Chemical peel recovery times vary greatly based on the type of peel you receive. However, each peel does have a typical timeline for recovery. This makes it easier for patients to know what to expect and plan for after their procedure. Here are side effects, tips and timelines for light, medium and deep chemical peels:
Light Chemical Peel Recovery
This peel results in redness, irritation, tightness and peeling similar to a moderate sunburn. You can relieve discomfort with cool water. Avoid activities like heavy exercise or hot showers that increase skin inflammation during the first 24-48 hours. The top layer of skin will begin peeling within the first one to two days after treatment. This stage lasts for a few days while redness and a slightly scaly texture may last for a week or more. You can typically wear mineral makeup the day after the peel depending on the amount of skin irritation you experience. Use a moisturizer or soothing cream as directed by your cosmetic surgeon or dermatologist.
Most patients return immediately to normal activities after a light chemical peel. You should see the full results of your light peel within a week or two. At this time, you may decide to have another peel to continue improving the tone and texture of your skin. It’s not unusual to have a series of four to six superficial peels over a period of a few months.
Medium Chemical Peel Recovery
In addition to the side effects of a light chemical peel, you can expect to experience some degree of swelling for the first two days. You may use a cold compress to ease the swelling and any related discomfort. Crusting and oozing are common. You will need to soak your face several times per day during the initial healing stages. Your cosmetic surgeon will let you know what type of ointment or cream to use to keep skin moist and flexible as it heals. The use of ointment often leads to an outbreak of tiny whiteheads. This is normal and will subside later during the recovery process.
Your skin will begin to flake within 24-72 hours. This phase continues for up to two weeks. Don’t try to peel off scabs or rub off dry, flaky skin. This can lead to inflammation, discoloration, wound infection or scarring. Your freshly rejuvenated skin will look bright pink for several weeks after this treatment. Wait until your surgeon gives you the OK before you start wearing makeup again (usually about a week after the procedure).
Depending on the depth of your peel, you may be fine to return to work in a couple of days. However, your facial skin will still look unpleasant. Some patients choose to get a chemical peel over a long weekend to minimize disruption to their work schedule and avoid comments on their appearance. Multiple medium depth peels are often scheduled a few months apart to provide plenty of healing time between treatments. Some patients need two to three peels to see maximum results.
Deep Chemical Peel Recovery
This type of peel has the most intense recovery period. This begins with coming out of sedation or anesthesia. It’s normal to feel dizzy or nauseous at this time (having someone available to drive you home is essential). Your face will be covered in a waterproof surgical dressing. Your face may swell enough to make your eyes shut. This symptom can last for five or six days and can be partly relieved by keeping your head propped up and using cold compresses.
Throbbing and burning pain is common during the first 48 hours. You will receive pain medication to manage these initial symptoms. Your cosmetic surgeon will provide you with detailed instructions on how and when to wash your face and what ointments to use to soften crusting (Vaseline is a common choice). You may be prescribed a topical anesthetic to ease discomfort and an antibiotic to minimize the risk of infection. Your plastic surgeon will need to see you for follow up visits to check your progress and ensure there are no complications.
Skin will ooze, blister and crust over during the first two weeks as the top layers of skin separate and then peel away from the deeper layers. Additional, temporary skin changes can include white heads and patches of brown pigmentation. As with a medium depth peel, you must avoid scratching, rubbing, or picking at your face during healing. Your skin will feel very sensitive to the touch and your entire face may feel tight for several days. You may have a headache as a result of facial pain and discomfort.
Inflammation, oozing and scabbing during the first week may be severe. This is one reason patients may be advised against getting a chemical peel if they have young children at home. The healing stage looks pretty frightening. It’s normal for patients to experience feelings of anxiety, depression and regret over their decision to get a facial peel during the most challenging part of recovery. Fortunately, this feeling passes as the symptoms subside and skin starts to look better.
Most patients need to take off a couple of weeks from work to focus on their recovery. By the two-week mark, most of the crusting and peeling is likely to be over. This is when you will begin to notice a decrease in the lines and wrinkles in your fresh, new skin. Redness will usually persist for at least two months. You can camouflage this bright pink look with makeup after about 14 days.
Sun Care During and After Chemical Peel Recovery
Hyperpigmentation is a common problem for patients who don’t practice proper skin care after their treatment. Your cosmetic surgeon will advise you to practice complete sun avoidance during the initial stage of your chemical peel recovery. For a light peel, that might be just a few days. For a deep peel, it may be several weeks. Sun avoidance involves staying indoors when you can and wearing a large hat and sunglasses when you must go outside (even if you are in your car).
After this initial stage of healing, you will still need to wear a UVA/UVB sunscreen daily. Your skin can be sensitive to the sun for a good six months after some chemical peels. The deeper the peel, the higher SPF you need. For a superficial to medium peel, look for an SPF of at least 30. Go up to 45 or 50 after a deep peel. With a deep peel, you will probably lose your ability to tan at all (you may burn and freckle instead). This means you will need to continue wearing a high SPF sunscreen and practicing smart sun protection for the rest of your life.