A Blogger's Before & After Guide to Chemical Peels

A Handy "Before & After" Guide to Chemical Peels - 6/25/17 Update

Since writing my chemical peel blog review back in 2013, I've had quite a few Jessner peels (my favorite) and TCA peels. However, I've saved a ton of money over the past 6 months by doing my own chemical peels at home. At my last professional peel, I made a note of the product being used and did some research when I got home. I was able to buy the exact same one, Dermalure Jessner Solution Acid Peel 14%, from Amazon for less than the cost of a single peel. I also use Dermalure's AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser. (Apply this before the Jessner.) It's self-neutralizing, despite what the Amazon listing says, and couldn't be simpler. That said...

I'm not sure I'd recommend this to a chemical peel newbie, as you're already nervous enough the first time without the added worry of doing it yourself, but it's so convenient (and cost effective!) once you're comfortable with the chemical peel process. I love being able to spiff up my complexion on my own schedule and from the comfort of my own home. I even use the Jessner peel as a spot treatment sometimes.

Okay, on to my original blog post:

Considering a chemical peel? I recently underwent my first Jessner peel and thought I'd share my results, post a Jessner peel review, and answer some frequently asked chemical peel questions (I'm guessing that "Does a chemical peel hurt?" is a biggie!). I'd been planning to order an over-the-counter peel (this one specifically, which I still haven't tried but has great reviews) but my computer led me a different direction.

I decided to do this on a whim, after LivingSocial greeted me one morning with a great $40 chemical peel deal.

Now, I can read your mind. You just gasped in horror and thought You trusted your face to a discount chemical peel?! You're wondering where my mother was and why she didn't stop me. But not to worry. Really!

Here is my Jessner peel before and after:

jessner peel before and after
Chemical Peel Before & After

Also known as "EEEK!" and "Oooh, Ahhh"

Not too shabby, right? To be fair, the "before" is extra bad because the Jessner peel had just been done and I'm making my "not sure sharing this on the internet is such a good idea/my skin is ruined" face and my "after" was taken right before leaving for work, about a week and a half after the procedure. Still, it's hard to argue against getting a chemical peel after seeing the results. 

I would love to do a few more chemical peels soon (I've read that a series of 6, spaced about a month apart, yields the best results) and have been diligently scouring Groupon and LivingSocial. Maybe some smart Albuquerque dermatologist is reading this Jessner peel review right now, realizing that giving free chemical peels to me in exchange for a sponsored blog post is a super deal that will increase their business (hint, hint, whoever you are!).

Shameless, aren't I? Anyway, I wouldn't say the results after only 1 peel are drastic enough that people are going to stop in their tracks when they see you, but you can definitely see a change when looking up close in a mirror. Your face looks "fresh", which makes sense because a chemical peel works by peeling off all your old skin. It's like an extreme exfoliation, achieving results you can't get from microdermabrasion. In fact, now that I've had a chemical peel, I feel like the few times I've paid for a microdermabrasion (also Groupon!) were a waste of money. The two procedures cost about the same and the results are just not comparable.

Feel free to comment if you have a question I haven't answered. I'm happy to help! Keep in mind, of course, that everything here is my own opinion from my own chemical peel experience. If you have a special medical condition or have had an adverse reaction to a beauty treatment before, I would absolutely check with an expert before undergoing a Jessner chemical peel.

Now, let's get those questions answered!

Does a chemical peel/Jessner peel hurt?

In my experience, it didn't hurt at all. The sensation was like the slight burn you feel after applying astringent to your face. Maybe a teenie bit more extreme, like if you'd exfoliated before using the astringent. It's not something they're going to start offering at Disneyland, but it's nothing to cry about. I might just be an oddball though. Really, it does seem like brushing acid onto your face would hurt, right?

Before starting, the woman who did my peel insisted that I tell her how much pain I was in. She would apply a little of the Jessner peel solution and have me report on a scale of 1 (fine and dandy) to 10 (want to rip my skin off) how bad my face felt. After the first layer, I told her I was a 2. I actually felt pretty normal, except for the areas around my lips and at the top of my cheeks, which were warm and tingly. She seemed startled by my low number. She fanned cool air onto my skin, which I've read online is standard chemical peel procedure. I didn't feel like it made much difference - it was actually a little bit annoying! The next layer was applied and I was asked to report on the 1 to 10 scale again. I felt the same as before, but the woman had seemed so surprised earlier that I didn't want to admit to it. I told her I was a 2.5.

Ultimately, 3 layers of Jessner peel solution were applied and my pain level maxed out at a 2.75 (which, looking back, surely drove the woman applying my peel completely crazy!) It felt like the skin around my mouth and at the top of my cheeks was hot, which I told the woman as each layer was applied.

