What Is a Chemical Peel?


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When it comes to skincare, I’m a “solve your own problems” type of gal. A random pimple appears on my face? I pull out all of my holy grail spot-treatments: Aztec Healing Clay and apple cider vinegar, and sleeping masks to whip my face back into shape. Do I actually know what the salicylic acid in my cleanser does? No, but salicylic acid is supposed to be good for skin, right? If I walk into Target’s skincare section and see a product that claims to “detoxify,” “brighten,” or “hydrate” the skin, you better believe I’m adding it to my shopping cart. I’m basically every marketer’s dream.

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I wish I could say that my at-home skincare treatments have helped me crack the code to perfect skin but unfortunately, it hasn’t. The acne scars haven’t faded, my skin feels a bit more textured nowadays than before, and looks just as dull as I feel waking up on a Monday morning. I realized that achieving radiant, clear skin required more than “deep cleansing” washes and hydrating overnight masks, and that it might be time to put my skin in the hands of someone qualified to give me the results I desired. I wanted to start fresh. I wanted…a chemical peel. (*cue dramatic music*)

I’ve contemplated getting a chemical peel for months, out of fear that I might damage my skin even more. Am I too young for this procedure? How can something that sounds so intense be good for your skin? I had a lot of questions and Tanya Thomas, New York-based esthetician and founder of Tanya Thomas Skin Clinic, had all the answers. “The process is actually very skin-friendly,” Thomas assured me. So before I decide to skip on over to a dermatologists’s office, I asked Thomas to give me a breakdown of everything I need to know about the procedure, from what products to stay away from beforehand to how much downtime I should except post-peel.


Yes, it’s completely safe.

“Chemical peels work best for people who are experiencing hyper-pigmentation, textured skin, discoloration, and acne scarring. A chemical peel is a chemical exfoliation process that penetrates deeper in the skin in order for the top layers of the skin to start shedding. This process stimulates collagen and increases cellular turnover to reveal new, fresh skin.”

Stay away from acid products closer to your chemical peel appointment.

“A lot of people are scared to get chemical peels because they think it’ll burn. Well, I always suggest to clients that they discontinue retinoids or any acne-fighting products that contain acid up to five days before your visit because if not, that’ll increase your chances of getting a burn. We want to rejuvenate the skin, not damage it further.”

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Thomas suggests that teens younger than 15 should wait a little while longer before poking and prodding their face.

“I think it depends on the person (and the parent) but I’ve done chemical peels on teenagers as young as 15 years old. I had a 15-year-old that has suffered from severe acne. Obviously, that’s affecting their high school experience, so I think it’s safe to do a peel on someone as young as when you hit puberty—15 is a good age, no one younger than that.”

Chemical peels can be more effective than microdermabrasion.

“One is a chemical exfoliator, while the other is a manual one. Microdermabrasion is similar to buying an over-the-counter face scrub in the sense that it’s a superficial exfoliator, meaning it’s only exfoliating the top layer. However, it does get a little bit deeper than a normal scrub.”

The process isn’t that intimidating.

“You have to find a esthetician that you trust, so make sure you shop around and find someone who really knows what they’re doing and knows how to treat Black skin. That’s why I don’t do any procedures without scheduling a consultation first because we have to build that trust.

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We start off with a consultation where we ask the client what they’re skin goals are and their lifestyle habits to determine the type of peel we should use. If someone is really active in the gym or works with people and they’re afraid to physically peel, then I suggest going with a lighter, milder peel that doesn’t cause any visual peeling, like a lactic acid or mandelic acid peels. These peels still stimulate cellular turnover but on a much milder level.

Next, when you’re finally in the chair for the procedure, we use a pre-prep solution to prime it for the chemical. The client gets a fan to help with any tingling or sting they may feel during the procedure. Then, we start the peel. It takes about 30 mins between peel prep and post-peel care. There are different types of peels depending on your skin type. You can do strong peels once every six weeks, or milder ones two or three times each month.

Once we’re done, we do a post-peel moisturizer, add some sunscreen and you’re good to go.”

No, you won’t have to stay locked in your house for days.

“The stronger peels, like a glycolic acid one, starts to peel 48 hours later. Then, the skin can shed anywhere from three to five days. You want to limit your sun exposure and make sure you’re keeping the skin hydrated with a gentle moisturizer and sunscreen.”

Don’t force the peeling process.

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“A lot of people start peeling and reach for the Clarisonic to speed up the process. Big no-no! You cannot do anything to force the process, that’s how you get post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation. Use a mild, gentle cleanser with your hands and gently massage your face with it. You’re gonna let your face air dry or pat dry. If you take a washcloth and you’re wiping your face, you’re prematurely wiping away that dead skin and that’s not what you want. You cannot use a scrub to force the process.”



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