Flaking after a chemical peel. | what to expect | What to do
When a newbie does their first acid peel application they have such vast expectations.
Some people don’t expect to have any peeling at all – and are greatly dismayed when they do, and end up calling into work to cancel because they are so embarrassed … and others are expecting their face to literally fall off – and are greatly discouraged when it doesn’t.
Maybe, if they had more knowledge, this process would be more predictable for them?
So, today I am going to teach you all about what kind of flaking to expect while doing peels and of course, how to handle it.
First things first. I want to make a couple of big points here.
1 The SUCCESS of the peel should not be judged by the amount of peeling, but by the end results that the peel will produce.
The skin condition, type of acid and strength will determine if you see peeling skin or not.
2. Just because the naked eye doesn’t SEE peeling … it doesn’t mean that your treatment didn’t work, or that you won’t get results.
Regardless of the degree of peeling you see, your skin is still being removed at an accelerated rate and that will result in the improvement of your skin’s texture, color and skin tone.
Let’s start off today with some Average peeling times with the different acids.
Everyone is different, and everyone’s skin is in a different phase, so remember – results can and will most definitely vary.
But, on average:
Lactic peels cause little to no visible flaking.
Mandelic and Glycolic peels cause dryness with some light flaking.
Salicylic will cause dryness with some light to medium flaking because it is a bit harsher.
Those were all hydroxy acids.
Each of these acids can cause some dry skin or some mild, visible flaking.
Most times the skin will get dry at about day 3-4. At that point you will notice some crinkles in the nose creases and around the mouth.
Most people will get to see a visible flake in those areas. Then the flaking will work its way out across the face
Sometimes you will SEE the flakes and sometimes you won’t.
This process will usually take 3-5 days more.
Here is a hint – if you don’t SEE the actual flakes on your face – but your skin is REALLY smooth and soft, guess what?
Your peel worked. Many times with hydroxy acids the flaking is microscopic.
By nature hydroxy acids aren’t really strong, and to get the best results you will do a series of peels.
So, consider this peel #1 of 8. Check your manual and continue onto your next peel when it says you can.
Every time you do a hydroxy peel your skin will get better and better. The beauty of these acids is that there is very little “down time” and most people find this works perfectly with their work schedules.
The next set of acids will cause more visible flaking because they are stronger and are layer-able.
That means they can penetrate deeper into the skin, and with deeper penetration you will get more visible flaking.
They are the TCA peel and the Jessners or Jessners peel. *Either pronunciation is correct nowadays.
Since these acids are applied in layers, you can guess that if you only apply 1 or 2 layers, you are going to get milder flaking.
*More than a hydroxy acid, but not as much as you are probably thinking*.
This is where EVERYONE should start with these acids. Never just apply 3+ layers when you haven’t used an acid before.
Start with 1-2 layers and see what kind of down-time you are going to get from that before adding on more. One or two layers might be just perfect for your needs.
When you start applying 3-5 layers you will definitely see more visible flaking and possibly even some darkening of the dead skin. *Ill pop in a picture of this*
This is normal and usually happens to those with ethnic skin tones and very dark skin.
Whether you see darker skin or not is entirely up in the air. I have never seen it on me – but for every one of me there is one that does. So, the only way you are going to find out is to just do a peel.
Same as with the hydroxy acids, it generally takes 3-4 days for the skin to be ready to slough.
You may notice a tight, papery like texture with crinkles when you move your face.
You may see that darkening of the skin that I mentioned. Some people say it looks like they have a bruise on their face.
Most look like they aged about 10 years.
Then, it starts to flake around the nose and mouth … and just like all peeling it will radiate outwards over the next 3-5 days until it’s all done.
A note about Waves of peeling -
Sometimes your skin can flake and you “think” you’re done … but aren’t sure.
Maybe the skin is still tight, or rough in some areas?... Yep, you will probably get another wave. This can happen with the deeper acids or multiple layers sometimes.
The best thing to do here is encourage your skin to flake again by using products that will speed cellular turnover.
We suggest things like our Luminosity Method – which is a .50% Retinol cream – to be applied 1x per day or even one of our Retinol Serums could be used.
