Beauty Clinic: Should I have a facial peel?


Q. My complexion is looking a bit dull and I wonder if a peel would help before the Christmas party season? I know they have acids in them – bit scary! - but can you explain what to look for in at home/salon peels?

A. A light (a.k.a. superficial) peel can really brighten your skin by exfoliating the top layer of dead skin cells and debris and also stimulating skin cell renewal. Acids may sound scary but these are pretty gentle, although you do need to take care afterwards.

If you opt to do an at home peel, GP and cosmetic doctor Rabia Malik suggests choosing a product based on fruit enzymes and lactic acid rather than glycolic acid, which can be quite drying. Also, glycolic may irritate sensitive skin because of its smaller molecular size, which means it may penetrate more deeply and in a patchy manner, possibly leading to inflammation. (Many people do like masks with glycolic but if your skin is touchy we suggest starting with a gentler lactic acid formula.)

Dr. Malik recommends using Cosmedix Pure Enzymes Exfoliating Mask/£50.63 for 60 ml, once or twice a week at night (this is to allow skin to settle down by the next morning). Another good at home option for light exfoliation – and a long-term beauty editor favourite - is Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel/£34.50 for 50ml tube. This is also based on lactic acid, this time with papaya and pineapple alongside the milk protein.

Professional peels can vary in terms of how they feel, depending on their depth and concentration. For instance, Dr. Malik offers a light but effective brightening ‘lunchtime’ peel at her London-based Peel Boutique, with very little downtime – which Sarah can testify to.  But timing is still key because you should expect mild redness for up to a few hours after any peel treatment. 

All peel-based treatments start with very thorough cleansing – which is the same rule for an at home treatment. Whether you are treating your skin at home or in a salon or clinic, the peel may feel a bit tingly but this should subside very quickly.

Afterwards, you should avoid wearing make up, although if absolutely necessary you can apply medical grade mineral make up such as Oxygenetix – and eye make up can stay. But the rule is - don't book a peel on the day of a big party!

Your skin may be slightly more sensitive after a peel so always wear an SPF30+ diligently for a week afterwards and take care to avoid direct sun exposure. And, Dr. Malik counsels, avoid any potentially abrasive home care products for two days after treatment, including retinol, acids, exfoliators or products containing vitamin A or C.

Photo by Isabell Winter on Unsplash