It wasn’t until I got adult acne in my early 20s that I started my skincare journey. After heading to the dermatologist for a prescription (shoutout to Epiduo Forte), I read everything I could on how to develop my own skincare routine. Years later, as a lifestyle-beauty hybrid editor, my friends are constantly asking me what they should pick up during their next haul, as I can make pretty spot-on recommendations just by looking at them.
That said, when my roommate introduced me to Dr. G’s Brightening Peeling Gel ($12) over a year ago, I was shocked I hadn't heard of it. Of course, I knew about weekly exfoliants. But she claimed you could actually feel your dead skin rolling off as you used it, and that it was more of a cleanser than a mask. And—most shocking of all—it sells for under $15 on Amazon. I decided to give my roommate’s bottle a try, and I loved it so much I quickly bought my own.
There was only one problem: I couldn’t exactly tell what was in it, and if it meshed well with my new skincare routine. This type of product is called a gommage peel, "gommage" means "to erase" in French, and these formulas gained popularity because they're more sustainable than many other physical exfoliants. Today if you look up the product on Amazon, the ingredients are listed in English. But, at the time, I had no clue what was in it. I also couldn’t find any information about it online. Every Google search turned up empty.
So, I decided to do my own deep-dive on the product, and see if a derm could help answer my questions. Keep scrolling for all the information I found.
What’s In It?
According to the product description on Amazon, the peeling gel contains Trehalose (a moisturizing agent), willow bark extract (salicylic acid), and licorice root (which helps even your skin tone) as some of its main ingredients, but it’s just not clear how much of each ingredient is present. According to Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, a dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology And Laser, the main exfoliating ingredient is salicylic acid, but the concentration of ingredients listed remains a mystery.
Though you’re likely to see exfoliation benefits, Dr. Bhanusali cautions against those with darker skin tones using products like this, where the concentration of ingredients is unclear. “In general, I tend to caution darker skin types from aggressive exfoliation, particularly with alpha hydroxy acids,” he says. “Be careful with acids or peels that don't clearly state the ingredients. They can be too strong and leave hyperpigmentation or dark spots.” He adds, “NeoStrata has a few gentle glycolic peels that have been tested on various skin types and tolerated well, but for most, I usually caution against it.”
Gommage Peels Are Not Removing Just Dead Skin
I used this product practically every other day in the winter, when I had visibly dry, flaky skin all the time. I noticed that scrubbing this on my face was a quick fix, but it never settled the problem and the visible concerns would return again quickly.
Dr. Bhanusali says the visible peeling you see when using this product isn’t exclusively dead skin falling off, but rather natural cellulose that helps to remove those cells. It's meant to add to the experience, making it more satisfying as you use the product. The visible results feel more dramatic that way. But, I noticed, my skin never really felt hydrated. The product would momentarily get rid of the flakes, but they'd end up back again moments later.
What Are Derm-Recommended Exfoliants?
Dr. Bhanusali says once a week is the ideal amount of time to exfoliate, so don’t go crazy like I did, stripping your face every other day. If your skin is feeling particularly dry after exfoliating, use a face oil immediately after washing your face (it will absorb better when your skin is still wet). I love Instytutum’s Retin Oil ($110) and during the winter, I use The Buff Customized Face Oil ($42). You can take a quick online quiz to get a product customized to meet your skin's needs (and it's far cheaper than most other clean facial oils on the market).
If you’re adding a new product to your routine, the general rule, according to Dr. Bhanusali, is this: Only add one product at a time to your skincare routine. "Use it a few times over a 2 week period of time and decide if you are tolerating it well or not." He also advises to use a new product sparingly at first and don’t be in a rush. If ever you're unsure, speak to a board-certified dermatologist who can go through the product with you.