As summer (sadly) comes to a close, reversing summer’s sun damage should be high up on your list of skincare priorities. And while, in the future, regular SPF application, hats and sunglasses are the best way to prevent wrinkles, sun spots, skin cancer and all the other aging effects of the sun, when the damage has already been done, put reversal at the top of your to do list.

NYC cosmetic surgeon and skincare specialist Dr. Tracy Pfeifer, who specializes in sun care and anti-aging, tells The Beauty Bean that the best way to reverse summer sun damage is with a chemical peel, which, not only causes your skin to renew more quickly and reverses hyperpigmentation, but also may help reverse the DNA damage caused by UV exposure and free radicals. Plus, it leaves your skin firmer and more hydrated too.

Chemical Peels: What You Need To Know

What are chemical peels? Chemical peels are, simply, just what they sound like: chemicals that, when applied to your face, cause peeling. Using a variety of different acids depending on your skin color and type, chemical peels are designed to give your skin a “do-over,” if you will, by literally encouraging your body to purge the dead, damaged, aged skin cells from your face.

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What do chemical peels do? Remember how great your skin looked as a kid? Well, apparently that’s because your skin was “peeling” (or renewing) itself more regularly, all on it’s own. As you got older, though, your skin cells did too – and, well, they got lazy. Chemical peels are designed to kick them back into high gear. More specifically, Dr. Pfeifer says, “when you’re 12 years old, your skin is rapidly exfoliating on it’s own, which is why you have youthful, glowing skin. When you’re older, though, the desmosomes between your skin cells get very sticky. While these are important for keeping cells attached to your body, as you get older they stick so more so that when you’re 35, your cells that would have lifted off 3 weeks ago when you were 12, are still on. “ Peels reduce the stickiness and, well, make you peel away those should-have-sloughed-off-weeks-ago skin cells.

What are the benefits? Chemical peels not only cause rapid exfoliation with visible peeling (often for 3-5 days) which eliminates the outer layer of dull, dry, damaged and aging skin in order to reveal a more youthful complexion, but also have the added benefit of allowing products you apply to your skin to penetrate more easily and effectively because they no longer need to fight their way through the barrier of damaged skin cells.

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Are chemical peels suitable for all skin types and colors? In general, chemical peels are better suited for all you fair-skinned ladies – not only because sun damage tends to cause more visible and dangerous results (from wrinkles and sunspots to skin cancer), but also because darker complexions are at a higher risk for post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation from some chemicals. If you do have a darker complexion and want to try a chemical peel, Dr. Pfeifer suggests finding a dermatologist or plastic surgeon near you who works with a lot of patients of color.

How frequently should you get a chemical peel? According to Dr. Pfeifer, 2-3 chemical peels per year (ideally once right after summer ends and one at the end of winter) are ideal for healthy, age-less skin for women over the age of 30. But, as always, talk with your doctor about what’s best for you.

What about at-home chemical peels? While you need to see a doctor for a strong chemical peel, there are a lot of products you can use at home for a more mild result, such as retinols, which not only work to improve the texture of the skin and reduce hyperpigmentation, but also stimulate collagen production.

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What should we expect after a chemical peel? Approximately 2 days after a chemical peel you can expect to start seeing some snake-shedding-like peeling, which usually lasts 3-5 days. While the length of peeling can be adjusted by your doctor, the more you peel, the greater the benefits. It’s also possible to get a series of lower strength peels to avoid as much downtime, but the effects aren’t as profound. 

How should we treat peeling skin? After a chemical peel, the more you peel, the deeper the benefit so, unfortunately, it’s counterproductive to apply moisturizers. Also, it’s important not to scrub or pick off peeling skin since, according to Dr. Pfeifer, it can induce inflammation and hyperpigmentation. Our best advice: cover the mirrors, keep your hands to yourself and work from home!

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