First, they take a scalpel and scrape the top layer of skin from your face. Then, they spread acid where they just finished scraping.
Some kind of torture, you ask, aimed at getting prisoners to talk?
Not even close. It's a skin care treatment designed to remove acne or other facial scars, tighten wrinkles and heal skin damage caused by over-exposure to the sun.
Not only do women freely submit to this treatment, called BioMedic MicroPeel, they shell out $75 at a time for the pleasure. And they say it doesn't hurt.
In fact, parts of the process actually are refreshing, they say.
"It feels great," said Barbara Johnson, a 39-year-old mother of two from Millersville who was having her first minipeel done yesterday. "My skin feels really great. I can feel the difference."
Chemical peels have been around for years, but Dr. David H. Lowe, an Annapolis plastic surgeon, began offering them in October with an acid that is not as strong as those that have been traditionally used for chemical peels.
With more traditional acids, clients often need a week or more to let their faces heal, said Dr. Lowe, who, with his partners, C. William Strawberry and D. Paul Buhrer, has offices in Annapolis, Glen Burnie and Crofton.
But with the new minipeel, clients can go back to work the same day, said Dr. Lowe.
"There's virtually no side effects. There's no down time. That's the beauty of it," he said.
But to get the desired effect, clients generally need four to six treatments spread out over a number of weeks. The cost comes to about $500 when the accompanying products that must be used at home are included.
Plastic surgeons in Pikesville and Potomac offer the same treatment. Similar treatments are available in beauty salons, but salons do not scrape the face first, and they use acids weaker than those offered in a doctor's office, explained Pamela Zagula, who performs as many as six or seven minipeels a day in Dr. Lowe's office.
Ms. Zagula is a licensed practical nurse and one of three aestheticians -- sort of like a beautician for your face -- who administer minipeels at Dr. Lowe's office.
Dr. Lowe said he sees 30 to 50 clients a week who want the process done. More than 95 percent of them are women in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Many have wanted to do something about the appearance of their skin for a long time, but were afraid of getting a traditional chemical peel, Dr. Lowe said.
"They were afraid of the possible side-effects and the down time," he explained.
With a deeper chemical peel, a client's skin can become very sensitive to sun exposure and might have a pigmentation change if exposed to direct sunlight afterward.
Ms. Johnson said she had a light peel almost two years ago and couldn't go out of the house for three or four days.
"For three days, I had really intense peeling. It looked really bad," she said. "Unless you want to go out looking like Freddie Krueger, you have to count on several days [to recover]."
She decided to try the minipeel to improve her skin texture because her neighbor, an aesthetician, had one and liked the results. Ms. Zagula said she tries to tailor her treatments to each client's needs. Some need a stronger acid than others, or need it left on longer. A lot depends on the skin type, she said.
After planing Ms. Johnson's face, Ms. Zagula applied the acid -- a glycolic acid at 30 percent strength.
She explained that she always starts with a weak solution and works up from there.
When a client's face starts turning pink, she neutralizes the acid with another cream.
She then rubbed a small ball of dry ice rapidly over Ms. Johnson's face and ended with a smoothing cream.
Ms. Johnson was satisfied. "Oh, gosh, yes, it feels very smooth," she said enthusiastically.
But Ms. Zagula warned of the risks involved in applying acids to the skin.
"If done improperly, it can scar," she said.