Peeling back time
But dermatologists not only have prescription lotions and creams, they also offer products and procedures that they say abrade the skin so it grows back smoother and without as many of its old wrinkles and brown spots.
Options include the chemical peel, where the doctor or an assistant puts an acid on your skin that causes the top layer or layers to peel off. Daihung Do, a dermatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, recommends peels every two to three weeks for a few months, and then a few peels a year to maintain the skin's appearance. Peels come in varying strengths, but he avoids the harsh ones. "We like to keep it so the patient doesn't look like a molting insect," he says.
Some chemical peels are very strong and will, intentionally, cause a second-degree burn, says James Zins, head of plastic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. It takes two weeks before you can even wear makeup to cover the redness, warns Zins, who performs the procedure. (Check out the Cleveland Clinic website for detailed information on many cosmetic skin treatments.) Although these peels are very effective in erasing fine lines and discoloration, they must be done with surgical-like caution, says Bailey, of the Personal Care Product Council.
Cost: From $150 to $300 for a superficial chemical peel to $2,500 to $6,000 for a deep chemical peel.
Frequency: Every two to three weeks for a few months, then several times a year to maintain.
Recovery time: At least two weeks of redness.
Heads up: Make sure your dermatologist or aesthetician is licensed and experienced. Every year unlicensed or untrained people performing cosmetic procedures cause severe burns, infection and permanent scarring, federal authorities warn.
Abrading those wrinkles
Dermatologists will combine chemical peels with a procedure called microdermabrasion, so the chemical penetrates better. By essentially roughing up the skin, microdermabrasion "takes away the dull finish and gives you a shinier look — it's harmless," says dermatology nurse McKeehen. Dermatologists' take on microdermabrasion is that it is a good exfoliant and it also may boost effectiveness of chemical peels. Lawrence Samuels, chief of dermatology at St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis, explains that microdermabrasions "chemically exfoliate dead skin cells, whereas most chemical peels actually stimulate cells down in the lower levels of the skin to begin to grow and repair themselves." Often, aestheticians will combine a microdermabrasion with a peel, he says. A cautionary note: Like other skin procedures, it could spread a wart or cold sore virus from one part of your face to another.
Cost: $70 to $250 per treatment.
Frequency: Weekly for five to 12 weeks or monthly.
Recovery time: A few hours of redness, swelling; occasional bruising.