We'll be the first to admit that the skin on our faces get all the attention. But when temps spike, it's time to put forth some concerted efforts toward taking care of what's typically hidden under chunky sweaters and oversized coats. Shedding off these layers often reveals fine lines on the chest, hyperpigmentation on the arms, and what's been coined "bacne" (aka breakouts on the back). Then of course, there’s the issue of dull, dry, lackluster skin...everywhere. The good news? There’s one solution to all of the aforementioned dilemmas: body peels.
From sloughing away acne to evening out the complexion, body peels are touted as being a total-body do-it-all. Plus, they've proven themselves as a solution to smoothing out rough, bumpy skin (known as keratosis pilaris). To learn more about body peels and how they can even the skin tone on the body, we picked the brains of board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick and esthetician Kerry Benjamin.
Meet the Expert
Read on to learn how body peels can give you a more even skin tone from head to toe.
What Are Body Peels?
Think of body peels like chemical peels you'd use on your face, except stronger, as the skin on the body isn't as delicate and can take on more powerful formulas. “The difference between a face peel and a body peel is that they have higher percentages of active ingredients to help erase stretch marks, sun spots, keratosis pilaris, dryness, and even out the skin tone and texture on your legs, arms, back, chest, and hands,” says Benjamin. “Removing the dead outer skin layer helps with product penetration, too.” This means your body serums and moisturizers will offer maximum hydration and your sunless tanner will go on smoother.
How Do Body Peels Work?
"In general, peels work by helping to weaken the connections between the cells in the top layer of the skin, which helps to exfoliate or remove the dead skin cells," says Garshick. "This gives the skin a refreshed and glowing complexion as well as improved tone." And, all chemical peels help increase cell turnover, which is how they correct skin conditions like hyperpigmentation and fine lines.
Body peels tend to use a type of acid, either alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA) to help break the bonds between dead skin cells. “Although they are called chemical peels, many of the acids found in them are naturally occurring compounds that can be found in plants and foods like milk, willow bark, and citrus,” Benjamin says. Garshick agrees, adding that many of the ingredients used in body peels are similar to the ingredients used on the face (with varying levels of concentration).
A few key ingredients to look out for are lactic acid, trichloroacetic acid (TCA), salicylic acid, kojic acid, and arbutin. “Lactic acid is an AHA naturally found in milk and sugars,” says Benjamin, noting that the acid is also part of your skin’s natural moisturizing factor. TCA, one of the more commonly used acids, is a medium-depth peeling agent used to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Salicylic acid is great for anyone struggling with breakouts, and kojic acid and arbutin both promote even skin tone.
What Are the Benefits of Body Peels?
According to our experts, there are a number of benefits to using a body peel.
- Alleviates body acne: Acne on the chest and back can be challenging to treat. "While similar ingredients can be used that are used for face acne, they are often difficult to apply and may not penetrate the thicker skin of the back as well," says Garshick. "Body peels, specifically the salicylic acid variety, are a great option for those with acne as it is an oil-soluble BHA and can help penetrate the pores at a deeper level, helping to unclog them and reduce further breakouts."
- Reduces hyperpigmentation: Whether it’s dark spots related to acne scars or other hard-to-rid blemishes, body peels exfoliate the skin, which in turn reveals not just an overall brighter complexion, but lightened dark spots. "Specific ingredients that can be helpful for hyperpigmentation include lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid," notes Garshick, adding that those dealing with simultaneous acne and hyperpigmentation may do well with a combination of acids that also includes salicylic acid.
- Improves bumpy skin: Rough and bumpy skin, known as keratosis pilaris, can be improved with body peels. According to Garshick, this skin condition typically affects the upper arms and thighs.
Are Body Peels Suitable For All Skin Types?
Body peels can be used on the chest, back, neck, hands, butt, or legs, depending on your skin type and concerns. “Peels are great for sensitive skin because they’re not abrasive,” Benjamin says. “They effectively and gently remove the outer dead layer of skin, which helps to ease the discomfort and itching as well as significantly improve product penetration, which is essential for people who have severe eczema.” Garchisk suggests using peels containing enzymes if you have sensitive skin—they gently weaken the bonds between the skin cells, causing the dead skin cells to fall off.
How Long Does It Take to See Results?
If you’re just looking for smooth, supple skin, you can see (and feel) an improvement in skin texture in just one or two treatments. But because the skin on the body heals differently from the skin on the face, it can take longer to see results for deeper skin concerns. “If you are looking to lift pigment or soften fine lines, it’s likely going to take a series of six treatments spaced three weeks apart,” Benjamin says. “If you're looking to clear up body acne, a series of up to six treatments spaced two weeks apart is needed.” And don’t forget about your feet! Remove buildup from your heels and get your feet ready for sandal season with two to three treatments spaced three weeks apart.
Are There Any Side Effects/Risks?
"The skin on the body doesn’t necessarily react the same way as skin on the face, so just because a certain chemical peel worked well on the face, doesn’t mean the same one will be best for the body," warns Garshick. "In general, the main side effects are related to over-exfoliation, which can lead to irritation, redness, and dryness of the skin." Also, because many body peels are acids, there's always a risk of burning the skin if too much is used. "If any issues arise with redness, flaking, burning, stinging or discoloration, it is important to follow up with a board-certified dermatologist," says Garshick. Finally, using acids and exfoliators can make your skin more sensitive to the sun—you should avoid the sun post-chemical peel and always follow up with sun protection.
Can You Do a Body Peel at Home?
At-home body peels may provide a different type of acid or a lower concentration of an acid, when compared to in-office peels, but they can still be effective. (Heads up: Although at-home peels are a go for those with sensitive skin, it is best to discuss your specific concerns with a board-certified dermatologist to determine which one would be best). Take a look at our favorite at-home body peels below.
Garshick recommends these lactic acid-based pads—they help to resurface and improve the texture of the skin for those with acne, keratosis pilaris, or discoloration.
Applied on the neck, back, or décolletage, this renewing body mask strengthens, tightens, and exfoliates away dirt, oil, and pollutants off the skin.
The hero acid here is AHA, which, for dry to combination skin types helps to buff and soothe the skin without exacerbating dryness.
"This body peel combines trichloroacetic acid with lactic acid and salicylic acid to help resurface the skin, helping to treat acne and blemishes while making the skin more radiant," says Garshick.
Made with 2% BHA, Garshick recommends this body peel for its ability to address breakouts and eliminate the buildup of dead skin cells.