There's no question about it: Everyone needs a good dermatologist. Not just for the life-saving skin checks, but for the instant glow of their in-office products and treatments that can be tough to capture at home. One of the most popular of these transformative treatments: the chemical peel. They're strong, so real chemical peels are only available from the pros—but there are at-home chemical peels that capture the same effects on a smaller, safer scale.
How do chemical peels work?
Chemical peels vary in strength and ingredients, but most aim to deeply exfoliate the skin to reduce fine lines (opens in new tab) and wrinkles, improve brightness (opens in new tab), and lift away unwanted discoloration and brown spots. (opens in new tab)
When choosing a DIY peel, it's smart to consider your skin type, says NYC-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman. "Look at the acids in the peel, and make sure they target the issue you are trying to remedy."
How are at-home chemical peels different from in-office treatments?
At-home chemical peels formulas have lower concentrations of the same acids, making them ideal for slathering them on yourself. "In-office peels have stronger concentrations of acids, meaning greater immediate results," says Engelman. "These need to be administered by a licensed practitioner, because of the potential to burn or irritate the skin," she says. At-home peels are safer and milder.
Are there risks to at-home chemical peels?
It's critical to follow the directions on over-the-counter chemical peel products. Warns dermatologist Dennis Gross, who pioneered the at-home chemical peel: "Due to a wave of how-to YouTube videos and consumer accessibility to professional products through vendors like Amazon, I am seeing more and more instances of serious damage done to skin—all in a patient's own bathroom," He notes: "But higher concentrations of acid must be administered by a licensed professional; they can damage skin if they're not neutralized properly."
So what concentration of acid is safe? Well, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel recommends that companies use glycolic and lactic alpha-hydroxy acids in concentrations of 10 percent or less, in solutions with a pH of 3.5 or greater, when formulating consumer products. That said, many products feature higher doses.
"The biggest challenge is to not overwork the skin," says Engelman." Excessive exfoliation will expose skin, weaken skin-barrier function and trigger inflammation. If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity and irritation."
During our reporting on at-home skincare treatments, we noted that two chemical peel products labeled with the same acid concentration won't necessarily affect your complexion in the same way. The benefits, effects, and risks of each product comes down to a range of factors, including the ingredients; whether the acid is buffered with an ingredient to increase the pH level; and how long he product remains on the skin. It should go without saying, but leave the chemical peels that are formulated for salons and spas to the professionals. Also, bear in mind that chemical peels will make your skin more sensitive to sun damage, so make sure to slather on the SPF.
Perfect Image Pineapple Pumpkin Enzyme Peel
Unassuming? Yes. Highly effective? You better believe it. Derived entirely from fruits and vegetables, the acids here tend to be gentler for first-time peelers. Papaya and pineapple's naturally occurring enzymatic alpha hydroxy acid is tempered by the protective qualities in pumpkin, which is rich in beta-carotene, vitamins A, C, zinc, and potassium.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Engelmen says that a peel that contains BHAs, like this 10-minute berry-hued option, is ideal for treating acne. "BHAs, like salicylic and beta hydroxy, are best for issues like large pores, blackheads and pimples. These acids have keratin-dissolving properties that can breakdown dead skin cell build-up and decongest pores."
For Sensitive Skin
Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel
If chemical peels can leave you raw and red, this little bottle might be just the solution. Shake it up to blend the two liquids: A heavy-duty combo of glycolic, lactic, and malic acids that loosen the bonds of dead cells to clarify skin, and a soothing elixir of antioxidant holy basil and omega-rich jojoba seed oil to calm the acid's effects.
it Cosmetics Hello Results Baby-Smooth Glycolic Peel + Caring Oil
A pricey offering that's absolutely worth it. What's cool is that the bi-phasic elixir offers two benefits. The pinky layer is a potent glycolic acid blend to slough away dead skin cells. The golden layer? Nourishing argan oil. Shake it up and smooth it on–the blend of the two mean it's gentle (and effective) enough to use daily.
The Cult Favorite
Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads
In some regards, these fan-favorite peel pads from Bliss—and their whopping 1,200 Amazon reviews—are rather simple. Ten percent glycolic acid time-releases overnight, targeting fine lines, dark marks, and blemishes. It's a particularly well-tolerated formulation thanks to the addition of witch hazel, licorice and calendula flower, which quell inflammation.
Obagi Clinical Blue Brilliance Triple Acid Peel
The latest from Obagi—a professional brand—does not mess around. Three acids (glycolic, salicylic, lactic) combine for one of the strongest and safest exfoliating treatments you can get over-the-counter.
For Fine Lines
Kate Somerville Liquid Exfolikate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment
This cult-favorite formula is powered by 10 percent AHAs and a gift basket's worth of pumpkin, papaya, and pineapple fruit enzymes. To keep things on the gentle side, honey and tea extract join the party to quell irritation.
The Quick Fix
Sobel Skin Rx 30% Glycolic Acid Peel Concentrate
This 30 percent concentrate of glycolic acid only stays on for two minutes and is especially beloved by those who suffer from acne, acne scars, or melasma.
