Ageism Forced Me to Undergo a Chemical Peel
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Work & Money

I Couldn't Change My Age to Find a Job

So I changed my face.

beauty, peels, skincare
Arina Shabanova

The pain reminded me of the first few seconds after you badly cut your hand, when the throbbing finally kicks in. I’m referring to my experience with a chemical peel.

In December of last year I became one of 1.3 million women who had this peel in 2019, according to a report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The group found that it’s the third most popular minimally invasive cosmetic procedure. OK, maybe I've exaggerated about the extent of the pain. But it is true that during the first few hours after the doctor applied the acid solution to my face, I wanted to cut my head off. As the pain intensified, I wanted to cut the doctor’s head off. And when my husband said, “Well, you know how low your pain tolerance is,” I wanted to relieve him of his head and a few other body parts.

Why did I go through this? I was sure I was discriminated against when it came to job hunting because I looked older than my age, 71. I wasn’t ready to stop working, and most other women my age never seemed to appear as old as me. My face looked like it had deep wrinkles (makeup would fill the crevices), probably due to smoking. And, thanks to years of tanning, brown spots had sprouted all over it as well. So I took the plunge. I had read that this procedure could make your skin look younger and healthier, and that medium or deep peels could remove the wrinkles that had taken up residence on my face. Eschewing all procedures and growing old gracefully is one thing; losing your livelihood is another.

It was the pain after I got home that afternoon which put me to the test. One of the doctor’s assistants had recommended alternating Tylenol, Advil and aspirin for pain relief, but that wasn’t doing it for me. I think that’s what she said, anyway. I had been so nervous before the procedure — it was my face, for God’s sake. I decided to call the doctor to ask if I could take an oxycodone on top of the four pills he had given me at the beginning of the procedure, one of which must have put me into a twilight sleep. He said yes.

I hadn’t asked the doctor what the pills were, or what type of acid he’d be using (such as glycolic, salicylic or trichloroacetic), which is not like me. I usually want to know everything about any medical procedure. But my regular dermatologist had recommended this procedural dermatologist, and a friend saw him every fall to have brown spots — from sun damage — removed.

More reasons to put my full confidence in him? He’s done peels on at least two of the women in his office, and they looked great. Not only that, he’s lectured other dermatologists at conferences. He wouldn’t actually be lecturing others if he stunk at this, right?

I can’t say whether I was truly confident or just nervous and didn’t want to know everything, but if I had it to do over, I’d ask a lot more questions. I remember a brush gently stroking my face during a few seconds of consciousness, and that’s it. I don’t even know if I had a medium or a deep peel. (There’s light, medium and deep.)

The doctor told me my face would throb awhile that afternoon, but that it would be gone by dinnertime. Instead I experienced actual pain, like I imagined going 10 rounds with Mike Tyson would feel. I was glad I had an oxycodone on hand from my son’s appendix surgery years earlier.

I took it and fell asleep, and when I awoke the pain was gone. The next few days and weeks weren’t bad at all. Three times a day for about a week I took a shower and washed my face with baby shampoo and then a special soap containing salicylic acid and charcoal. The outer layer of skin peeled off during those showers but it wasn’t painful.

Afterward I slathered my face with Vaseline and slept with a towel over my pillow. I stayed inside for just under 15 days, if I recall, and saw the doctor once during that time so he could check how things were going. I saw him two or three more times, AND when we agreed that the acid didn’t take in two spots, he reapplied the solution to those areas. I had to deal with the pain again, but this time I didn’t need an oxycodone, and the skin peeled quickly.

Then the coronavirus hit New York and New Jersey with a vengeance, and our doctors stopped in-person visits. The last thing his office staff had talked about was my starting Retin-A, so I returned in July when he started seeing patients in person again.

The reactions to my new skin (which is what I now sport) have been interesting. At a dental appointment soon afterward, a technician I’ve known for years gave me a confused look and said, “I think I know you but I don’t remember your name.” I laughed and mentioned the peel.

When three other female employees overheard me, they crowded around with questions and to take a closer look. My friends still comment on how much younger and more awake I appear, and how much healthier my skin looks.

I paid $4,000 for the peel — and now that I wear a mask when I go out, my face isn’t even visible except around the eyes. Still, was it worth it? Without a doubt. I’d do it again, even with the pain.

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