The thought of getting a chemical peel for the first time seems like an unnecessary evil. From the burning sensation of acid being swiped against your skin to the incessant peeling that’s expected afterwards (don’t panic; it stops eventually), it’s easy to find comfort in your usual skincare routine: cleanse, tone (on occasion), moisturize, mask (once or twice a week); repeat. However, this procedure is wildly popular for a reason, or shall I say many reasons. In fact, it’s been around for two millennia–since the days of the ever and always striking Cleopatra. But no one’s indulging in sour goat baths for flawless skin anymore. More modern times call for treatments with proven efficacy and ease. Nowadays, people use chemical peels offered at their derm’s snazzy practice or from their favorite cosmetics store (Editor’s Note: We swear by Philosophy’s Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel).

Yet, picking the right product and process that will provide flawless skin can be challenging because there are so many points to consider. And if you aren’t careful, you can end up with complications or blotched results including an uneven complexion, inflamed skin, superficial burns, etc. This is why consulting an experienced healthcare professional before getting a chemical peel is vital, so much so that we brought in Harvard University trained dermatologist, Dr. Michelle Henry (@drmichellehenry) and celebrity estheticians, Mamie McDonald (@skinbymamie) and Renée Rouleau (@reneerouleau), to answer your burning questions.

TheTaiLife: What is a chemical peel and what are its pros and cons?

Henry: “[A chemical peel] is a chemical solution that is applied to the skin, causing the damaged superficial skin to peel off. The new, fresher skin is smoother, more radiant with improved tone.”

Rouleau: “It improves skin’s hydration levels, refines the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, evens skin tone and lightens pigmentation, smoothes and softens the skin, releases clogged pores and stimulates collagen production. One major con would have to be peeling. Most people have to endure 3-7 days of peeling and may have to stay out of the public eye (and the sun) during that time.” Also, depending on how the skin reacts to the peel, there is a possibility of permanent change in skin color, scarring or chemical burn.”

TheTaiLife: Hold on! What is a chemical peel composed of? Also, are there any acids worth saying no to?

McDonald: “The most common active ingredients in chemical peels are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (i.e. glycolic or lactic acid), Beta hydroxyl Acids (i.e. salicylic acid) in 10%-30% formulas, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), as well as vitamins a and b.”

Rouleau: “Phenol peels are increasingly becoming an outdated procedure, due to lengthy downtime and unpredictable results associated with uneven and loss of pigment changes. Not only is [phenol] the strongest of the chemical solutions, but it can cause a second-degree burn of the skin. Also, recovery may be slow and complete healing of the skin may take 1-2 months.”

TheTaiLife: Does my skin tone or ethnic background matter at all?  

Henry: “Darker skin is more prone to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation and special precautions should be taken when using peels on dark skin. Women and men with darker skin should be certain that their dermatologist or aesthetician has had significant experience treating skin of color.”

McDonald: “People from Asian, African and Latin ancestry, especially, are more prone to getting post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). PIH happens when the skin has been traumatized and melanin production increases to protect the affected area. The traumatized skin remains dark, creating an uneven skin tone, which can last for months.”

TheTaiLife: What factors do you take into account before giving a person a chemical peel?

McDonald: “Before doing a chemical peel I consider my client’s skin tone, how dry the skin is, and if the client is prone to scarring easily.  You can avoid problems simply by asking your client about his or her skin, and how well or not they take care of it.”

Rouleau: “All peels are not created equal and treatment should be given based on a person’s skin type and their concerns. This will help to determine what percentage of acids are used, the length of time it’s left on the skin and what type of post-peeling solution is applied to the skin.”

TheTaiLife: What should I do to optimize my results pre peel?

Henry: “If a patient is using abrasive creams or products prior, I have them stop them a week before the peel. Products containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid or retinoid can make peel results more aggressive and unpredictable.”

Rouleau: “When you consult your skin care professional, make sure to ask them a lot of questions, trust your instincts, get a second, third and fourth opinion, and never rush into making a decision, especially if you have an upcoming event.”

McDonald: “Before a chemical peel is scheduled, make sure you do not use any products with glycolic acid, AHA’s and especially no Retin-A for 14 days. Also, do not wax, stay out of chlorinated water if you are a swimmer, avoid taking aspirin and alcohol for at least 24 hours before a scheduled peel, do not take antiviral medications, or use bleaching agents, such as hydroquinone. And absolutely no sun bathing a week before, and hydrate with lots of water before and after.”

TheTaiLife: How long should a person wait before getting another treatment? How soon is too soon? Also, are there any repercussions for waiting too long?

Henry:I typically have my patient wait 2-4 weeks between peels. Weaker peels (i.e. lactic and mandelic acid) can be done more frequently. Doing a peel too early can irritate new fragile skin.  The only risk to spacing your peels apart too much is that the cumulative benefit is reduced.  I believe that the most benefit is attained when 2-3 peels are implemented 1 month apart.”

