When I hear the phrase “facial peel,” the first image that comes to mind is Samantha Jones. My thoughts instantly careen to that episode of Sex and the City (season 5, I believe) where Ms. Jones receives a pricey chemical peel, hoping it will make her fresh-faced and glowy for Carrie Bradshaw’s book launch party the following day. But much to everyone’s horror, Jones is left with a searing, inflamed monstrosity on her face—an image that has haunted many a beauty lover’s nightmares since the episode aired in 2002.
So when the opportunity to receive a two-minute glycolic peel came up, I was eager but hesitant. Dr. Neal Schultz, New York City-based dermatologist and founder of BeautyRx, was hosting a “pop-up peel bar” at a makeup studio called Blushington, very close to Byrdie's L.A. HQ. Schultz is known for his in-office peels that last a mere two minutes and use a 40% glycolic formula to give the skin a deep but lightning-fast exfoliation. Those dealing with dullness, discoloration, clogged pores, and other skin concerns can all benefit. What’s more, the treatment promises zero recovery time—no inflammation, no peeling. The formula is specially pH-adjusted and buffered to ensure that “it’s strong and effective but gentle.” In-office with Schultz, the treatment runs about $225. But at the “peel bar” (which is held five days a week at NYC’s Butterfly Studio Salon, in addition to sporadic pop-ups), you get the same exact thing for just $50. You’re out the door in 15 minutes, and you're guaranteed to sport an instant glow that lasts for days.
Sadly, I suffer from a lack of radiance (curse that substandard circulation!). I’ve recently started incorporating a glycolic acid serum into my anti-aging routine. So the idea of a drive-by peel intrigued me. But I had to wonder: What kind of results can you really get from a two-minute treatment? Is suffering Samantha Jones-style truly a thing of the past?
I decided to take the leap and sign up for the two-minute peel. To see the process and final results, keep scrolling.
When I arrived at Blushington for the pop-up peel bar, its bright, inviting atmosphere immediately put me at ease. I was afraid the environment would seem clinical. But surrounded by soft pink chairs, chandeliers, and makeup products, I felt right at home. As instructed, I came bare-faced. I was assured the results would be so instant and pain-free I could get my makeup done right afterward. In my opinion, whoever decided to host the peel at a makeup studio was a very smart salesman.
A jovial skincare technician walked me through the process. First, he ran a cleansing towelette over my face to remove any excess makeup, oil, and moisturizer. Then, he set a timer for two minutes. As we discussed the terrible traffic and gorgeous weather stereotypical of L.A., the technician dipped several cotton balls into a bowl of glycolic solution and applied it to my face. The formula isn't pure glycolic acid, he assured me. It's a proprietary concoction infused with anti-inflammatory ingredients like lavender and willowherb, which soothe the skin. (Evidently, there were neither of these items in Samantha's peel.) The formula took 10 years and feedback from over 55,000 in-office peels to become what it is now.
"You'll start to feel what we call a tolerable tingle," the technician informed me. And sure enough, within about 30 seconds, a prickly sensation overcame my face. It didn't exactly hurt; it felt more like tiny pins and needles buzzing across my skin. I was seated in front of a mirror, so I could see that my face wasn't red or irritated. But I didn't have long to analyze it, because as quickly as the tingle emerged, the technician was already removing the product from my face. "That's it!" he said. "We're done." They weren't kidding. Two minutes goes by shockingly fast, even with a chemical peel on your face.
The technician gently cleansed my skin with water until the prickly feeling subsided. Then, he instructed me to bend my middle finger and run the back of it up and down my cheek. "This is the most sensitive part of the finger," he said. "You'll get a real feel for the texture of your skin."
My face was incredibly smooth. After all, its top layer had just been removed in about half the time it takes to listen to Beyoncé's "Sorry." At that moment, I couldn't tell if it looked different, but it certainly felt softer than it had in recent memory.
"You should definitely see a difference when you wake up tomorrow," the technician promised. It's typical that the second and third days reveal the most noticeable results.
Post-peel, I was told to be vigilant about sunscreen application, since my new layer of skin was more sensitive to the sun. It's also important to keep your skincare routine simple for seven to 10 days after the treatment—just gentle cleanser, toner, moisturizer, and SPF—as not to irritate the skin. After 10 days, I could opt to maintain my glow with the help of Dr. Schultz's at-home peel kit ($70). This includes a trio of products with increasing glycolic acid concentrations to use nightly over the course of six weeks.
Feeling groovy and optimistic about my results, I thanked my friendly technician, received a quick makeup touch up, and went on my glowy way. My dead skin was gone, and I didn't miss it.
The next day, I woke up like this. In the morning, my skin normally looks puffy and some shade of ghostly gray. But post-peel, I was actually content with my makeup-free complexion. I didn't have any blemishes or discolored acne scarring at the time, so I can't speak to peel's effectiveness for those concerns. But it definitely induced a subtle, natural radiance.
I wanted the results to last forever. I was so attached to waking up with healthy-looking skin. In reality, my post-peel glow remained for about three days. For how quick and painless the experience was, I would absolutely do it again the day before an important event. If the peel bar were a permanent L.A. fixture, I might even go in for monthly treatments.
In the weeks since my peel, I've reintroduced a low concentration glycolic acid serum into my nighttime skincare routine. But having gone all the way up to 40%, it doesn't quite feel like enough anymore. My plan is to experiment with upping my glycolic-acid dose and to go in for another two-minute peel the next chance I get.
After years of fearing an icky, irritated nightmare, I might just be a chemical peel convert. I think Samantha Jones might even be jealous.
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