Recovering from the peel wasn't particularly bad either. The worst part was that my face felt uncomfortably tight and slightly itchy. It looked like all the moisture had been sucked out of it, leaving a desert of scorched skin. Every little wrinkle and crease was magnified. It felt somewhat like a sunburn. Speaking of which, I'd heard a common chemical peel side effect is that your face becomes bright red for a few days to weeks, but I didn't experience that problem. My skin was red immediately after the peel, but was mostly back to its regular shade within a few hours.

jessner peel side effects
The circled areas were the most affected by the peel and took the longest time to heal. Since these were the same parts of my face that had been hot/tingly during the procedure, I was concerned that maybe the peel had been too strong in these areas and that I might have permanent scarring or discoloration. The top of my cheeks looked like they had been burned! Everything turned out fine though and, before disappearing, the redness was only noticeable without makeup.

How should I prepare for a chemical peel?

Exfoliate like crazy! I hadn't been sure whether or not to do this beforehand (and, silly me, it never crossed my mind to look it up online or to simply call and ask) so I did a sort of haphazard exfoliation beforehand, with St. Ives Apricot Scrub, unsure whether doing so was harmful or helpful. When I arrived for my peel, I was asked whether I wanted to start with a microdermabrasion to improve the results. I've been kicking myself ever since!

Also, it's good to arrive for your chemical peel with a clean face, free of makeup, and to stock up on sunscreen beforehand. You'll also want to have a gentle moisturizer for later. I checked with the woman who did my peel about whether I should skip my usual moisturizer, which contains retinol, for a week or so afterward. She just about fell over! You must not use retinol right after doing a chemical peel.

How long does a Jessner peel take?

I was in the office for just over 30 minutes, from the time I walked through the door to the time I left.

You're only 29. Isn't that too young for a chemical peel?

Nope! If you've been reading my blog, you might have seen my posts Who Wants Pretty Skin? I Do! I Do! and I'm in Therapy. The skin on my face apparently hates me and only responds to being beaten into submission and blasted by microscopic laser beams. As a teenager, I hoped (and, to be honest, somewhat expected) that my embarrassing cystic acne would magically disappear on my 18th birthday. Eleven years later, my annoying skin problem continues to flare up about once a month, leaving dark spots that have barely faded by the time the next month's round of acne fun comes along.

Acne is bad enough when you're in high school and everyone else is dealing with the same problem. It's especially awkward as an adult, trying to look professional at work while your boss "helpfully" suggests that your skin would clear right up if you stopped eating chocolate altogether. 

Like heck I'm giving up chocolate. You give up your chocolate!

What were the results of your chemical peel?

My pores looked smaller and clean. My face seemed "brighter", like if I'd gotten a good night's sleep. Dark spots from recent breakouts literally peeled off with my old skin, leaving a mostly even skin tone in their place. There is a wrinkle on my forehead that I've had for as long as I can remember. It's still there, of course, but it isn't as deep. An unexpected bonus was that when my next monthly breakout session rolled around, it was barely noticeable. I would love to be able to do regular Jessner peels just to keep my acne under control.

When is the best time to do a chemical peel?

Schedule a chemical peel for when you have time away from work and other social commitments. I wouldn't do one with anything less than a 3 day weekend. Although my peel didn't hurt, I was shocked to see my face in the mirror immediately afterward. It was bright red and looked terrible. This is not a lunchtime cosmetic procedure.

I actually had 5 days off, including the day of the peel. As a bonus, Sexy Nerd just happened to have a business trip scheduled at the same time, meaning he wouldn't have to see me shuffling around our house like the undead! Although it seems like everything was timed perfectly, I wish I'd planned things on a different timescale. The peel was done at 3pm on Thursday and I was needed back at work Tuesday. Perfect, right? Wrong! Although I wouldn't have wanted to return to work that same day, my skin actually looked relatively decent on Friday. It was nothing makeup couldn't have covered. The peeling didn't actually begin until Saturday night.

My timing couldn't have been much worse. After a 5 day weekend, the peeling really started to go nuts on Tuesday morning - just in time for me to go to work! Sometimes, it seems like the universe is just being a jerk, doesn't it? I tried to cover my peeling skin with concealer, foundation, and powder (anything I could think of!) but it isn't something that can be hidden. And, as the woman who applied the peel made very clear, you must never, ever pick at the peeling skin or you'll risk scarring.

I walked around work all day with giant pieces of skin hanging from my chin, cheeks, and forehead, looking like someone had pressed my face to a cheese grater. Even worse? I kept finding little bits that had fallen off stuck to my shirt and around my desk.

photo of jessner peeling
Sorry, you're just going to have to go to work like this.

(Even worse, this photo is from Sunday, before the peeling got too wild.)

With a chemical peel, timing is everything!

For best results, consult a medical or skin professional, which I am not. This blog post shares my personal experience with chemical peels and should in no way be interpreted as medical advice.

Also, if you enjoyed this blog post, please share it on Pinterest. Here is a handy graphic to help! :)

Check out the collage maker function of photo editor Fotor