Another option would be an acid serum. The Serum 15 or Serum 30 could be used for a few days to help the dead skin that is just sitting there to “take a hike”.
You can also do some GENTLE exfoliation with a facial sponge or enzyme mask as well. Just don’t go overboard and make your face pink or irritated.
No matter what, that dead skin is not going to stay there forever. In a short amount of time it will exfoliate. Don’t panic.
Now I am going to answer some common questions and concerns that we get.
Are there possible reasons why the skin isn’t peeling when it should be?
Now “should” is a relative term – because everyone’s skin is different and there are really no generalities in peeling from person to person.
But if you aren’t peeling, and it isn’t because THE ACID IS JUST TOO MILD FOR YOU, then here are a few ideas as to what may have happened.
Not enough solution – It is entirely possible that you applied the acid too dry.
We have specific instructions to saturate a gauze, then give it a squeeze so it isn’t dripping.
We aren’t stating to wring it out, or anything too intense. We still want acid ON the gauze.
So, if your face isn’t visibly WET and shiny, then you may not have used enough acid. *It’s possible – but not too common.
1. Oily skin not prepped enough – this is more common. If you have oily skin and do not strip it well enough with either our Prep solution or alcohol, then your skin’s oil may be inhibiting the absorption of the acid.
2. Next time wash well, then go over your skin 2x to make sure all oils are gone before applying your peel.
3. Impacted Stratum corneum is another reason. – Our outermost layer of skin is called the stratum corneum. It is about 15-20 layers deep. When these cells become impacted, it can sometimes take multiple treatments to break them down.
We can get past this by pretreating the skin with products like retinoids and acid cleansers/toners or serums prior to our peel.
Your other option is to continue on with your next peels and it should resolve itself after a few applications.
How do I take care of my skin after a peel?
The number one thing to do after a peel is to keep your skin hydrated. We suggest with the milder hydroxy acids that you use something like our Pure Emu oil
or our Essentials 99% Organic Healing Blend to keep the skin calm and hydrated.
Sure you can use your favorite treatments like our Fade Bright, creams or oils… just make sure that they are non-irritating and follow this rule:
If you apply it and it burns, wash it off and try again in a few days. Simple.
The more hydrated your skin – the better it will look. This makes it easier for those of you who need to be seen in public.
Yes, this may mask any visible flaking, but you will be more comfortable and you won’t have to deal with itching skin.
The same amount of skin will come off whether you are hydrated or not. I suggest to go the more comfortable route. There are others that disagree.
The number two thing to do after a peel is to NEVER forget to apply SPF before you go outdoors. We recommend a minimum of 40 or 50 when venturing out.
A wide hat or protective clothing is best if you will be outside for a while. If you don’t you may end up dealing with PIH or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation … and that leads me to the concern.
Skin Darkening vs PIH or Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation
When I spoke of TCA I mentioned the fact that as the skin starts peeling it can get darker. This is perfectly normal for medium skin types.
It is a temporary discoloration of the dead skin that will flake right off and is nothing at all to worry about.
PIH on the other hand is side effect and is actually very common in ethnic and darker skin types.
It is actually so common that it is considered an “acceptable outcome” when performing peels professionally. We prefer to pretreat the skin with melanin inhibitors to greatly reduce this outcome instead.
We find it is essential to have our darker skinned customers use either our Fade Bright 2x per day or a hydroquinone for a minimum of 2 weeks and preferably up to 4 weeks. When you reduce the melanin formation in the skin you decrease the risk of PIH.
Another cause of PIH is excessive heat in the skin. This can be caused by exercising that causes sweating. Heat builds up in the skin and can then lead to the formation of pigmentation. *Sweat can also get trapped under the skin and lead to bubbling as well - so it is best to limit your exercise choices while in the peeling phase.
This cause of PIH is more obvious.
Going into the sun without adequate SPF is going to cause trouble with your pigmentation darkening. Remember it is always easier to PREVENT PIH than it is to treat it.
So USE your SPF no matter what.
How can I make my skin peel faster?
Generally speaking your skin will turn over and heal more quickly after a peel if you are using retinol or retinA every evening already. So, if you aren’t already using one of those, … start now.
