Do you miss your derm? Me too. Not just for the life-saving skin checks dermatologists provide, but for the instant glow of their in-office products and treatments that can be tough to capture at home in my bathroom. One of the most popular of these transformative treatments: the chemical peel. Chemical peels vary in strength and ingredients, but most aim to deeply exfoliate the skin to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve brightness, and lift away unwanted discoloration and brown spots. They're strong, so these game-changers are only available from the pros—but there are at-home chemical peels that capture the same effects on a smaller, safer scale. These 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 NYC-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman. "These need to be administered by a licensed practitioner, because of the potential to burn or irritate the skin," she says.
Though at-home chemical peels are safer, it's still important not to overdo it: "The biggest challenge is to not overwork the skin. Excessive exfoliation will expose skin, weaken skin-barrier function and trigger inflammation," says Engelman. If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity and irritation." And when choosing a DIY peel, it's smart to consider your skin type, Engelman suggests. "Look at the acids in the peel, and make sure they target the issue you are trying to remedy." Ahead, our favorite at-home chemical peels to choose from.
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."
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
The latest from exfoliating mega-star Dr. Dennis Gross contains 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
While this potent liquid would be well suited for stubborn lines, twenty-somethings can still achieve radiance and a healthy glow from its lactic and glycolic acids.
This pretty blue jar has more pumpkin enzymes than a Halloween gourd, and functions as a retinol-substitute if your'e looking for a more natural exfoliation. And added lactic acid helps to clear congested pores for a smoother visage.
Salicylic and glycolic targets acne breakouts in one measly minute, and it's got calming effects built right in. Chamomile works to stifle the standard redness most peels bring on.
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.