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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 all fairly gentle (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
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.
Best Budget: Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
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.
Best for Radiance: Renée Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel
This peel, which can be used one to four times per month, relies on a whole list of fruity deliciousness to leave your skin seriously glowy. Four different acids and bromelain, an enzyme derived from pineapple, get to work exfoliating, while blueberry extract reduces inflammation, and raspberry seed oil, pomegranate extract, and strawberry pack a brightening antioxidant punch.
Great for your face, it also pulls double duty if you want to brighten up the skin on your hands or chest, or to treat keratosis pilaris (or KP), those unsightly bumps on the backs of your arms. And yes, it does indeed smell like delicious mixed berry jam.
Best Soothing: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial 25% AHA + 2% BHA Mask
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.
Best Natural: Tata Harper Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask
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 that 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.
Best for Acne: Savor Beauty Yuzu Lemonade Peel
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.
Best for Wrinkles: Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel
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.
Best for Oily Skin: First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance AHA Intensive Peel
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.
Best Body: StackedSkincare TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel
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 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.
Best Tanning: M-61 PowerGlow Peel Gradual Tan
What could make these speedy (60 second) peel pads even better? The addition of self-tanner, or course. Glycolic and salicylic acids 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.
Best Overnight: goop Beauty Glycolic Acid Overnight Peel
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.