To help TCA or Jessners peel faster, we have our Luminosity Method.
That is our retinol cream which gets applied for the first 3-4 days after your peel. It will help the skin get ready to slough off more quickly. We find it works wonderfully.
Another way to get the skin off more quickly is to use enzymes. Our Antioxidant Enzyme Mask can help to remove some of the dead tissues that are hanging around too long for your social calendar.
Just apply it 1 or 2x per day to gently dissolve away the flakes.
Why is my skin itching?
The number one reason that your skin is itching is just because it’s dry. You need to wash it and then while it’s still moist, apply your hydration, treatments and oils. I have found that using ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid helps to keep it moist – because Hyaluronic holds 1000’s its own weight in water.
I like to apply that along with any other treatments, and then my oils. If my skin is really peeling from a deeper peel, I will sometimes apply some aquaphor as a final layer *very lightly* to keep the moisture sealed in.
Another reason for itching could be a rash, or some dermatitis. These are usually accompanied by redness or bumps. You will want to do some cold compresses, taken an antihistamine, and apply an ointment such as a hydrocortisone cream. It will generally go away in 24 hours or so. If it persists then check in with your doctor to see if they have a different cream or prescription that may work better for you.
Why is my skin still pink?
When you do a deeper peel, such as the higher strengths of TCA, or several layers, you are going deep into the skin. This treatment can cause erythema.
This will gradually fade over the course of 2-3 weeks. *If this persist beyond 4 weeks the next step is traditionally application of 1% hydrocortisone to balance the skin.
Another thought here on pink skin. If you were too aggressive and removed skin that wasn’t ready to flake yet (maybe by picking and pulling when you shouldn’t have), you will end up with a pink mark.
*So, first of all, never pull at any skin that is still attached.
It is far better to wash your face and GENTLY do circles with your fingertips or a washcloth to help remove the dead skin flakes that are ready to come off. Never just PULL.
To deal with the pink, raw area, firstly keep it protected. Use an antibacterial ointment and always apply SPF before heading out – or your pink mark will turn into a dark one.
This will fade over the course of several weeks. Focus on tissue regenerating products such as epidermal growth factors, emu oil and copper peptides to help rebuild the skin – and if it turns dark, use Fade Bright or another melanin inhibitor to help it fade. More peels won’t help something like this.
Can I wash my face?
Don’t be scared to wash your face! At the beginning and end of the day, yes go ahead and wash and then reapply any treatments.
There is a crazy misunderstanding out there that you can’t wash your face if you have done a peel. This isn’t a phenol peel - these are hydroxy acids and TCA.
Please wash your face as usual. You can use any cleansers that don’t have abrasive beads in them. I use my AB Cleanser like normal any time I do a peel.
If your skin is more sensitive there are many cleansers on the market you can use – or you can just use plain tap water.
When can I start using my normal regimen again?
This depends. Many of your daily products might be just fine to apply to your post-peel skin immediately. Peptides, melanin inhibitors and other antiaging ingredients are generally just fine.
Make sure to follow them with healing oils and SPF if its daytime.
It’s the products such as acid serums or other abrasives or irritants that will need to wait until your skin is done flaking and is feeling normal again.
Once the peeling is done, and your skin feels good, then go ahead and add back those maintenance items.
When should I prep for my next peel?
At the end of your first one. Never stop. Most prep products are generally perfect for daily care. So make sure your regimen has everything you need in it. If you need help, see one of our regimen videos here.
If you have darker skin or are dealing with pigmentation, never stop using the Fade Bright. Keep that up so that when you do your peels you won’t deal with PIH. It’s better to be safe than sorry I always say!
Make sure to watch this video on dark skin and Tca.
Remember, you don’t have to have downtime to get results. People who do peels on a regular basis may not see much visible peeling.
This is because the layers of dead skin cells are at a healthy number. If you fall into this category, and you want to see more flaking, just space out your peels more.
If you want more aggressive peeling, then you need to up the percentages or layers applied. Just remember to work your way up slowly so you are always comfortable with your results.
Do you still have questions? Just reach out to us - we are here to help!