Wait, Can You Wash Your Face Right After a Chemical Peel?
Main image – LiubovLevytska/Adobe
Picture the scene; you’ve just stepped out of the spa after a great chemical peel and can’t wait to revel in the glowy, smooth skin that will soon follow.
If you’re anything like me then using any type of chemical treatment (from the gentler lactic acids and PHAs to the serious, in-clinic glycolic acid or TCA peels) will be one of your *absolute* favourite ways to get skin glowing instantly.
But with some mixed long-term post-peel results myself (think one day of inadvertently skipping the sunscreen followed by two fairly rapid sun spots), I know firsthand how vital following proper peel aftercare is.
The downsides of removing all those dead skin cells weighing your complexion down include increased sensitivity to the sun as well as general skin sensitivity. This means taking extra care, starting with how you treat skin straight out of your chemical peel.
So *exactly* how long should you wait before even washing your face after a chemical peel? I asked skincare experts Dr Noor Hanif Said, aesthetic nurse Diane Howard, dermatology nurse practitioner Akis Ntonos and aesthetician Amber Shal to weigh in.
Read on for their advice on post-peel cleansing as well as the other aftercare tips you’ll need to keep your fresh peel in tip top condition.
The benefits of a chemical peel
First up though; why peel in the first place?
Despite the slightly scary name, chemical peels are a fairly routine form of exfoliation which use acids to remove the outermost layer of skin.
Common types include alpha hydroxy acids and trichloroacetic acid (commonly known as a TCA peel).
The NHS says that the aim of a chemical peel “is to improve the appearance of the skin – for example, by reducing age spots and evening out skin tone.
“There are 3 types of peels, called superficial, medium and deep. Superficial and medium peels are usually safe, as long as they’re done correctly. These type of peels are not permanent and they need to be repeated.
“Deeper peels are more risky. They’re longer-lasting and do not usually need to be repeated,” it adds.
When carried out by an expert (not just anyone flashing a Groupon offer), you can expect to see fewer fine lines, improved skin firmness, lighter acne and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation scarring and dark spots, and a seriously impressive glow.
Just be aware that your newly-exfoliated skin needs some extra care.
Read on for exactly how to look after it.
Can I wash my face right after a chemical peel?
In short, no- unless advised by your skincare professional, you shouldn’t be washing your face straight after your chemical peel.
The exact time you should wait will vary depending on the type of peel, your individual skin type, and the strength of the treatment (known as a superficial peel, medium or deep peels). Generally though, you wait at least 12-24 hours after a chemical peel before washing your face to give your skin time to heal and adjust.
Dr Noor, Medical Director at Renaissance Dermatology, explains, “it’s usually recommended to wait at least 12-24 hours after a chemical peel before washing your face with a gentle cleanser.
“This gives your skin ample time to recover and prevents any possible irritation that could occur due to your skin’s increased sensitivity. Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser to care for your skin after the procedure.”
Waiting is especially important because any skincare products you apply during this time can cause some fairly undesirable side effects, including irritation, including burning, itching, stinging, redness, and drying.
Always follow your doctor or aesthetician’s post-peel instructions to get the most out of your treatment though, so ask how long they specifically recommend before you reach for the cleanser.
Keep reading for more on how to care for your skin following the chemical peel process.
How do I wash my face after a chemical peel?
Ok, so you’ve waited the requisite 12 to 24 hours and now you’re ready to wash your face. But what sort of products/water temperature/tools should you be using?
Dr Noor tells us, “use a gentle, soap-free cleanser and avoid scrubs or any harsh products that could irritate your skin.
“Instead of rubbing, pat your skin dry to prevent abrading or irritating your sensitive skin.”
Dermatology nurse Akis Ntonos (of New York’s premiere injectables clinic, Aion Aesthetics), agrees. “Gently cleanse your face with a mild, non-abrasive cleanser and lukewarm water,” he explains.
The expert also recommends drying skin with, “a soft towel, avoiding any… harsh motions.”
That means no face brush, exfoliating beads or cleansing tools; just use your fingers to gently massage cleanser over skin before rinsing with lukewarm water.
Your skin will likely remain sensitive for several days after a chemical peel, so it’s important to be extra gentle and to give it the time it needs to heal and regenerate.
When can I use a scrub after a chemical peel?
Chemical peels are designed to deeply exfoliate and resurface the skin, so avoid scrubs at all costs for at least a week after your peel.
Akis tells us, “it’s important to keep your skin clean, avoid aggressive scrubbing or exfoliation for at least one week after the peel.
“Instead, use a gentle cleanser and your fingertips to cleanse your face. Avoid using harsh brushes, loofahs, or scrubs, as they can cause irritation.”
It can be so tempting to want to get to work on newly-glowing skin but the first week of healing is the most important and long-term radiance is the goal here so don’t rush anything.
What else should I avoid after a chemical peel?
No one said replicating the glow of radioactive swan was going to be easy. As well as avoiding cleansing and scrubbing too soon, there are a few other things you’ll need to remember post-peel.
Limit exposure to UVA and UVB rays
Registered aesthetic nurse and founder of Esthetic Fitness Diane Howard says, “Protecting your skin from the sun is essential, as it can be more sensitive and vulnerable post-peel.
“Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF and avoiding direct sun exposure will help prevent further damage and ensure long-lasting results.”
The NHS backs this up, saying “Your skin will be more sensitive to the sun as it heals, so you need to use sunscreen for at least a month after treatment.”
I know, I know; you want to show off your new megawatt glow. But ditching the makeup for a few days gives your skin the best chance to repair after a peel.
Dr Noor tells us to “avoid wearing makeup for at least 48 hours after the peel to provide your skin with a chance to breathe and recover.”
New skin can be *really* sensitive to heat so do your best to avoid.
“Hot showers, saunas, or heavy workouts that make you sweat can irritate your skin. Avoid these for a few days after a peel and be gentle to your skin,” Dr Noor says.
That includes using hot water on your face when you cleanse too. Try to stick to lukewarm or cool water.
Avoid harsh chemicals
As well as sticking to gentle soap-free cleansers, steer clear of any other harsh ingredients, particularly retinol, glycolic acid, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid.
Don’t plan other skin treatments
Your skin will need time to properly heal and regenerate after your chemical peel so don’t plan on getting laser treatments or similar any time soon afterwards.
For the exact timeline on when you can move on to further treatments, ask your skincare professional.
Don’t pick or scratch skin
While (massively) tempting, picking at your peeling skin will not help it heal- in fact, quite the opposite.
Akis explains, “resist the temptation to pick or scratch your skin, as it can lead to scarring or prolonged healing. Let your skin naturally shed and peel without interference. If you experience any discomfort or itching, consult your skincare professional for advice on how to alleviate these symptoms safely.
The recovery process is crucial for healthy skin, so taking the proper precautions after a chemical peel is essential.
Peeling skin is to be expected, but you can help promote healing and reduce the risk of irritation by following the advice above.
5 tips to get the best results from your peel
While the exact products you’ll need to use after your chemical peel will vary between skin types, treated areas, and the type of peel you have, there are some things everyone can do to speed up the healing process.
1. Try to have your peel done in the evening
Aesthetician Amber Shal explains, “Ideally, it’s best to get chemical peels in the evening so that the aesthetician can apply the appropriate products, which will be left on your skin overnight.
“Then the following day, you can continue with a gentle cleanser, moisturiser and SPF.”
2. Wear at least SPF 30
Akis says, “Protecting your skin from the sun is crucial after a chemical peel. Avoid direct sun exposure for at least one week, and always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially if you’re outdoors.”
3. Cover up with wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses to avoid direct sun exposure
Finally, a reason to channel your inner Audrey Hepburn… As well as wearing SPF, do everything you can to avoid direct sun exposure post-peel.
“Wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, is also advisable to shield your skin from harmful UV rays,” explains Akis.
4. Stay hydrated
“After a peel, your skin will be drier than usual. Drink plenty of water and keep your moisturiser handy to replenish lost moisture,” says Dr Noor.
Akis agrees, “hydration is key to maintaining the health and elasticity of your skin after a chemical peel.
“Apply a gentle moisturiser several times a day to keep your skin hydrated and prevent excessive dryness.
“Look for moisturisers that are free of fragrances, dyes, and other potential irritants. Your skincare professional can recommend a suitable product for your specific needs.”
5. Follow your professional’s advice
Your own skincare professional is best placed to advise you on the whats, whens and hows of caring for your skin after a peel; so make sure to follow their instructions.
Diane says, “I highly recommend following the post-peel instructions provided by your dermatologist or aesthetic professional, as they are tailored to your specific needs.”
That means making sure to stick to any follow-up appointments you have booked too.
Akis explains, “Depending on the type of peel and your skin’s condition, your skincare professional may recommend follow-up appointments.
“These visits allow your provider to monitor your progress and adjust the skincare routine accordingly. Follow their advice and attend all scheduled appointments to ensure optimal results and address any concerns.
“Remember, everyone’s skin is unique, and the healing process may vary from person to person.”
He adds, “If you experience any unusual or concerning symptoms, such as severe redness, swelling, or persistent discomfort, contact your skincare professional immediately.”
Chemical peels can be one of the fastest, most effective ways to combat fine lines, sun damage and scarring- and to reveal an impressive glow.
But all that hard work (and expense) might be a waste unless you follow the aftercare that will protect your skin.
Remember to wait at least 12-24 hours before washing your face after a chemical peel and avoid scrubs, harsh ingredients and direct sunlight.
Hydration and SPF are your friends here, helping you on your way to smooth, dewy skin.
Meet the experts
Dr Noor Hanif Said is a Board-Certified Dermatologist with more than 20 years of medical experience. He is a member of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom and is currently the Medical Director of Renaissance Dermatology
Diane Howard is a Registered Aesthetic Nurse Artist, and Founder of Esthetic Finesse clinic in Arizona
Akis Ntonos is a Dermatology Nurse Practitioner, Injectable Specialist, (a.k.a. Facial Architect) and co-founder of Aion Aesthetics, New York’s premier injectables clinic.
Amber Shal is an aesthetician and founder of day spa Floral Spa and Aesthetic Bar, specialising in everything from facials to massages and injectables.