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Here’s the beautiful thing about peels: They can essentially address any and every complexion concern. Stressing over spots? A peel can help even your skin tone. Worried about wrinkles? Some peels have anti-aging benefits. Waging a battle against blemishes? Clear up pimples with a peel. (You get the picture.)
Still, if the idea of a peel conjures images of the Sex and the City episode where Samantha can’t be seen in public post-peel because her face is practically falling off, we don’t blame you. Peels have a reputation of being aggressive, and while sure, you can go pretty intense with an in-office peel, the beauty of at-home options is that they’re usually gentler (though still effective). The latest formulas blend all kinds of exfoliating ingredients and acids for the peeling part of the program, and couple those with other good-for-your-skin ingredients to leave your complexion more flawless than ever.
Check out our picks of the best chemical peels, with options for all skin types and issues.
Best Overall: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Gentle enough for daily use
Contains anti-aging ingredients
An oldie but a goodie, this holds somewhat of a cult-like status among beauty editors. And it’s easy to see why. It’s both gentle enough that you can use it daily (in fact, that’s its intended use), but contains a long list of proven, effective ingredients.
An at-home take on the uber-popular peels the celeb derm performs in his NYC office, this peel is a two-stepper. The first pad is full of five exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids; the second pad neutralizes the acids and also delivers anti-aging ingredients. Ideal for uneven tone, texture, wrinkles, or pores, this is pretty much peel perfection.
Type: Normal | Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Witch Hazel | Size: .07 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
Dissolves dead skin cells
Might not work on sensitive skin
Despite its affordable price tag, this peel packs the same powerful and proven active ingredients as many other pricier peels. Namely a combination of lactic and glycolic acid to help dissolve dead skin cells, and vitamin A, too.
Since the formula is also balanced with skin conditioning allantoin and vitamin E and is pH balanced, you don’t have to worry about irritation. Meant to be left on overnight and rinsed in the morning, it soaks into your skin fast, so you don’t have to worry about residue on your pillowcase, either.
Type: Mature | Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Vitamin A | Size: .5 or 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Soothing: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
Gives a smooth, elastic feel
Pump functionality could be better
Marula oil is a naturally-occurring oil derived from the marula tree. It's lightweight and non-comedogenic—the specific profile of fatty acids in marula oil is very similar to the oils naturally found in the skin.
This exfoliator touts a whopping 25% alpha hydroxy and 5% beta hydroxy combo, so you know it means business. It's powerful, yes, but it also boasts a skin-calming antioxidant blend to balance things out. Plus, it comes with the brand’s virgin marula oil, meant to be applied immediately after for even more soothing and hydrating benefits.
Type: Normal, Oily, Combination, Dry | Active Ingredients: 25% Alpha Hydroxy Acids, 2% BHA/Salicylic Acid | Size: 1.69 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Natural: Tata Harper Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask
Adds radiance and brightness
Tackles blocked pores and rough skin
All-natural, this peel mask also happens to be the winner in our 2019 Eco Beauty Awards. The key ingredients are beta hydroxy acid from white willow bark and pomegranate enzymes, though there are also plenty of other plant-based ingredients meant to help refine pores and soften skin, too (and 83% of the ingredients are from organic farming).
The classic way to use it is to leave it on (apply a thick layer) for 20 minutes up to three times a week, though you can also layer it with the brand’s regenerating cleanser for five minutes for a speedier solution.
Type: All | Active Ingredients: BHA from White Willow Bark and Pomegranate Enzymes | Size: 1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Acne: Savor Beauty Yuzu Lemonade Peel
Works in 30 seconds
Breaks down pore-clogging oil
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
Salicylic acid is one of the best blemish-busting ingredients out there, thanks to its ability to break down pore-clogging oil. It’s the star of the show here, where it’s also coupled with lactic acid, plus brightening ingredients such as vitamin c and lycopene. The nice thing about that? If you have any dark marks left over from old blemishes, this will help fade those. The citrusy scent (think lemon Italian ice) is a nice touch, and, perhaps best of all, it works in only 30 seconds.
