Updated: May 5, 2020
Chemical peels are one of the most effective ways to give the skin a deep exfoliation. The treatment involves applying a chemical solution to the skin, to gently stimulate cellular turnover, collagen and elastin and gradually soften the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and scarring, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone and texture, acne and dull skin.
Peel treatments come in all kinds of strengths and types, and anyone can benefit from having one.
I get asked a lot in the treatment room regarding aftercare instructions, but hardly asked how to care for the skin before a skin peel – some are surprised to find out that skin prepping is essential before having certain peels.
This blog post is going to tell you why skin prepping is essential, and what’s involved. This advice also relates to how to take care of your skin before any other ablative skin treatment such as laser.
When should you prep your skin for a peel?
The question of if and when you should prep for a skin peel, depends on a number of factors from the penetration depth of the peel (superficial, medium, deep), the length of time it is applied the skin, the condition of the skin being treated and the concentration of the peel.
For example, most of the time a superficial skin peel does not require any prepping beforehand, however if your skin is sensitised/sensitive it may be a good idea to prep anyway.
Therefore, a thorough and honest consultation must be carried out with an aesthetician/dermatologist before any skin peel treatment to consider all of these factors and ensure a safe and effective treatment.
Why do you need to prep your skin before a skin peel?
REGULATES CELLULAR TURNOVER
Prepping your skin before a peel gets your skin used to the same active acids like retinol, AHAs and BHAs, that will be used in the treatment. The skincare you use will introduce your skin gently to the world of chemical exfoliation, which can help to reduce the chances of prolonged sensitivity and general downtime after the peel treatment.
The development of hyperpigmentation is a common side effect of a medium-deep skin peel, especially during the peeling phase. Darker skin types and those with a tendency to hyper pigment more easily because of conditions such as melasma, are more prone to this. This is why Fitzpatrick skin types 4-6 should prep their skin for a longer period of time (ideally 4-6 weeks) before an invasive skin treatment with a pigment-suppressing product.
PROMOTES A HEALTHY SKIN BARRIER
A healthy skin barrier helps to maximise the results of a skin peel, reduce the chances of an adverse reaction and recovery time, and increase patient comfort during the procedure. Certain skincare products will be advised to help do this, to ensure your skin is protected, hydrated and desensitised well enough to recover from the small trauma that is caused from a skin peel treatment.
Your skin will react better to a skin peel when prepped. The healthier the skin, the better the results.
How should you prep your skin before a peel?
4-6 weeks before
STOP OTHER SKIN TREATMENTS
Other trauma-based or exfoliation treatments such as microdermabrasion, microneedling and laser rejuvenation should be avoided 4 weeks before a strong skin peeling treatment.
SKINCARE IS KEY
There are 5 products that are useful to use prior to a skin peel:
An exfoliating cleanser containing AHA or BHA-based ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic or lactic acid, and/or a retinol-based product will gradually help get your skin used to exfoliating acids and increase its strength.
An antioxidant such as a Vitamin C serum will help to repair and reduce free radical damage in the skin.
A hydrating serum ideally containing hyaluronic acid will help to increase water levels in the skin, reducing downtime and discomfort following a skin peel. You can find my top hyaluronic acid-based serum recommendations here.
And finally, the most important product of all that you should be prepping your skin with, is a physical sun block. Active acids and retinol make your skin more photosensitive, so it is imperative to swear an SPF every day, all year round.
STAY AWAY FROM THE SUN
Tanning, especially the use of sunbeds, should be avoided ideally a month before your skin peel. You should know by now that an unhealthy amount of exposure to UVA and UVB rays is not great for the skin anyway. It stimulates melanin production, increasing the risk of pigmentation – research has also shown how repetitive sun exposure can kill skin cells and dramatically increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Apply that sunblock. Avoid the sun. Stop sun-bedding.
2 weeks before
NO MORE INJECTIONS
Dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections (such as Botox) should not be carried out two weeks before your peel.
Some oral and topical prescription medications can increase your sensitivity to the treatment, so you must disclose this with your aesthetician and consult with your doctor about possibly stopping the medication around the time of your treatment.
3 days before
Discontinue use of any retinol, enzyme or AHA/BHA-based skincare products, face masks, exfoliating scrubs, facial brushes, prescription-strength products such as tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide.
NO MORE HAIR REMOVAL
Avoid waxing, threading, electrolysis, shaving, laser hair removal and hair depilatory creams on the face 3-5 days before your skin peel.
On the day
Exercise dehydrates the body and stimulates circulation in the skin, which is never ideal before a medium-deep skin peeling treatment.
GO MAKE-UP FREE
Let your skin breathe on the day of your skin peel, it helps your therapist with the cleansing part of the peel procedure and allows better penetration of ingredients.
REMEMBER YOUR SKINCARE
Still apply your skincare as your normally would, including a nice healthy layer of sunblock.
DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
Your skin will thank you for it.
Want this article in a bite-sized PDF format? Download this How To Prep Your Skin For A Peel infographic.