If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “chemical peel” is Samantha Jones’ scabbed, fiery face à la Sex and the City, you are not alone. In fact, when I attended a PCA Skin event during the annual AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) meeting last month—that haunting and iconic image of Jones seemed to be the macroscopic elephant in the room. Except, of course, that all-too-common association made between chemical peels and scabbing, flaking, and redness is a complete fallacy; a gross misrepresentation of what a quality, customized peel will look like. In fact, it was this exact misconception that the three industry-leading dermatologists leading the event were hoping to disprove. But would a borderline-terrified skeptic with sensitive, acne-prone skin (hi, that’s me) be persuaded?

Two hours, countless assurances from fellow beauty editors, and my own peel experience later, the answer was a resounding yes. Hi, my name is Erin Jahns, and although in a previous life you couldn’t have paid me to undergo a chemical peel (FYI: It still took some major cajoling), I’m now a believer. And thanks to my calm, cool, and collected post-peel complexion, I would like to spread the word. (Because I know I’m not the only Sex and the City devotee who vowed to swear off the idea of chemical peels forever.)

Because I am by no means an expert on the topic, I reached out to Dr. Candace Spann who was one of the three expert dermatologists speaking at the lunch. The main takeaway: Chemical peels for sensitive skin are indeed possible—but having information (courtesy of a world-renowned dermatologist) is key. And luckily, we have your back. Ahead are five must-know commandments concerning chemical peels for sensitive skin. (And for brownie points, I even included a selfie I took immediately post-peel to prove how very un-Samantha-like I looked immediately after the treatment.)

1. Know What You’re Signing Up For

Interestingly, it’s far more common to know (or think we know) the effects of a peel rather than the true purpose and process of the treatment. Therefore, I decided to ask Spann to break chemical peels down into the simplest of terms to gain a better understanding of what is happening to the skin during a treatment.

“A chemical peel uses acids to cause visible shedding of layers of the skin while simultaneously infusing the skin with ingredients intended to diminish lines, build collagen, and improve tone and texture—especially any degree of pigmentation,” she explains.

Additionally, even if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, chemical peels will still benefit your complexion. For instance, Spann tells us that chemical peels can help treat a wide variety of concerns, by improving (and smoothing) your skin’s texture and clarity. Her one stipulation: Your esthetician or dermatologist has to choose the right peel for your skin type, and if they’re a qualified professional, this shouldn’t be an issue.

2. Know That Chemical Peels Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All

Perhaps obvious, perhaps not, but if I’ve learned anything over the past month while investigating chemical peels for sensitive skin, it’s that customization is paramount where success is concerned. “One misconception is that one peel fits all skin types, and this is simply not true,” Spann confirms. Her skin-strategic acid combinations are as follows:

  • For those with acne: Opt for a blend of lactic and salicylic acids.
  • For those with mature skin: Opt for a blend of TCA (trichloroacetic acid) and lactic acids.
  • For those with hyperpigmentation: It depends on the cause of hyperpigmentation, but TCA and lactic acids are generally the best options. Kojic acid is another ingredient to keep top of mind.

“The best bet is to find a certified professional in your area—they can determine the most effective treatment for you upon skin analysis,” says Spann “PCA Professional Treatments (her brand of choice and the line behind my own lovely chemical peel) aren’t timed or neutralized, so the clinician is in complete control at all times.” And if you’re nervous or want to walk into an appointment or consult with a safe recommendation in tow, Spann suggests PCA Skin’s Sensi Peel—an option perfect for all skin types, even those with rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions.

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