I Chemical-Burned My Face Like a Moron: How Not to Do an At-Home Peel

Getting a peel at a spa is very pricy. Guess what's not very pricy? CHEMICALS YOU CAN BUY ON THE INTERNET!

Aug 13, 2012 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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DON'T. PUT THIS. ON YOUR FACE.

Ah, the spa. The little waterfalls, the pitcher of cucumber water, the price gouging.

Being an aesthetician is an art and a skill, but part of the whole spa experience is being comically extorted. There are lots of exceptions (see: Queens, New York, every spa in), But rarely do you just pay for the tiny fraction of an Essie pot and skilled labor that goes into putting it on your fancy overprivileged hands.

I've had very reasonably priced treatments that were extremely well done, but I've also been dragooned mid-"girls' weekend" into a shoddy $120 mani pedi.

Nails aren't even the most overpriced service, which you know if you've ever laughed aloud at a "spa menu." (Looking at you, $400 30-minute facial.) You're paying for the materials involved and someone else's skill in applying them, but also for the twin bougie thrills of Spending Money and You Time.

I have friends who think getting a manicure is an obscene exercise in Western profligacy. They may be right. But personally, I'm unable to apply the subtlest pink polish without looking like I dipped my whole hand in jar full of cherry preserves and broken glass. I also love having my calves slapped while I watch E! on a wall-mounted flat screen. It's just my kink. I have no problem paying New York mani pedi prices.

What I do have a problem with paying for is the more day spa-y treatments. For some reason it costs several hundred dollars to put Queen Helene on my face and gently wipe it off with a towel.

Let me qualify: Some day spas are great! But some are run by Bond villains.

While some nail shops may try to upsell you a $3 Quick Dry or foot polish, they would probably never dream of telling you during an eyebrow wax that you should have your face microdermabraded, which happens to me nearly every time I've gone to one of those "day spas" with their dorky music and feudal-Japan-level sense of ceremony.

I started thinking seriously about getting my face lasered or sandblasted by these pretentious mercenaries only recently. I had pretty bad adult acne, starting at about 22 and going up until like last year. I have no idea why! Second puberty? Maybe it'll happen again in my 30s or something when I reach my sexual prime or have to be photographed for the flap jacket of my cookbook, "Julieanne Swallows."

I tried the usual stuff -- Retin-A (which made me peel so badly that I had to cancel a date a week later, and ultimately did nothing), antibiotics (again, nothing) and finally, Accutane, which was just ridiculous, because I don't like being on birth control and had to do like, bi-weekly blood tests to ensure my doctor's office that I wasn't pregnant, which is humiliating during lengthy stretches of not having sex because your skin is so bad.

I'm guessing it just stopped for me because acne is like Mary Poppins: Nobody knows why it shows up and acts like an asshole. It just does! But if you're curious, here are some things that I did that I think may have helped. Caution: no science is involved here, whatsover.

- I stopped drinking soda and "soft drinks," full stop. I was never a regular soda person because I grew up with a vain dad and got used to the taste of TAB, but at my old job we had unlimited soda and Snapple and SOBE for free (yay, working for the Internet in 2009) and I would just kind of guzzle Diet Peach Iced Tea and Coke Zeros to make the day go by. I've since stopped, and so has my cystic acne. If I want something with flavor, I drink sassy water (SERIOUSLY THE BEST) or all the hot or cold green tea I want.

- I got old and boring. I cannot tell you how much deciding that I don't NEED to go out four nights a week has positively affected my life. I am lame, I realize. I've always been a bad sleeper, and I used to use that to my advantage. Now, while I don't always get a solid 8 or even 6 hours, I finish several books a week by getting into bed, sober and at a normal person time, and wake up not feeling like I want to die. Hooray!

- I accidentally started eating better. I don't live with a guy anymore and the takeout options in my neighborhood are "pizza." So I just cook for myself a lot, and meat is a pain in the ass. This means I basically live off of fruit and vegetables and legumes, with, okay, the occasional pizza thrown in. I also don't drink beer anymore, so, I'm like an accidental gluten free vegetarian? I only have meat when I go out to dinner, and usually not even then, unless it is on a day when I decide I must have nachos or a burger, because I totally have those days.

- I got a normal-ish skin routine. When my skin was bad, I tried EVERYTHING. Murad, vitamins, special skin-enhancing water (total bullshit), toothpaste, SeaBreeze, witch hazel. Urrrrbody has different skin but what works for me is this: Proactiv face wash (just the wash, I don't really use steps 2 and 3, go figure), oil free moisturizer like Boscia (which is GREAT but exPENsive), and the gentle kind of Cetaphil. If the Proactiv wash dries me out too much, I just switch to Cetaphil for a day, the bar, or the liquid.

That's it! When I remember to, I take prenatal vitamins (for skin and nails, and to terrify guys who snoop in my medicine cabinet), but otherwise, I've been pretty acne free for like a year or so, except for like a day or so before my period when I'll get a blemish or two.

The problem is I have thick, olive skin, so I'm left with a lot of dark spots. I didn't get any pitting, which is lucky, but I did get those little "pinprick" scars, which aren't as bad, because you can easily cover them with makeup and you can't really see them unless you get up rill close. The problem is, I still look pretty uneven without makeup. I'm also naturally a little red around the nose (thanks, Polish half of me) and oily (Greek half) but I'd like to go makeup free and still have an even skin tone, because I'm living in a dream world.

