13 Rules to Follow For Your Best Post-Peel Skin

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Doing a peel can help reveal better, brighter, healthier skin, but it also tends to come with some side effects. As the name suggests, there’s peeling, but that’s not all—there can also be temporary redness and sensitivity. Since your skin is in a more delicate state, it needs a bit of babying. So you might be wondering how to take care of your skin post-peel. We’ve tapped some top experts to enlighten us on all the dos and don’ts after an in-office peel.

“These treatments utilize a range of acids to exfoliate layers of skin, helping to address issues such as sun damage, moderate scarring, wrinkles, uneven skin tone and acne,” say Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD and Woodbury, NY dermatologist Daniel Schlessinger. Whether the peel is light or deep, they all share the goal of rejuvenating skin, but it’ll look worse before it looks better.

While chemical peels can significantly enhance the appearance of skin, “they can also leave the skin delicate and vulnerable immediately after the procedure. In the days following, it’s common for the skin to feel itchy and appear flaky as it continues to shed and heal,” Drs. Schlessinger say.

Expert tips for your best post-peel skin

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Don’t pick your face

Following a peel, your face is going to be doing just that, peeling. It may be hard to resist touching your peeling skin, but experts say it’s essential to the healing process. “Always resist picking, pulling, peeling or touching your face,” warns Miami dermatologist Dr. Deborah Longwill.

“Flaking and peeling is normal after a chemical peel, in fact, it’s exactly what you want your skin to do,” note Drs. Schlessinger. Let it peel naturally to avoid damaging the fresh skin underneath. Monroe, LA dermatologst Janine Hopkins, MD even asks patients to avoid touching skin altogether for 48 hours.

Applying reparative skin care like Epionce Medical Barrier Cream ($50) can help reduce flaking, making it easier not to pick. “If you experience itching and severe dryness in the weeks after your peel, this rich cream can help rebuild your compromised skin barrier. Infused with botanical extracts, it works to alleviate inflammation and soothe irritation,” Drs. Schlessinger say.

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Avoid hot water

Dr. Hopkins instructs her patients to avoid getting hot water on the skin for three to four days. Even after that, while skin is still sensitive, keep water cool or lukewarm.

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Don’t exfoliate

Although you may think exfoliation will help speed up the peeling process and improve your skin further, experts advise against doing this. New York dermatologist Jody A. Levine, MD says you should avoid exfoliating for three to four days after a peel.

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Curate your skin care to help you heal

Following chemical or laser peels, the most important instructions involve proper post-procedure skin care using products that enhance healing and reduce inflammation,” says Dr. Hopkins. She recommends ALASTIN Skincare Regenerating Skin Nectar ($236) and Avene Cicalfate+ Restorative Cream ($42) “to restore the skin barrier function and soothe the skin.” For deeper peels, she tends to prescribe BiaFine cream to enhance healing.

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Avoid using retinol and other intense actives

“Post-peel skin may be more sensitive to some products such as retinoids and glycolic acid,” says Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD. “Care should be taken to restart these products slowly only after the skin is completely healed.”

Dr. Longwill also advises refraining from using antibiotic creams. Drs. Schlessinger agree that it’s essential to wait until skin is fully recovered before re-introducing retinoids, as well as, AHAs and BHAs.

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Apply cold compresses as needed

“If your skin feels hot and red immediately post-peel, you can cool and comfort it with a cold compress or ice pack,” Drs. Schlesinger say. They advise keeping the cold application to 15 minutes at a time.

Drs. Schlessinger say both of their patients love applying Neocutis Restore Post Treatment Nourishing Mask ($129) “right after treatment because it delivers instant cooling hydration with a blend of aloe, glycerin and hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid.”

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Avoid working out and high heat

During the 48 hours following your peel, Dr. Longwill says you should “refrain from working out or being in contact with high heat.” She notes that this includes everything from opening an oven to sitting in a sauna.

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Gently cleanse with a gentle cleanser

What you decide to put on your face in the days following a peel is crucial—there are a handful of dos and don’ts. Since your skin will be sensitive for a bit, Dr. Longwill says you should “always use a gentle cleanser seven to 10 days post peel.” Furthermore Drs. Schlessinger say to keep cleansing pressure gentle, using fingertips only. They add that “unscented, non-soap cleansers are best to avoid additional irritation.”

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Avoid the sun as much as possible

Dr. Hopkins says, “Strict sun avoidance is imperative for the first two weeks to prevent side effects such as hyperpigmentation or sunburns.” Drs. Schlessinger explain that chemical peels make skin extremely sun sensitive, so if you can’t avoid going outdoors altogether, wear a hat and avoid intense heat and direct sunlight.

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Wear sunscreen

Dr. Longwill says the most important step of post-peel skin care is applying sunscreen daily. “After a peel, consistent application and reapplication of sunscreen every two to three hours is key to protect the freshly peeled skin,” explains Dr. Behr. Dr. Levine recommends wearing SPF 45 or higher. If possible, Drs. Schlessinger recommend opting for a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

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Apply topical antioxidants

In addition to your daily sunscreen, Dr. Hopkins also recommends applying topical antioxidants after skin has had a few days to heal. Doing this will help “maintain the improvement post peel and prevent discoloration.”

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Hydrate your skin

“Don’t let your skin dry out,” warn Drs. Schlessinger, who both note you should be consistently applying fragrance-free moisturizer as needed post-peel. Dr. Levine says, “After a peel, you should moisturize and hydrate to reinforce the skin’s protective barrier and support healing.”

Dr. Behr advises using products with hyaluronic acid in them, which “will help keep the skin hydrated since the skin barrier may be compromised for a short period after the peel.”

To help maintain moisture, add Statpharma Stratacel Dressing for Fractional Procedures ($71) as a final layer. “It creates an optimal environment for healing, enhancing the skin’s natural repair capabilities and promoting a quicker recovery,” say Drs. Schlessinger.

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Follow any doctor ordered care instructions

If you opt for an in-office peel rather than an at-home peel, you’ll want to adhere to any doctor orders. “It is essential to keep up with the post-care instructions given by your doctor,” says Dr. Longwill.

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