Designed to help shed dull layers of skin in favor of fresh skin cells, the chemical peel will rejuvenate your face and complexion — when used correctly. But, the price of regular spa and salon treatments can add up quickly, and the best at-home chemical peels are a fantastic way to reap the benefits of a chemical peel at an affordable price. So, we asked a dermatologist: What makes for a good at-home chemical peel?
Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says when it comes to choosing an effective at-home chemical peel, stick to five ingredients:
- Beta-hydroxyacids (or salicylic acid). BHAs will unclog pores and clear up acne lesions.
- Glycolic and lactic acids (AHAs). AHAs remove dead skin cells in a more gentle manner than salicylic acid.
- Fruit enzymes. Fruit enzymes like papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple will leave your skin glowing.
- Retinol. Retinol helps boost collagen production, promoting smoother skin.
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA). Dr. Shainhouse says TCA can penetrate deeper layers of skin, allowing newer, smoother skin cells to surface.
“At-home peels are generally milder than professional grade peels, but they do contain many of the same ingredients,” says Dr. Shainhouse. She warns that an at-home peel is still a peel, and that they come with the risk of burns and irritation — especially if they aren’t applied correctly or aren’t suited for your particular skin type or condition.
Once the peel is off, protecting your freshly-exfoliated skin is of the utmost importance. “Any peel will leave your skin more prone to UV-damage and sunburn,” cautions Dr. Shainhouse. She recommends using a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide with at least SPF 30 for the week following your peel — since mineral formulas reduce the risk of irritation. She also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed sun protection hat for extra coverage.
The seven best at-home chemical peels, below, each contain effective ingredients that leave skin brighter, clearer, and more even-toned. But, be sure to always read labels carefully and remove the peel immediately if you experience discomfort.
1. A Budget-Friendly Liquid Peel: The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%
The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%, 30ml$13|
A cult-favorite peel from a popular brand, The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution contains a heady mix of three acids: glycolic, salicylic, and lactic. It unclogs pores, exfoliates skin, and encourages an overall healthier, brighter looking complexion. To prevent irritation, The Ordinary added a botanical ingredient called Tasmanian Pepperberry into the formula, so this peel should be safe enough for all skin types to use. Leave it on for no longer than 10 minutes before rinsing off and following with a moisturizer.
What fans say: “Excellent at-home peel, in between facials! This peeling solution is excellent for mild chemical exfoliation on a weekly basis. I’m an esthetician in CA and I regularly recommend this peel to my clients for at home use between facials.”
2. Splurge-Worthy Peel Pads: Exuviance Performance Peel AP25
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25$75|
No need to fumble around with droppers with these glycolic acid chemical peel pads, which can be used twice weekly (as long as your skin isn’t too sensitive) to minimize pore size and make skin appear truly radiant. It might seem a little pricey, but this six-week supply of peels is a favorite amongst Amazon reviewers. Many say this is one of the best peels they’ve ever used and that you’ll see results in as little as one month (but make sure you’re using a quality moisturizer because these can dry out your skin).
What fans say: “The best peel I have ever tried. Even after a first time I saw a result. My pores became smaller and my face is so smooth. This product is really worth buying. I recommend to everyone who has problems with big pores.”
3. A Gentle Peel With Retinol: Perfect Image Glycolic Acid 30% Chemical Peel
Perfect Image Glycolic Acid 30 % Peel$30|
The retinal in this at-home chemical peel promotes collagen and re-textures skin to address any aging concerns, while 30% glycolic acid penetrates deep into the skin to exfoliate dead skin cells. If you’re worried about your skin drying out from peels, soothing ingredients like green tea extract and chamomile provide antioxidant and anti-bacterial benefits while moisturizing and calming skin.
What fans say: “I have been getting glycolic treatments for several years at spas, clinics, etc. This was the first time I decided to try and do it myself and was extremely pleased with the results I have seen using this product. I love the way my skin looks and feels after using it. I was so impressed I told my mother about it and gave her a treatment and now she is hooked. Its great to know that even you don’t have the money to get the treatments outside your home its possible to spend less and get the same results at home. I highly recommend using this.”
4. A Strong Peel With TCA: Skin Obsession 25% TCA Chemical Peel
Skin Obsession 25% TCA Chemical Peel$22|
The key ingredient in this chemical peel is trichloroacetic acid, a professional-level strength acid that boosts collagen, lightens pigmentation caused by sun damage, and improves skin tone and texture. This peel is only safe for light skin tones (there’s a risk of pigment change on darker skin) and peeling newbies are encouraged to start off with a 15 percent TCA formula before graduating to this — because it’s effective but no joke.
What fans say: “I have had many peels (of all kinds) done professionally at med spas but this was my first do-it-yourself time. Since I knew my skin could tolerate a peel I opted for the more medium strength option of TCA 25% with 5% Salicylic Acid. I loved it, and love the results!”
5. Great For Acne: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant$30
Stubborn acne, blackheads, and even hormonal cysts respond often well to this 2% Beta Hydroxy Acid chemical peel, which unclogs pores, exfoliates dead skin cells, and refines your skin’s texture. Unlike most other peels, this can be used daily as an exfoliant, but only if your skin isn’t easily irritated by salicylic acid.
What fans say: “I have been struggling with terrible acne for the past year now and it seemed like nothing else I used was helping. Home remedies, cleaning up my diet, detoxing, investing in high end products – literally nothing helped my acne that came out of nowhere. Then I tried this 2% bha product and my skin literally changed overnight. I went from having 20+ blemishes on my face to having ONE in a matter of a couple of days!”
6. Great For Dark Spots: Perfect Image 50% Lactic Acid Gel Peel
Perfect Image 50% Lactic Acid Gel Peel$30|
This lactic acid gel peel contains brightening ingredients that help fade dark spots and post-acne marks, and also work overtime to eliminate free radicals — among them you’ll find kojic acid, licorice, and bearberry extract. Because of the high level of lactic acid in this peel, it’s recommended that you try a less potent peel first — until your skin gets used to the ingredients.
What fans say: “This product was a wonderful addition to my skin care arsenal. My skin is noticeably smoother, toned with dark spots minimized. My face is much brighter and youthful.”
7. The Editor’s Choice: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Ask any beauty editor, esthetician, or skin care junkie what their favorite at-home peel is, and they’ll probably tell you Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Alpha Beta universal daily peels. The peel is actually a two-step process: First, you use the step 1 pad, which exfoliates skin and unclogs pores. Then, you apply the step 2 neutralizer, which nourishes skin to leave it clear, bright, and balanced. Together, they’re like a one-minute facial — and the results are impressive, according to the countless devoted fans.
Editor’s note: I use these peel pads regularly and love them. They can feel harsh for the first few uses, but the tingling or stinging you feel when you use them becomes less noticeable with regular use.
What fans say: “The best product of its kind. I’ve been a loyal user of the Dr. Gross daily peels. They burn and sting, some days more than others, but it’s worth every second. They do wonders to minimize pores, reduce red marks/acne discoloration and little imperfections. I went a few months without using them and my complexion took a noticeable turn for the worse. You don’t need to use them everyday, depending on the current state of your skin. Sometimes just a 2 or 3x a week touch up is all you need.”
By LISA FOGARTY