TCA Peels: Day 1

What to expect on the first day of a TCA peel |

Preparing your skin for a TCA peel will help the peel penetrate deeper for a better result. By the day of the peel, you should have stopped using harsh topicals, cleared your schedule (the best you can), and stocked up on post-peel healing products.

Here is a rundown of what goes on during the actual day of the TCA peel:

Day 1: (Day of the Peel)

What happens during a TCA peel is this: Your skin will be cleaned (you probably want to skip wearing makeup to your TCA peel session) and thoroughly dried. Some places will apply a prep solution (kind of like an astringent) to remove any residual facial oils and prime your skin for the peel. After the prep solution dries, petroleum jelly will be globbed around your eye sockets, nostrils, and lips to protect these more sensitive areas of your face. Finally, the TCA solution will be applied to your skin with a Q-tip or brush.

During the peel, your skin will tingle, feel prickly, and turn hot. It almost feels like someone is rubbing a habanero pepper on your skin or like someone is pouring hydrogen peroxide on an open wound. TCA peels don't hurt so much that they require anesthetics, but they are uncomfortable. If the acid burns to the point where you can't stand it anymore, the TCA peel should be neutralized immediately.

There will usually be a fan running to help cool your skin and ease the burning sensation. For some people, "frosting" actually occurs. This is where parts of your skin turn white during the peel and usually only happens with strong TCA peels (15% or higher). Frosting during a chemical peel may look scary, but places where you frost are the places where your skin will brown and will peel the most.

TCA Peel frosting

Light frosting from a chemical peel

If you are getting a TCA peel for the first time, you will probably only have one layer of peel solution applied to your skin. For more experienced peelers, two or even three layers may be applied for a deeper peel. A second layer will give you approximately a 25% boost in strength. Definitely do not get more than one layer if you've never gotten a TCA peel before because you could really risk burning your skin. If a second layer of the peel is applied, it's usually applied 5 minutes after the first layer and left on your skin for another 3 minutes.

How long the peel solution should be left on your skin depends on the strength of the peel and your experience with TCA peels. The more TCA peels you have gotten, the more likely you can leave the peel on for a longer amount of time.

Most TCA peels self-neutralize in around 5 minutes. However, neutralizing solutions (usually 2 tablespoons of baking soda mixed in 1 1/2 cups of water) are used to fully ensure that the peel has stopped working. You can neutralize the peel by splashing with the baking soda water or wiping your skin with a soft washcloth dipped in the neutralizing solution. The neutralizing solution may even sting more than the actual peel itself!

After the peel is neutralized, your skin is then very, very, very gently cleaned (think of a cat licking your face) with a soap-free cleanser or just water. Some places will even apply a cool steam to your face to help lessen any redness and irritation. Do not scrub or use any abrasive products on your post-peel skin because it is very fresh and sensitive! Once your skin is completely dry, a thick layer of antibiotic cream (and maybe even sunscreen) will be globbed on and you will be sent home.

Your skin will be red for the rest of the day and some people even experience slight swelling. A friend of mine, who is a dermatologist, actually recommends taking an Advil before getting a TCA peel to help with any inflammation. However, this is purely optional. The swelling will usually go away within a day, while redness tends to last a few days longer. The redness from a TCA peel can be covered up by makeup (although you probably don't want to put anything on your raw skin), but it's best to stay home for the rest of the day and take it easy.

After the TCA peel, drink lots of water to keep your skin hydrated and apply antibiotic cream (thickly) around the clock to protect your skin and prevent infection.

Fortunately, day 1 of the TCA peel is the most topically painful part of the entire peeling process. Although it can feel uncomfortable when your skin starts to peel, it doesn't burn like when you are getting the actual TCA peel itself.

Now, you just have to wait for your skin to peel and take proper care of it post-peel so it can heal nicely. Read the next section to find out what happens on days 2-4!

Last updated: September 22, 2012

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What happens on Days 2-4 of a TCA peel? »