THUS! My quest for the Barefaced Beauty! (hurhkkghhhhh) that many of my friends are able to sport, and that magazines are always telling me guys prefer. Ha ha, shut up, magazines.

When I was in LA and had THE WORLD'S BEST INSURANCE, I went to a fancy dermatologist and inquired about fillers and peels. Peels, she told me, I should hold off on, because I was too young and my skin would hopefully regenerate itself after she cured my acne (she didn't! It went on for many moons. Never trust a doctor who says she's going to cure you.). I wasn't a candidate for fillers, she said, since those were more for people with the cratery kind of pitting. She suggested lots of exfoliating and maybe a light glycolic peel in the future.

So, recently I wondered if maybe, at the tender age of Pushing Thirty and a year of clearish skin under my belt, it wasn't time to peel.

Alas, spa peels are very pricy. Guess what's not very pricy? CHEMICALS YOU CAN BUY ON THE INTERNET!

Thus begins my misadventure.

I did some research (re: sorted Amazon results by "best review") and figured out that you can buy glycolic acid solutions in varying strengths, up to 50%. This stuff is really cheap. Like, $11.99 cheap.

Uh oh, right?

SO. I ordered the 35% solution from an ominously named company, fulfilled by Amazon, after reading a couple glowing customer reviews.

On a Friday afternoon, I applied a thin layer of glycolic acid solution -- as per the print out that came with my bottle of acid -- with a gauze pad, starting at the outside of the face and then moving inwards, skipping the eyes, under eyes, and mouth.

The directions say to leave the peel on for 3 to 10 minutes. I thought I was going to be all "hardcore" about it (don't!) and go for 10, but this shit hurts and apparently you should not mess with ACID ON YOUR SKIN. So I left it on for 5.

Then, per the directions, I splashed baking soda and water on my skin to neutralize the peel. Then I kept kind of flushing my face with cold water, which felt Not Cold Enough in the way ice cubes do on your tongue when you've eaten fiery hot peppers. My skin instantly turned whitish and horribly, unattractively bumpy, like a Boboli pizza or similar.

This is when I freaked out and went back and read all of the Amazon reviews, which suddenly all seemed sinister, in the manner of someone who has just taken drugs and now all happy faces look angry and sad.

Then I Googled "chemical peel burns." First off, never do this. Second, trying to get information from the Internet is hard because it goes something like this: "ALWAYS apply Neosporin to burned facial skin" followed immediately by "NEVER apply Neosporin to burned facial skin!!!!!" AUGH. Please stop Chinatowning me, internet!

I went to the web site of the company that makes the peel and dashed off an email them. They haven't written me back yet, but that's probably for the best, because it probably read like a drunken ex-girlfriend who your bros tell you to "just ignore."

Saturday, I woke up looking like I'd sloppily eaten chili, coupled with huge, horrible reddish-brown streaks all over my cheeks (ostensibly where I had swiped with the pad).

It was Kubler-Ross time.

I considered crying, because I am probably going to look like this forever. Then I was like, This is Biblical punishment for my vanity! I'm sorry Jesus! I will go to church if you make my face not look like this forever. Then I had a weird, denial swoon about it and had thoughts like, This is just like in "Bleak House" when Esther's face got ruined by smallpox and she resigned herself to dying alone, but then Dr. Woodcourt married her anyway, minor Dickens spoiler alert.

I decided to not leave the house at all and instead stayed in, watching Italian films, drinking gin and trying and failing to cry. This is, incidentally, also how Toxie spends most of his Saturday nights.

Finally, on Sunday, my friend texted to see if I wanted to go to this guy's garage in Poughkeepsie to see some taxidermy. They found him on Craigslist, and he had facial tattoos. Well, OK, if there was anybody who was going to understand me, it was this guy. I slathered on some oil-free moisturizer and caked on some of my rarely-used "too close for missiles, switching to guns" makeup (Bobbi Brown Oil-Free Even Finish Compact Foundation -- covers like a dream, except during a nightmare where your face is all fucking burnt because you voluntarily wiped acid on it).

What happens when you put makeup on super dry skin inevitably happened over the course of the day. It kind of looked like I got dragged behind a car, on my face, which was especially nice when, later that evening, I ran into a cute guy I occasionally make out with. HI! DO YOU LIKE MY NEW FACE? PS I'M HARVEY DENT. LET'S KISS SO MUCH.

"You can't even see it!" said my friends.

"You can't even see it!" I said to the mirror.

"Oh, Julia, why you do to your face?" said the guy at my deli, where I was buying candy at 11 PM last night. Did you guys know that there's a new "sharing size" of M&M's that's supposed to be a wider bag made for two people but also functions as a big-mouth bag for one super facially burned person? It's true.

Now it's Monday and most of the redness is gone, thank goodness, although much of the streakiness remains, and my skin is so dry that it hurts to smile. The good news is that I will never smile again.

I'm told via Yahoo! Answers and every FAQ I can get my hands on that this will all eventually "slough off," but that if it doesn't, I should use a dark spot fading product like Youth Code, which I haven't tried yet but gets good reviews and is pretty cheap.

In conclusion, my sex life, probably.

Here, in my humble opinion, is who should try an at-home peel:

  • idiots.
  • vain nightmare morons.
  • people who want to toy with fate but don't have the money to sky dive.
  • people who have an old lover coming to town they don't want to sleep with.
  • nobody