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.
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.
"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 into 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.
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 life saver."
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.
High Fashion Favorite
Used backstage at New York Fashion Week, this peel comes with double-sided cotton pads (a rough side for normal to combination skin and a smooth side for sensitive skin). Simply swipe the super-luxe milk peel along your face, wait one minute, and rinse with lukewarm water. With ingredients like coconut milk, panthenol, squalene, and allantoin, inflamed skin will be both calmed and hydrated, and lactic and salicylic acid help to exfoliate, leaving skin soft, smooth, and radiant.
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.
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
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 Peeling Pads
Enjoy the benefits of a professional-grade peel without the scary side effects. "Dermatologists use salicylic acid in concentrations up to 30 percent. Typically concentrations of no more than 2 percent are used in over-the-counter formulas such as toners or cleansers," says Zeichner, hence the nightmare fuel that can follow a cosmetic treatment. These high-potency pads use certified-organic ingredients to make the skin noticeably firmer and clearer with no fragrance, parabens, or artificial color.
This resurfacing peel removes inactive skin cells and clogged pores, helping it drink up the actives from your skincare much better. If clean beauty is the name of your game, this will be your new favorite peel—not only is it vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free, but it also features ingredients you've heard of like kaolin and bentonite.
Best Return on Investment
Inspired by fitness interval training, this dual-ended peel can be used for 28 nights at a time (Phase 1 for the first 14 nights, Phase 2 for the next 14) to combat dark spots, wrinkles, fine lines, enlarged pores, and blemishes. Consider it as a daily workout challenge, but for your face. Lancôme claims you'll see effects after a single evening, but by day 28, your face will be more radiant, resilient, and ready to take on the world.
Best Travel Product
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.
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.