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Despite expensive sunblock, my skin shows signs of sun damage and has no glow at all. I use high-end products. I exercise, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, even gulp shots of wheatgrass juice, but years of ultraviolet rays have finally taken their toll. So recently I decided it was time for drastic measures: a TCA (trichloroacetic acid) chemical peel.
TCA peels are one of the oldest forms of derma-renewal. Long before lasers made their mark on sun-worn faces, and before alpha hydroxy acids were common ingredients in over-the-counter cosmetics, TCA was the de rigueur choice for skin-peel treatments. It provides a deeper peel than many of the other superficial procedures that cause the skin to lightly flake. A TCA treatment, administered by a licensed aesthetician or medical doctor, is a serious solution that involves some risk. If not carefully applied and monitored, it can cause discoloration and even scarring.
A friend who is an avid water-skier recommended Brenda Bailey at BB Faces in Newport Beach. His dermatologist had suggested a TCA peel to remove precancerous sun spots, and his complexion looked amazing afterward. So with my friend’s encouragement, and after learning that Bailey works in an office alongside board-certified plastic surgeons, I felt confident enough to make the drive south for my own acid peel.
Bailey sat down with me beforehand and explained how it all works. She would apply the solution to one section of my face at a time. She prefers to work slowly, watching the skin for what she calls “frost” — a chemical reaction caused by acid on skin protein. When she sees frost, it’s time to stop.
After I was tucked into a comfy reclining chair and wrapped in a blanket and fresh white sheet, the fun began. The first area was my forehead. Bailey had me hold an electric fan pointed at my face as she applied the solution. I remember thinking, “Oh, this isn’t so bad…”
“The burning sensation comes in a wave,” she said. “It’ll get progressively hotter and then cool down.”
No sooner had she finished her sentence than my forehead started to radiate. Think of your tongue cradling a jalapeño pepper — that’s how it felt. The same wave of burning, prickly heat traveled to my cheeks, then my nose — first one side, then the other — then it slowly dissipated.
Bailey assured me I was doing great. “Some people start thrashing all over the place,” she said. I told her I didn’t want to distract her from her work — then seriously wondered how many more layers it would take before she saw frost.
She started again on my forehead. The wave of painful heat came and went as she moved from one area of my face to another. By the time she finished the third pass, I was ready to cry uncle. She urged me to hang on while she went over a couple more spots — in reality, my entire face. Just as I was about to leap out of the chair, she announced we were finished.
She handed me a mirror. I expected to see something out of Phantom of the Opera, but my skin just looked a bit blushed and shiny. It felt tight, but other than that, fine. Bailey dabbed on some hydrocortisone cream and gave me a list of after-care instructions. “Be gentle when washing; no hot, steamy showers; try to sleep on your back; stay out of the sun and wait for the magic.”
( Day 1 ) I jump out of bed to see what kind of havoc I’ve wreaked on my face. I’ve heard skin can turn dark brown, but I look like I only have a bad sunburn. Maybe I should have had four passes with the acid instead of just three.
( Day 2 ) My skin looks as if I’ve applied some kind of a clear mask — it feels that way too — as if it would crack if I moved my facial muscles too much. I venture into the grocery store today and no one screams.
( Day 3 ) My face looks a little brown. The sun spots have blossomed into big brown splotches. A thin layer of dry, white skin has begun to flake around my mouth, but I don’t think it’s ready to peel. The skin underneath is bright pink. I find myself touching my face a lot.
( Day 4 ) My face seems to be getting progressively tighter. I wish I could run to the sink and wash this “dried egg white” off my face. The areas that normally move are cracking into deep lines — I’m getting a preview of what I’ll look like when I’m 80, and it’s not a pretty sight. Good thing there’s food in the house, because there’s no way I could go out looking like this.
( Day 5 ) The peeling around my mouth has radiated out toward my cheeks and nose. My forehead is still smooth — no cracking there at all. The new skin looks much clearer. The sun spots and freckles are gone. The skin that hasn’t yet peeled looks like dirty cellophane.
( Day 6 ) My newly exposed skin is definitely pink. What if it stays like this? I call Bailey, who assures me the fuchsia flush will fade. I reread the after-care instructions. It says not to peel the skin — just snip off the flakes with cuticle scissors. Oops, too late.
( Day 7 ) The flakiness is almost all gone. Just some problem areas on my cheeks and forehead remain. The pink has toned down, and my skin looks amazing! Bright, glowing — like it used to with foundation, but much, much better. The brown sun spots are gone. My skin is tighter, lighter and smooth. I’m wondering if we should have done more. Bailey treats hands, arms and necks too. I’m going to inquire about a complete body dip!