HintMD writer Stephanie Simons confronts her irrational fear of chemical peels once and for all… by turning her mom into a guinea pig for a day.
If you’re anything like me, you probably worry that because of your ultra-fair, paper-thin skin, you’ll be the only person on the planet to undergo an in-office chemical peel treatment and never recover from the redness and flaking. And if you saw ‘that‘ episode of Sex And The City, you probably have the image of Samantha looking like beef carpaccio seared into memory.
This debilitating fear of chemical peels is precisely why I “needed to try one, immediately!”, said just about everyone who has ever undergone one – you know, so that I could see how advanced modern-day peels work, how they really don’t have to hurt or even sting, and that they deliver spotless skin in just a matter of days. Which, of course, is beyond what any topical skincare can do.
The next thing I knew, I had a coveted appointment to get The Perfect Derma Peel, which classifies as ‘medium’ on a scale of 1 to aggressive. I was assured I’d emerge a more improved version of myself with fewer fine lines, acne and hyperpigmentation – and all of this would be mine in just one visit, since my skin was pretty good to begin with (note: someone with more pigmented skin or more concerns would benefit from a series of two to three peels every four weeks for two to three months).
The girls at the front desk at SkinSpirit in Walnut Creek gushed about how transformative The Perfect Derma Peel is and how they’ve all undergone chemical peel treatments at some point while still coming in to work the next day (they had compelling pictures in their phones to prove it). Collectively, they didn’t seem to think the whole experience was a major deal, or understand why I brought a ‘body double’ with me: my mom. That’s right, I decided that for this story, all potentially ‘painful’ stunts would be performed by her. You see, I’m a wuss. But also, she had these two stubborn browns spots that, despite trying every product at Nordstrom, would not go away… and she wanted to donate them to this beauty experiment.
Understand that my mom is just about as close to being my identical twin as genetically possible. She has the same Irish-English-German skin, the same enormous head of hair, the same laugh and we even drive the same model of car, so if this worked for her, I knew it would also be a legit option for me in the future. For the record, she is 65 years old and still has her share of stalkers in the produce aisle at Safeway. Go mom.
So, why get a Perfect Derma Peel in the first place? Imperfect skin.
“Skin is made up of layers, so when the top layer flakes off, the skin sends up healthy, fresh-looking skin to the surface. Not only will your skin look brightened after The Perfect Derma Peel, but your facial lines will become softened too,” says Hilarie Mejia, our appointed aestheticic medical assistant and clinical esthetician.
Think of it this way: if ritual skincare is like your daily workout, then peels are the occasional boot camp to kick it into high gear. That makes your daily medical-grade skincare a proper warm-up, according to the pros at SkinSpirit.
“Are you going to see a personal trainer once in your life or workout consistently? Like exercise, anti-aging skincare is about consistency,” says Mejia. The best way to achieve that consistency? By using medical-grade products and going to the doctor for occasional, non-invasive treatments. The two compliment each other like Thelma and Louise, creating the perfect skincare plan for attaining your best skin.
“People sometimes get underwhelming results from peels because they aren’t exfoliating regularly or using medical-grade retinol – and the skin has a lot more peeling to do when this is the case,” she explains. “For the best possible outcome from a peel, you should be preparing weeks in advance with a professional strength retinol and doctor-recommended brightening products.” (Be forewarned, however, that you want to stop using retinoids and glycolic acid products three to five days beforehand or your skin can become hyper-sensitive).
The Perfect Derma Peel specifially contains TCA, kojic acid, retinoic acid, salicylic acid and vitamin C to encourage exfoliation and rejuvenation while also brightening. And, for the first time in a chemical peel, it also contains anti-oxidant Glutathione for ultimate skin-lightening benefits. In the world of major league aesthetic treatments, The Perfect Peel is a Nerf ball that falls somewhere between a regular facial and a facelift. It’s next-level skincare.
Dark spots, be gone? We’ll see…
On the day of treatment, after spending some time on Google, my mom ended up getting cold feet at the ‘altar,’ so we had a three-way compromise in the SkinSpirit aesthetician’s chair. Though it’s not generally recommended to the public, for this experiment, we decided to use The Perfect Peel to ‘spot treat’ only her most despised brown spots – one that was the size of a nickel and one that was more prominent and the size of a pencil eraser – which would spare her from peeling all over until she was sure what that might potentially look and feel like, and that her sensitive skin could handle it. FYI: it’s not widely recommended because this is not the most cost-effective strategy for the average person since you have to buy an entire vial of The Perfect Derma Peel.
We name the soon-to-fade spots Heckle and Jeckle – no, wait, Heckle and Freckle, and I offer to hold her hand through it. Don’t think I didn’t notice those beads of sweats, mom. Breathe.
Forty seconds later, Mejia is applying a medical-grade ‘de-greasing’ agent to her skin, then delicately applying the peel to mom’s spots with a long-stemmed Q-tip.
“Does it hurt yet?” I ask from the sidelines, as though I’m in the backseat on a very long road trip.
