I don't take great care of my skin. I don't wash my face every day. I sometimes don't eat anything but toast for a week. And I don't know about you, but being a walking chemistry experiment really messes with my skin sometimes.
So I have had to find products that I can use one day a week to make it look like I did what I was supposed to for the other six.
Enter peels. There are two types of exfoliation. Physical, like a scrub, and chemical, like a peel. My skin (like the rest of my stupid body) is ultra sensitive and does not like physical exfoliants. Also, when I have allodynia (fancy medical term for "my skin hurts") the last thing I want is to be rubbing little grains into my face. Ow.
I'm going to apologize now for the fact this post has a lot of chemistry terms in it. I've spent many years learning all of this, because when you have sensitive skin you have to know what that eighteen syllable word on the ingredients list means, and whether or not your allergic to it. I'll try to keep this from getting too boring.
Peels use an acid to clear away the dead skin off your face, which clears pores, stimulates collagen growth, and reveals the brighter skin underneath. There are three kinds of acids used in most peels available: Glycolic, lactic, and fruit acids. (Fruit acids are an alpha-hydroxy acid like glycolic acid, but a "papaya mask" is going to be less potent than a "papaya gylcolic peel". It's less chemistry than labeling.) It is also important to keep the concentration of the peel in mind. A 30% lactic acid peel is obviously stronger than a 10% glycolic acid peel.
Important: When it comes to exfoliation, less is more. It's like starting a new medication: start low and go slow. See what your skin can tolerate. Don't jump into doing a glycolic peel three times a week, and then send me hate mail about how bad your skin looks. Do it once. Wait a week. See what happens. And save your receipts. Most stores are good about returns if something really destroys your skin, even if you have used a little bit.
This is your strongest one. It gives you the best, fastest results. It also has the most potential to cause irritation and dryness. Because it is the most potent, it is also the most expensive.
My Recommendation: Ole Henrikson Lemon Strip Flash Peel $48
This is one of my favorite brands for skincare. Granted, I have not yet tried this product myself yet. My skin is way too sensitive for glycolic acid, but I have many of their other products and they are all very high quality and well worth the money.
Honorable Mention: Brazilian Peel $118
This gets a mention because the set, which is for a full thirty days, is supposed to be the equivalent of a single session 30% glycolic acid peel performed by a dermatologist. It has gotten all kinds of awards and accolades since it came out a few years ago, and is considered to be the gold standard of at home peels. Would I spend that kind of money? No way.
This acid is less potent than glycolic, but is still excellent for peels. It is a milk acid as opposed to a fruit acid, like glycolic. You can find it on it's own, but it is also often used in combination with glycolic or salicylic acids. Since it is less potent, it is less likely to irritate and better for sensitive and dry skin types.
My Recommendation: Philosophy Microdelivery Purifying Peel $40
This product is MAGIC. This is what actually inspired me to write this post. I bought this on impulse out of desperation because my skin looked so dull and felt like paper. There are many fantastic things about this product, but hands down the best is the application time is only 1-3 minutes. I put it on after the shower, put on moisturizer, then rinse it off. I was able to fit it right into my existing routine, so it's not an extra thing I need to try to remember to do. I've been using it about two months and have seen a huge improvement in my skin's texture, clarity and radiance.
Honorable Mention: Philosophy The Microdelivery $40 or $68
This gets a nod because it's the original and because it is a great product. It combines a dermabrasion based Vitamin C scrub with a lactic acid peel. It's more intense than just the peel, but might be good for those who like a scrub too, or need a little more exfoliation. Plus it comes in 1oz and 2oz sizes, so you can choose which is right for you.
Again, this isn't a chemical difference, just labeling. These peels and masks are going to be your least potent, but also the least irritating. These are a great starting place for sensitive skin or people who are new to chemical exfoliation and aren't sure how their skin will react. Also, since these are the least potent, I can finally give you products at a decent price point, and even make at home options.
100% Pure Pineapple Enzyme Facial Peel $17
I haven't tried this either, but I am very impressed by the ingredients list. You know what's in this? Clay. Pineapples. Papaya. Many times in skincare, less is more. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm definitely going to be ordering some for myself!
Ole Henrikson Blue/Blackberry Enzyme Mask $32
This one I already have and I love this mask. It leaves your skin so soft and plump, but it's not as strong as a peel. It only takes about a tablespoon to cover you're whole face, so the jar will last you a while.
At Home Options
If you aren't ready to invest, there are at home options as well. Apple cider vinegar is an alpha hydroxy acid. Lactic acid is derived from milk, so plain yogurt is a lactic acid mask. All fruits are an instant glycolic acid facial. Add a tablespoon of honey into the mix for its hydrating and healing properties. I'm personally far too lazy for that myself. If I'm going to spend ten minutes in the kitchen, it's probably going to be to make myself some actual food for once.
So now you have the low down on peels and chemical exfoliation. Here are some important things to keep in mind:
- Before: Wash your face. I hope that's obvious. Use a gentle cleanser. Stay away from anti-aging and anti-acne cleansers right before a peel. These will likely have salicylic acid or other types of chemical exfoliants in them. Too much of a good thing is very bad.
- During: If it burns, wash it off. A little stinging is normal. I mean, you are putting acid on your face. But a little stinging for 10-15 seconds should be it. If the stinging lasts longer or is truly a burning sensation, wash it off now! That means the peel is too strong for your skin.
- After: Moisturize! Do not do a peel then leave your face bare. That is just asking for trouble. I'd recommend a good thick one. Even if you normally use an oil-free moisturizer, I'd get something a little more gooey for this. Neutrogena and Olay make great night creams. Or you can get a trial size Philosophy Hope in a Jar for around $15. You just want a good protective layer on your skin after a peel.
- And, even more important, sunscreen! You should be wearing it every day anyway. (Don't make me show you Tan Mom again!). Peels will make you more sensitive to sun damage and sun burn so it is very important to be diligent about daily sunscreen use if you use peels regularly.
I'm going to make it easy for you again. If you have to buy one, I'm going to say Philosophy Microdelivery Purifying Peel.
- First, like all Philosophy skincare, it is fragrance free. It has a slight citrus scent because it has citric acid, but it has zero perfume. I would be surprised if the scent of the ingredients, which fades very quickly, would be enough to trigger a migraine.
- Second, it is highly unlikely it will irritate your skin. How am I so confident? It doesn't irritate my skin, and everything irritates my skin. If I'm not allergic to stuff, almost no one is.
- Third, you have the 1-3 minute application time. Put it on in the shower, after the shower, while you are brushing your teeth. The short amount of time needed makes it so easy to fit in somewhere. (Also, it would be very hard for 3 minutes of exposure to a non-perfume smell to trigger a migraine I think)
- Fourth, it's worth the money. I bought mine in mid-July and I have gone through about 3/4 of it so far. So in a year, you might buy three of these. If you figure one or two times a week into $120 for the whole year, you're looking at less then $2 per use. Trust me, this stuff is worth your $2 per use.