My skin before (left) and after (right) my chemical peel. Courtesy Photo

Chemical peels have a reputation that precedes them.

When most women hear the term, they think of the burned, peeling, beet-red horror that Samantha Jones experienced in a fabled episode of "Sex and The City."

And given my olive-toned complexion, which is more susceptible to scarring and permanent pigmentation changes at the hands of an unskilled practitioner than lighter skin tones, I avoid chemical peels the way vegetarians keep away from meat.

But when PCA Skin called me with a complimentary offer to try one of their next-generation peels, it was time to reconsider.

With over twenty years in the medical and clinical market as a peel formulator, PCA Skin is identified in medical textbooks as the first maker of blended chemical products.

Taking the opposite approach of beauty companies who race to launch the latest "life-changing" ingredient,
chief scientist and dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Linder says PCA Skin's philosophy is that slow and steady wins the race.

"We take a progressive approach to skincare. You don't just go in and get a major peel. You slowly work up to it. It's like running a marathon -- you would never just do it cold, but you would build up with training sessions until you could handle it," Dr. Linder told me.

And care is taken so that your trainer -- or certified consultant -- knows what she's doing. Before they can order the products, a skin pro must take an eight hour class to learn exactly how to apply the peel, which clients are -- and are not -- candidates for the treatments, and how to customize the formula to individual skin types.

"If we focus on making the skin more healthy, then beauty follows," says Dr. Linder.

With a few fading pigmented spots on my left cheek and above my top lip leftover from a past breakouts, I headed to the Skin Laser & Surgery Specialists of New York & New Jersey with cautious hopes.

Medical aesthetician Sophia Phan was my expert, and she led me into a soothing spa-like peel experience, complete with soft lights, massage bed, terry robe and facial massage. It was big on the zen-factor and light on the medical feel, with no fluorescent lights shining in my face and a luxurious, padded bed underneath me instead of the usual crunchy, white sheeting. For a treatment that can cost anywhere from $100 to $250 depending on the area of the country and complexity of your peel, the added pampering is a welcome treat.

When I was all prepped for the Sensi Peel that Phan personalized for my skin type and the results that I wanted -- a complexion refresher without too much peeling -- I was asked to rate the tingling from a scale of one to ten.

One layer of peel had me at a one. The second painted-on layer touched a slightly more tingly three and a half. And that's where we stopped.

A glance in the hand-held mirror while still laying down revealed instantly brightened skin, like I had turned on a light in front of my face. I was intrigued.

Over the next few days, I noticed with excitement that I needed less and less concealer to hide those pesky spots. After seven days, all but the darkest had disappeared, and a touch of cover up is all I need for coverage now, versus the foundation and concealer I relied on before.

A patient immediately following a peel treatment, showing dewy skin and little redness. Courtesy Photo

Yet most surprisingly, the peel didn't make my skin peel. Not even a little. There was no reason to use any of my stored excuses to friends for the flakes I had imagined would appear. ("Too much time spent in the sun at the beach!" was in my pocket and ready to go.)

Dr. Linder says the lack of peeling is a common, and desired, result.

"People don't realize that you don't have to peel with a peel. They mistakenly believe that if you don't peel, you didn't get enough of a treatment. The opposite is true -- as your skin becomes healthier, you'll actually find that you peel less with treatments," says Dr. Linder.

However, I was sent home with a post-peel procedure kit filled with travel-sized goodies meant to soothe skin if I did peel -- which is offered complimentary by some PCA providers who incorporate the cost into the price of a peel, while others may charge about $18 for it.

Who knew you could have gain without pain -- or peel?

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