While a light-to-medium depth facial peel can take less than half an hour, you may need to start preparation for a deeper chemical peel weeks or months in advance. Taking steps to prepare your skin now greatly increases the chances that you will be satisfied with the results of your peel. Following your cosmetic surgeon’s recommendations can also reduce the risk of slow healing and other side effects after treatment.
Retin-A Preparation for a Chemical Peel
Before you get a facial peel, you need to focus on preparing your skin for maximum penetration of the chemical solution. Your cosmetic surgeon may recommend using over-the-counter or prescription-strength Retin-A for a month or more before the peel. This product gently exfoliates your skin. Regular use ensures there are no thicker patches of dead skin that would keep the chemical peel from working evenly. It reduces the chances that you’ll get an uneven result. Every patient responds differently to Retin-A. You may need to stop using Retin-A a few days before your scheduled peel to reduce the chances of irritation.
Additional Skin Preparation for a Chemical Peel
If you have a sensitivity to Retin-A, you may try a milder AHA cream for exfoliation instead. Alpha-hydroxy acid is the same ingredient used in many superficial chemical peels. So, if you plan on getting a light peel, you can use AHA in advance at home to see how your skin responds. If you have areas of hyperpigmentation (dark patches) on your face, you may pretreat these with a bleaching agent (usually hydroquinone cream). This is another product that can take many weeks to show any effect. You may need to stop using certain skin care products such as salicylic acid and other harsh cleansers while you are pre-treating with Retin-A, AHA or hydroquinone. Otherwise, you can experience excessive skin dryness and irritation. Always follow your dermatologist or plastic surgeon’s instructions to minimize the chances of unwanted side effects. For light peels, your plastic surgeon may recommend a microdermabrasion treatment first to remove excess dead skin.
Daily Skin Care Before a Chemical Peel
Remember to moisturize well and use a sunscreen daily in preparation for any facial peel. Sun exposure causes most of the problems a peel is designed to correct. It doesn’t make sense to let this damage continue accumulating in the months leading up to your treatment. If you start a better skin care regimen now, you will be more likely to follow it after your peel. That’s essential for good results that last.
If you have a deep tan or sunburn, you will need to wait until it fades to get a peel. Don’t wax your upper lip or any other area of your face in the days leading up to a peel. This can cause excessive irritation and inflammation.
The day of the peel, follow your normal cleansing routine unless your cosmetic surgeon gives you other instructions. Don’t put on makeup since this will just have to be removed prior to the peel. If you usually wear contacts, switch to glasses for the day of the peel.
Medical Conditions to Take Into Account
Some medications (such as certain antibiotics used in low doses to treat acne) increase sun sensitivity. Your skin will be even more ultra-sensitive to sunlight after the peel. Your doctor may advise you to stop taking these antibiotics for a period of time before your chemical peel. Patients who take Isotretinoin (formerly called Accutane) should not schedule a facial peel until their course of treatment is finished and the drug is completely cleared from their system. A chemical peel can provide some relief from mild acne symptoms, but it is not designed for use in patients who are currently experiencing a major acne breakout.
Many patients with herpes simplex infection experience a flare up of cold sore symptoms after a mid- to deep-level chemical peel. You can typically avoid this side effect with a course of preventive anti-viral medication. Tell your doctor if you have ever had a cold sore. Most adults have been exposed to the HSV-1 virus at some point, so this is not something to be embarrassed about. Some cosmetic surgeons treat all mid-depth and deep chemical peel patients with an anti-viral just to be safe.
If you are a smoker, now is a good time to quit. Otherwise, your skin will take longer to heal. This can be a serious risk if you plan to get a deep chemical peel. Besides, smoking makes your skin look weathered and leads to wrinkles around the mouth.
Preparing for Recovery
Buy a sunhat to completely shield your face from the sun whenever you leave the house. For a medium chemical peel, plan to take off work for two or three days when the oozing and peeling are likely to be most severe. Schedule two weeks off from work if you want a deep chemical peel. Discomfort, swelling, crusting and scabbing last much longer with this type of peel. Remember to have someone available to drive you home after a medium or deep peel. For all types of chemical peels, stock up on some concealer to wear while your skin is red (after the initial peeling phase is done). Makeup with a yellow undertone may be most likely to counterbalance the bright pink of your new skin.