Type: Oily to Normal | Active Ingredients: 2% Salicylic Acid, PHA, Yuzu Oil, Kakadu Plum | Size: .07 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Wrinkles: Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel
Brightens dull skin
Adds a glow
At work here is a 10% concentration of glycolic acid which earns top anti-aging marks not only for its exfoliating capabilities but for also stimulating collagen production, the protein responsible for firm, youthful skin. Caviar lime (an Australian fruit) acts another good source of other AHAs, and there’s also retinol in the formula for even more wrinkle-fighting benefits.
Type: Normal | Active Ingredients: 10% Glycolic Acid, 10% Phytic Acid, Retinol | Size: 1.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Oily Skin: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance AHA Intensive Peel
Gentle enough for sensitive skin
Contains natural exfoliants
A combo of exfoliating lactic acid and oil-busting salicylic acid do the exfoliating work here, as do enzymes from mushrooms. But what we like is the addition of kaolin, a top ingredient for helping to pull out impurities (ahem, excess oil) from the skin. Use it one to three times weekly, leaving it on for anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes, based on what works for your skin.
Type: All | Active Ingredients: Lactic Acid, Willow Bark Extract, Shea Nut Shell Powder | Size: 3.5 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Body: StackedSkincare TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel
Eradicates acne-causing bacteria
Doesn't have to be washed off
Breaking news: Peels aren’t just meant for your face. Address the skin below your chin with this pick, which has five different acids and is self-neutralizing (AKA doesn’t have to be rinsed off). Effective but super gentle—you can even use it if you have eczema—it’s perfect for smoothing out all and any unwanted bumps, spots, even body acne. Just apply a thin layer wherever it’s needed once to twice per week for flawless skin from head to toe.
Type: Normal | Active Ingredients: Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Trichloroacetic Acid, Glycerin, Propanediol, Salicylic Acid, Phytic Acid | Size: .5 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Tanning: M-61 PowerGlow Peel Gradual Tan
Full of natural ingredients
Tans while peeling
Tan could use a better color
What could make these speedy (60 second) peel pads even better? The addition of self-tanner, or course. Glycolic and salicylic acids work to exfoliate your skin, dissolving dead cells and making for a more even tan as the gradual tanner goes to work, giving you a subtle, sun-kissed glow. Use it three times a week, building up to the color you want; we loved how easy these were to use, and the results they delivered.
Type: All | Active Ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Overnight: goop Beauty Glycolic Acid Overnight Peel
Full of radiating, moisturizing fruit extracts
Intense overnight exfoliation
Not for sensitive skin
Who doesn’t want to wake up to more gorgeous skin? One night per week, swipe on this pad (bonus: minimal effort added to your bedtime routine) and let the potent level of glycolic acid plus fruit extracts get to work, retexturizing and brightening your skin. Just wash your face as usual when you wake up. Beauty sleep for the win.
Type: Normal, Oily, Combination, Dry | Active Ingredients: 15% Glycolic Acid, Fruit Extracts | Size: Kit | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What to Look For in At-Home Chemical Peels
Type of Peel
Glycolic, salicylic, and TCA are three basic at-home chemical peels. Glycolic peels are mild and ideal for treating acne, hyperpigmentation, and sun damage. Salicylic peels are ideal for people with oily, acne-prone skin. Finally, TCA peels penetrate the deepest and are effective at treating scarring or pigmentation issues.
You should consider side effects when you’re shopping for an at-home chemical peel. Some universal side effects of chemical peels include persistent redness, hyperpigmentation, skin discoloration, and scarring. This is important to prioritize if you have sensitive skin since different at-home chemical peels have different formulas, and therefore, different potential side effects.
At-home chemical peels can be designed to be worn overnight and rinsed the following morning or to be left on your face for as little as 30 seconds. Read the instructions of every at-home chemical peel you’re looking at if the thought of having a peel on your face for hours on end is unappealing (or vice versa).
What are the benefits of at-home chemical peels?
At-home chemical peels can be used to reduce signs of aging, treat acne, improve texture, even skin tone, and boost the complexion. It functions by removing the top layers of facial skin.
Are at-home chemical peels safe for all skin types?
They can typically be applied to all skin types. However, you should proceed with caution if you’ve been on oral acne medication within six months, have personal or family history of keloids, are pregnant, or are prone to cold sores.
How often should you use an at-home chemical peel?
This depends on the type and intensity of peel that you decide to use. Refer to the product’s packaging or the retailer’s website to determine how often you can use a peel to avoid damaging your skin.
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