment, but most people are looking for a 'no downtime' procedure, so that takes three to six treatments to see the best outcomes," Dr. Holcomb says.
The reason? Peels are progressive and cumulative, so the results build on each other. With each peel, the ingredients are able to penetrate just the slightest bit further to treat skin concerns.
4. Leave the job to the professionals
"I've seen some DIY disasters from patients who have ordered peels off of the Internet and really ruined their skin," Dr. Engelman says. "I would say go from a trusted brand and a trusted source. When doubt, go for a lower concentration of the active ingredients."
If you insist on opting for an at-home peel, you must pick the right option for your skin type, warns Neal Schultz, MD, a New York City dermatologist and founder of DermTV. If you have sensitive skin, look for lactic acid as the active ingredient; glycolic and salicylic acid are good options for normal and oily skin.
And no matter what strength your peel is, you must follow the application instructions to the letter.
5. You'll have to lay off your anti-aging products
Before undergoing a peel, you'll need to give your skin seven days off of your anti-aging treatments—especially retinoids and any exfoliating products. Using these potent ingredients in combination with a peel can cause irritation and prevent you from seeing the full benefits.
6. Winter is the best time to schedule one
The months with cooler weather are ideal for scheduling a peel. You want to avoid spending too much time outdoors because UV exposure stimulates hyperpigmentation (brown spots) and your skin is extra sensitive during the peel process as new, fresh skin is brought to the surface.
"January is the best month to book a peel if you're looking to repair sun damage or hyperpigmentation," Rouleau says. "The damage from summer has likely surfaced and you're not spending time outside causing more damage."
7. There doesn't have to be any downtime
"Superficial peels (I've done over 55,000 in my office) should require no downtime," Dr. Schultz says. "But you can still see an improvement in texture and tone."
There are more intense, deeper peels that can leave you red and peeling for up to a week. But you don't have to use such an aggressive treatment to see results. A superficial peel done in a professional setting will likely leave you a little pink and give you some skin flaking in the days following, but nothing that would make you hide in the house.
8. Sunscreen is non-negotiable
Since peels remove the thicker layer of dead skin and reveal a fresh, new layer, that skin is much more sensitive to sun exposure and requires vigilant sun protection. Not only are you at a higher risk of burning, you'll expose your skin to the rays that cause sun spots.
And if you have a sunburn, forget going in for a peel in the first place. That skin is damaged and inflamed, so applying chemical exfoliants is a terrible idea.
You're probably doing this anyway, but any time you set foot outdoors, apply a broad spectrum SPF to shield your skin from UV damage.
How you handle your skin post-peel makes a big impact on the results you see. Not only should you avoid the sun, but Dr. Engleman says you need to up your moisturizing game. The added hydration helps the skin heal faster and avoid irritation.
In addition, you want to avoid using any other exfoliants including retinols and retinoids, Dr. Schultz says. Too much of a good thing is dangerous in this case. Think of peels like spicy mustard—a little gives a dish a perfect kick, too much ruins the entire meal. Give your skin at least a week to recover between exfoliating or peels
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