The episode of Sex and the City where Samantha decides to get a “freshening” peel just days before Carrie’s book launch party is probably one of the most iconic moments in skin care. Not only did it put chemical peels on the map, it struck fear in the hearts of women everywhere, leading them to ask estheticians, even ten years later, “If I get a chemical peel, am I going to look like Samantha did when she got one?”
I love to recommend peels. Chemical exfoliation is my preferred way to get rid of dead skin cells. But without a doubt, people are nervous when they hear the word peel. Visions of red, flaking skin flash through their minds, and who wants to look like that? So what should you expect if you get a peel? The answer is, as always, it really depends.
First, it depends on who’s giving you the peel. The law governs who can do what peel in what strength. My license doesn’t even allow me to do a peel that would give you the severe redness and flaking that you see in this episode. Barring an adverse reaction, the most I can do without a doctor’s supervision is cause a bit of flakiness and flushing for a few days. If you’re at a dermatologist’s office, you are more likely to get a peel with “downtime,” or, a peel that will make you want to hide under a black veil for a few days.
Next, it depends on the strength of the peel. This is the tricky part to predict. Someone who is used to exfoliating (a regular glycolic or retinol user) will probably be more tolerant of stronger peels. Someone who’s recently used a prescription though, may find that their skin reacts more noticeably. Generally I recommend that if you’re going to get a peel, you should stop all prescriptions for seven days beforehand.
Mild flaking is not the end of the world. It just means that your skin is healing. Remember that we break the skin down in order to build back stronger, and flaking is just a sign that stronger skin is growing. I will camouflage flaking with a great primer with lots of dimethicone, an ingredient that conceals texture by laying on the surface and filling in. Try Smashbox Photo Finish Primer if you need some help.
As a reader of this blog, you are obviously a savvy consumer. And savvy consumers ask lots of questions. Before agreeing to a peel, you need to ask about it. Specifically, how much flaking should I expect? How red will I be, and for how long? What home care should I use in the following days? How much pain can I expect?
The only mistake that Samantha made here was making her “impulse purchase” without thoroughly considering the side effects. Her skin probably looked great after ten days. Chemicals peels need to be thought about for an extra minute or two, but they are nothing to be afraid of.