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Just the words "chemical peel" can send some people's hearts racing—memories of bad experiences, red faces, and tingling, burning skin can be traumatizing for pretty much everyone. But the juice is always worth the squeeze, and often chemical peels can result in some pretty stunning, gorgeous skin. But there are plenty of types of chemical peels, some more intensive than others, if you're worried about burning your entire face off the first time, salicylic acid is likely the best place to start.
"Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that helps remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin. Because it is oil-soluble, it penetrates the pores and is an effective acne treatment," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a NYC-based dermatologist. Salicylic acid is stellar in peel form, due to its exfoliation and acne-fighting capabilities. "The goal of a salicylic acid peel is to dry out pimples on the skin and help exfoliate. When high concentrations are applied to the skin in the form of a peel, you will experience some tingling or burning in the skin. As the skin heals over the next few days, you may experience some redness and peeling, so make sure to wear sunscreen if using salicylic acid because it can make you sensitive to developing a sunburn," he says.
Keep scrolling to see the best salicylic acid peels on the market for glowing, smooth skin.
Best Overall: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Over 2000 positive reviews on PaulasChoice.com confirm the pore-clearing power of this leave-on treatment. Mega fans mainly love that the salicylic acid works to boost cell regeneration and minimize blemishes and wrinkles, while green tea works to soothe inflammation and provide a protective layer against free radicals. One user writes, "I can even leave the house without any foundation and feel confident. I used to get horrible hormonal breakouts and this product has helped reduce them as well as the oiliness I used to get. It's a lifesaver."
Best Budget: THE ORDINARY AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
This potent berry-colored solution—which has been all over social media pretty much since its initial launch—can be left on for up to 10 minutes before rinsing off. It behaves like a professional peel, leaving you with glowing, radiant skin in just one use. The alpha-hydroxy acids work to brighten dark spots and fade acne scars, while the beta hydroxy acids (aka salicylic acid) work to clear out pores. The hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 in the formula, are always a welcome bonus. And for this price, you'll want to buy a few of them.
Best Dupe: Glossier Solution
When senior editor Hallie Gould ran out of her coveted Biologique Recherche P50 solution, she turned to this new potion from Glossier and found it to be a surprisingly comparable replacement for the cult-loved French product. It works to even out skin tone, smooth rough texture, and clear pores for an overall more radiant complexion.
What Our Testers Say
"Spots that felt rough or bumpy were smoother, and the blackheads around my nose started to disappear. By the end of the four weeks, my complexion was a lot less dull and looked overall much healthier and radiant." — Jenna Igneri, Product Tester
Best Luxury: Omorovicza Acid Fix AHA BHA Treatment
A triple threat of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid, this treatment from Hungarian skincare brand Omorovicza helps reverse hyperpigmentation from sun damage, pollution, and acne for a clearer, brighter complexion. Intended to be used after cleansing but before moisturizer, this treatment can give nearly instant results—like you woke up with a brand-new face.
Best Bonus Ingredient: Moon Juice Beauty Shroom Exfoliating Acid Potion
Former wellness editor Victoria Hoff is a big fan of this exfoliating "potion" from formerly ingestible-only beauty brand Moon Juice. Aside from glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acid, the hero ingredient here is reishi mushroom, which is used to protect the skin against stress-induced inflammation and helps give it the strength to be more resilient.
Best Travel: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
If you're on the go but still need to have your skin looking and performing its best, Dr. Gross recreated his famous in-office peel for at-home use. A two-step process that can be done in less than five minutes, these pads come drenched in five of your favorite acids to improve skin's texture, combat dullness, and shrink pores. Step one exfoliates while step two neutralizes those exfoliating acids while also hydrating and smoothing skin.
What Is a Salicyclic Acid Peel?
Salicyclic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, works by dissolving dead skin cells that clog pores and reducing redness and inflammation to minimize the size of breakouts. It's also a great allover exfoliator, sloughing away the top layer of skin to reveal a brighter, fresher, softer complexion.