“No, it feels cool… and it smells good.” Actually, it smells like Elmer’s glue, because of the skin-numbing phenol, but apparently mom has fond kindergarten memories.
“Most people don’t even feel The Perfect Derma Peel at all,” Mejia says.
This doesn’t stop me from sending my mom numerous emails over the next few days with subjects like Does It Hurt Yet? And How Are Heckle and Freckle Doing?
“Can we expect these two brown spots to go away completely?” I ask.
“Significantly. The darker the hyperpigmentation, the closer it is to the surface and easier it is to treat. Lighter pigmentation suggests that it’s deeper and is more stubborn.” Who knew?
“What about the raised spot on her cheek, will it fall off in her bed when she least expects it, or…?”
“…or in my soup?” mom chimes in.
“It will definitely get lighter but we’ll see where it lands, won’t we?” Mejia laughs.
Yes. Yes, we will. Here’s the recap:
Day 1-2 Nothing to report in the treated areas. No pain. No itching. Not even redness. The spots do, however, look a bit darker because of the Perfect Peel’s dark tint.
Day 3 Still waiting for something to happen. Helllllo brown spots, can you hear us?
Day 4 Get out the magnifying glass. No peeling. No redness. No results yet. But we have not lost hope.
Day 5 Mom’s skin finally begins to show a little patchy redness and flake softly… everywhere but the spots. That’s because of the Perfect Peel post-treatment towelettes: they contain skin-refining tretinoin, and she used them allover as a total complexion booster. These flakes go away when she washes her face. But still… no results yet. I start to have a bit of trepidation knowing that if anything goes wrong, she will blame me for the rest of my life.
Day 6 Something starts happening. She says she ‘feels it’ in the spots. Little tingles. And then, all of a sudden, small sheets of skin peel off these areas, painlessly. The skin underneath is lightened, and the results are a few levels beyond what any topical treatment could ever do by itself.
Day 7 But wait, there’s more… it’s still peeling. There’s more clarity underneath. Ta-dah!
All that fear for nothing. It just goes to show you that Google is a total menace to the aesthetics industry. Nothing scary or beef carpaccio-like happened. (If you ever google chemical peel ‘before and after’ photos, bear in mind they often end up looking worse because some peels have an orangey-red tint that temporarily darkens the skin immediately after treatment).
Here’s what YOU’LL want to know before you take the Perfect Derma Peel plunge:
* You won’t see any peeling until at least three days after application. During this time, expect to gently wash the treated areas as you normally would at night and apply the post-peel tretinoin towelette included in the Perfect Peel take-home kit.
* If desired, you can wear makeup the day following your Perfect Peel treatment. However, and this is a big however:
“Foundation can be hydrating and we don’t want the skin hydrated as you’re healing,” Mejia advises. That also means no moisturizer for the few days until you begin to peel. Your skin will feel extra-dry during that time. Don’t worry, the new skin underneath will feel refreshed and rejuvenated. So worth it.
* If you experience itching and discomfort, a small amount of 1 percent or 2 percent hydrocortisone will offer soothing relief. This varies from person to person but it’s best to expect the worst, right?
* Once the real peeling process begins – and that usually happens in ‘sheets’ of skin, not dandruff-like flakes – you can begin to apply the moisturizer provided in the take home kit to reduce inflammation or irritation, but you can’t pick, rub or pull the skin (best not to look in a magnifying mirror, either). You can cut any ‘hanging’ skin with a pair of small scissors. Interestingly, the skin has a pretty standard pattern: peeling begins on the chin, then the nose, then forehead and cheeks are last. This is what professionals call downtime, but it’s not like you have to stay home in bed. PS: for all of you Pilates addicts out there, you can’t workout during days one through five because your skin will be sensitive and easily irritated by heat and sweat. My mom has always taken a very French approach to exercise, so this was no big deal.
* Only after the peeling process is complete can you resume the use of regular skin care products. Retinoids and skin lighteners can be resumed 10 days post peel. You can still use your La Mer obviously, but your aesthetician will want you on active ingredients like retinol to yield true transformation in the skin. Medical-grade products from Obagi, SkinCeuticals and The Perfect Derma Peel’s own signature line will only improve your results.
* Be prepared to slather on the sunscreen like it’s going out of style and you’ll probably want a wide brim hat for outdoor activities, especially in the summer. Your skin will be sensitive and obviously you don’t want your new skin to be marred by the dastardly sun that probably made you require that peel in the first place. This is, after all, a veritable second chance for aging skin, so you’ll want to keep it as pristine as possible from now on.
As for my mom’s peeled spots, we were hoping they’d fall off in my dad’s dinner while she was cooking it just so I’d have something ‘fun’ to write about. Instead, the skin fell off pretty innocuously while she was sitting at the computer (she saved it for me, of course). She says it was the second most satisfying beauty moment she’s ever had, right after the time actor Ed Asner told her she was a babe.
Consider this fear conquered.
Written by: Stephanie Simons