Rouleau: “Depending on the type of peel, they are often repeated every 1-6 weeks to achieve the desired/maximum results. I believe in gentle peels performed more often, rather than one strong peel. A series of lighter chemical peels will offer you not only minimal downtime, but you’ll get a better result by treating the skin several times with the exfoliation they provide.”

TheTaiLife: There are many over the counter products that claim to provide “in-office” results. Which ones would you recommend for those who still want that “lit from within” look, but cannot afford to get a professional service? Also, why do you like them?

Henry: “I love using topical retinoid creams.  They help to exfoliate the skin, reduce acne, lighten dark spots and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Currently we have one over the counter retinoid option—Differin gel.  It is a great introduction to retinoid creams as it in one of the most tolerable.  If one’s skin is too sensitive for retinoid creams, they can try retinol—retinoid’s weaker cousin.  ROC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Serum is one of my favorite retinol containing products.”

Rouleau: “I would recommend my Triple Berry Smoothing Peel, which is a great alternative for those who cannot afford to get a professional peel. This at-home exfoliant face peel gently peels away dullness and reveals younger-looking skin. This contains a powerful blend of antioxidant-rich berries with five skin smoothing fruit AHAs, BHAs and enzymes to clear blemishes and clogged pores, fade post-breakout marks, lift discoloration, stimulate cellular renewal and smooth surface texture while reducing the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and large pores. Layer by layer, you’ll remove dullness to reveal younger-looking skin that has literally been resurfaced.”

TheTaiLife: What are some major no-nos that people often make during the peeling process?

Rouleau: “The whole purpose of a chemical peel is to “burn” off the surface dry, damaged cell layers and reveal younger-looking, healthy new cells. But to do this, the skin has to shed and that’s the part that people dislike the most. But picking off dry, flaky skin when it may not be ready to come off can result in scarring and unnecessary redness. When the skin is peeling and flaky, it’s normal to want to apply heavier moisturizer to alleviate dryness and comfort the irritated skin. The whole purpose of a chemical peel is to peel. So, over hydrating peeling skin when it wants to shed off, will not give you the best benefit and prolongs the downtime of the peel. Just use your regular moisturizer and let the skin do what it wants to do. Exfoliating! It is so important to not remove the dry skin before its time and to let the skin shed naturally. Facial scrubs and acids will only irritate the irritation further and could result in scarring the skin.”

TheTaiLife: What products and maintenance tips would you recommend to your clients post peel?

Rouleau: “Treat your skin gently. Instead of using a washcloth on your facial, switch to a gentler option like a baby washcloth or Renée Rouleau Facial Sponges. The rough texture of a washcloth can be too aggravating for skin that is already irritated. Remember to wear SPF daily on the face and neck, use soothing products with chamomile, azulene and sea whip to comfort the skin and reduce redness. Also, use antioxidants. Since chemical peels can stimulate melanin activity, you don’t want to end up with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a condition where you can develop brown spots post-peel (common in skin that already struggles with discoloration/brown spots). Our Vitamin C & E Treatment works beautifully for preventing and lightening discoloration.”

Henry: After the peel, I recommend gentle cleansers and rich moisturizers to help restore the skin’s moisture after a peel. I love Neutrogena’s Hydrating Cleanser and the gentle cleanser by Cetaphil. Some of my favorite moisturizers are Vanicream and CeraVe cream. It is important to use bland creams (without fragrance or active ingredients) after a peel to avoid irritation. To maintain the results a gentle exfoliation regimen and religious sunscreen use are key to prevent hyperpigmentation.

TheTaiLife: What will a person expect post peel? (i.e., peeling, dryness, etc…)

McDonald: “After a peel, again depending on the type of peel and the strength of the peel, you can expect some swelling, redness and some dry flaky patches. You can peel for 4 days, 7 days, 14 days or even 21 days.”

TheTaiLife: What are some other myths that people have about chemical peels? Why aren’t they true?

Henry: “Two of the most common misconceptions are that peels are not safe for dark skin or sensitive skin. An experienced, dermatologist will be able to choose a peel that is not only safe for but also effective for any skin type.”

Rouleau: “I’m seeing more and more in a woman’s quest to look younger they get too many aggressive treatments that could actually be injuring the skin. They feel if a facial treatment doesn’t hurt, doesn’t burn, it isn’t making their skin red or they aren’t peeling, it’s not doing anything—and this couldn’t be farther from the truth especially when it comes to chemical peels.  Every time you receive a chemical peel, it injures the skin to repair itself (which is actually a really good thing and its purpose) but in the process, it also stimulates inflammation and damaging free radicals that age the skin if done too often. That’s not bad once in awhile, but if that’s all you are doing to the skin, those free radicals will be running so rampant that it may cause more harm as well as dehydrating the skin because your skin won’t be able to retain its natural moisture. Bottom line: A variety of skin care procedures such as hydrating facials, ultrasonic exfoliation, microdermabrasion, light therapy, oxygen, Bio Visage, laser treatments and chemical peels will all be beneficial in getting your skin healthy and younger-looking.”