Here’s how Milady’s explains a chemical peel, which is where an esthetician paints your face with glycolic acid (a kind of alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugar cane) to exfoliate away your dead skin cells, from page 384:
These light peels are noninvasive/nonaggressive in nature, and are designed to create an enhancement of the epidermis by working on dead cells, not the dermis, or living tissue. The application of peel skills in your skin care practice will be one of the most exciting and financially rewarding areas of your treatment “bag of tricks.”
And here’s why peels are so beneficial (and exciting and financially rewarding), from page 386:
Peels improve the texture of the skin and increase the CRF [cell renewal factor], hydration, intercellular lipids, barrier function, moisture retention, elastin and collagen production. Peels also reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation. After treatment, skin looks and feels smoother and softer. Peels are used to control skin conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation, clogged pores, eczema, and dry skin.
And here’s how my skin feels as Meg paints on my first-ever chemical peel last night: Like she’s using live electrical wires to coat my skin in battery acid.
Nothing against Meg, you understand. She’s a pro. And keeps saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry!” when I yelp. But you know that scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell gets his chest waxed? Yes, that one? Okay, so imagine me as Steve, only it’s acid and it’s on my face.
“You’re absolutely fine,” says Miss Jenny. “This is not that bad. It’s not like you’re dying.”
“Are you sure?” I say. “Because it really feels like I might be dying.”
“She’s fine,” Miss Jenny tells the room at large as I break the spa’s no swearing rule.”She’s going to love how her skin looks.”
“I don’t get this,” says Meg, rushing to remove my peel with cold towels. “A chemical peel just doesn’t sound like anything you would want on your face no matter how well it works.”
“So call it a sugar peel or a fruit enzyme facial,” Miss Jenny advises. “Some of them are even made out of chocolate now.”
Most of my face turns red, “but you redden so easily,” Miss J sighs. (True that.) The burning does subside after about five minutes, and five minutes after that, I’m back to my normal color. My skin feels baby smooth. Ten minutes after that, it starts to feel tight and dry. Miss Jenny says we will all need to apply extra moisturizer before bed and again in the morning, “but the good news there is you won’t need to wash your face again because the peel works so well.” And I imagine, because any small amount of soap-like product would irritate the heck out of your skin.
You’re only allowed to have one peel per week, and Milady’s notes that “more than eight weekly peels in a row is not recommended,” though “a series of peels every three to four months is the typical recommendation.”
Miss Jenny likes to host peel parties, where a group of girlfriends will get together at somebody’s house and pay her $25 per peel. It’s a big discount over the $75 you’d pay at her spa, plus she brings wine and cheese.
“I worked for about three hours last Thursday night and made $270,” she says. “You girls are going to love peels.”
[Photo: Samantha post-chemical peel, via Elle.com’s “Vanity Insanity,” which puts chemical peels in the same category as pinky toe removal (to facilitate more comfortable stiletto wearing). That sounds about right.]