M-61 PowerGlow Peel
Salicylic and glycolic acids target acne breakouts in one measly minute, and this formula has calming effects built right in. Chamomile works to stifle the standard redness most peels bring on.
The Heavy Hitter
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
This option has a whopping seven acids—the original contains only five—in a two-step peel pack. The first pad contains all the heavy-hitters. Just allow it to dry for two minutes, then follow with the second, which is full of anti-aging treatments like retinol, vitamin E and antioxidant resveratrol.
Thrive Causemetics Overnight Sensation Gentle Resurfacing Peel
The big news here is twofold: First, a vegan formulation of lactic acid, glycolic acid, phytic acid and salicylic acid may appeal to animal lovers, while the plant-derived retinol alternative, bakuchiol, works to provide long-term, environmentally sustainable benefits, too. So you can have your face and planet, too.
For All Skin Types
Glo Skin Beauty Pro 5 Liquid Exfoliant
Sometimes, a total complexion overhaul feels necessary. Glo's liquid exfoliator contains a brightening complex including mandelic, lactic, gluconic malic, and tartaric acid to target concerns like acne, dullness, and fine lines.
For Brighter Skin
Sanitas Skincare Brightening Peel Pads
A one-two-three punch of glycolic, salicylic and lactic acid provides exfoliation, brightening, and cell turnover for a fresh and renewed complexion. Simply swipe along your face and décolletage and allow to dry fully before layering on your nightly products. The triple-acid blend is gentle enough to linger on your skin and keep working overnight.
For Textured Skin
Olay Masks Vitamin C + AHA Resurfacing Peel Vitamin C
This power couple is affordable and super effective: dissolve dead skin cells with the resurfacing mask, then apply the activator on top to create a crystal-filled foam to buff away dull skin.
StackedSkincare TCA Lactic & Glycolic Face Peel
While this potent liquid would be well suited for stubborn lines, twentysomethings can still achieve radiance and a healthy glow from its lactic and glycolic acids.
Pacifica Glow Baby Brightening Peel Pads
If liking a peel because it smells good is wrong, I don't want to be right. Here, you're getting a ten percent alpha and beta hydroxy acid blend, to clear pores and retexturize, plus the soothing (and pleasantly scented) benefit of apple extract.
For Easy Application
O.R.G. Skincare Mineral Flash Exfoliating Peel Spray
Come on, it doesn't get much simpler than a spray bottle. This peel is nourishing, too; it contains jojoba oil, grapefruit seed, and mugwort extract to treat skin while it exfoliates.
For Mature Skin
Natura Bisse Glyco Extreme Peel
Supercharged with five different AHAs to target signs of aging on the surface and at deeper levels of the skin, this is strong enough to visibly brighten skin without irritating it. According to Dr. Engelman, AHAs like glycolic acid are ideal for anti-aging: "It's the smallest acid in particle size, meaning it is the most effective in breaking down cellular bonds to reveal new cells."
For Dark Spots
Juice Beauty Peel
It might smell like an orchard, but don't underestimate this alpha and beta hydroxy acid formula. It'll help lift dark spots and discoloration cultivated from years of sun damage.
For Sensitive Skin
Naturopathica Pumpkin Purifying Enzyme Peel
This pretty blue jar has more pumpkin enzymes than a Halloween gourd, and functions as a retinol-substitute if you're looking for a more natural exfoliation. And added lactic acid helps to clear congested pores for a smoother visage.
Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel
Caviar lime is naturally rich in AHAs, and when combined with retinol, makes for an ultra-brightening treatment that gives an airbrushed look to pores.
Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
This facial peel will go to work when your head hits the pillow, so you'll wake up with glowy, healthy-looking skin. While you're in dreamland lactic acid, glycolic acid, and vitamin A come together to exfoliate, brighten, and hydrate, and ingredients like allantoin, rosehip, and vitamin E soothe the skin.
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel
If you're looking to unclog your pores, take a peek at this peel. In just 10 minutes it'll not only remove buildup, but it'll smooth, brighten, and reduce the appearance of pores and wrinkles on your complexion.
goop GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
Give your skin a boost while you catch some Z's with these peel pads. Swipe the dual-sided pad over your face, neck, and chest before you head to bed and wake up with smooth, glowing skin.
The INKEY List Apple Cider Vinegar Acid Peel
This affordable acid peel uses glycolic acid, multi-fruit acid, and apple cider vinegar to give you a smoother, more even complexion. And it also reduces redness and prevents new breakouts. Even better? It only takes 10 minutes.
Sephora Collection Resurfacing Peel Mask
From dark spots and clogged pores to blemishes, fine lines, and wrinkles—this peel tackles them all. The 13-percent AHA, BHA, and PHA mask works to reduce the previously mentioned skin concerns and give you a radiant glow.
Taylore Glynn is the Beauty and Health Editor at Marie Claire, covering skincare, makeup, fragrance, wellness, and more. If you need her, she’s probably roasting a chicken, flying solo at the movies, or drinking a bad Negroni at JFK.
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