Whether you've been streaming old episodes of Sex and the City recently or haven't seen the show in a decade, there's one scene no one can forget: Samantha Jones' unfortunate reaction to an in-office chemical peel. After getting an impromptu treatment, her skin looks burned to smithereens — or, as Carrie put it, “like beef carpaccio.”
But that was back in 2002, and we've come a long way since then. Sure, in-office peels still use concentrated alpha and beta hydroxy acids, gauged to penetrate the skin at a depth that at-home peels don’t reach in order to eat up dead cells that sit on the surface of the skin, de-gunk and tighten pores, even out skin tone, and stimulate collagen production. But unlike a beloved fictional character’s fictional results, actual outcomes are nothing like the charred faces that many of us have come to fear.
Skin pros have become masters at using a cocktail of acids to resurface the face without the burn. And options abound: Even those with sensitive skin can book an irritation-free peel as part of a HydraFacial, which produces very little tingling, if any, thanks to a wand that delivers the glycolic and salicylic acids to the skin, then lifts the gunk via a vortex-like vacuum that also deposits nutrients like antioxidants and hyaluronic acid at the same time. After an in-office peel done right, skin might be a bit pink, just like with some facials — or show no signs of irritation at all.
Dermatologist Annie Chiu, MD, notes that in-office peels administered by a pro who knows how to control intensity will produce the best results (i.e. brighter, more evenly-toned skin). But for those looking to maintain those results, or simply try a starter peel, at-home versions offer an easy way to get a healthy glow, particularly in the summertime. “Oil glands in general are more active in warmer weather, and with increased outdoor activity and sweating, this combination can lead to dull skin or clogged pores,” Dr. Chiu says. "At-home peels are a quick and easy way to give yourself a little glowing pick-me-up.”
Just like with in-office options, at-home peels vary in intensity. Newer formulations range from 25% AHA/BHA overnight masks that can be used up to twice a week (for oily and acne-prone skin) to spray-on liquids that act as a light chemical exfoliating treatment, with zero tingle (a perfect option for sensitive skin). See how to get in on the action at any intensity, ahead. But first, a word to the wise: No matter what option you try, be sure not to slack on sunscreen. Because a post-peel face without SPF is a surefire way to cop Samantha’s beet-red hue.
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