When it comes to skincare tropes, "peel" is a loaded word. For some, it translates to a clear, glowing complexion. For others, it paints a picture of irritated skin and a non-existent barrier. Both can be true—it just depends on how you use the product (and, of course, what you use).
Personally, I sit somewhere in between. I am drawn to chemical exfoliants like Chris Hemsworth is drawn to leading roles in action movies. But I‘ve also been burned (literally and figuratively) by peels in the past. Nowadays, I approach them with caution, using peeling products carefully but regularly to maintain a sense of glow.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution ($7) is a product that piqued my interest from the start. For one, it’s bright red (a characteristic that’s inspired many viral, vampiric photos on the internet). Also, anything that promises in-office results from home triggers a deep curiosity in me. This peel boasts some of the highest active ingredient concentrations on the market, but is it really as good as they say? Is it a sound replacement for monthly visits to my facialist? Will it give me the smoothest skin of my life? These were all questions I desperately needed answered.
Oh, and did I mention the price? It’s $7. Yep—I couldn’t believe it either.
So, like any good beauty writer, I obtained a bottle and got to work. Keep reading for the verdict.
The Product: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Star Rating: 4/5
Uses: Clears, smooths, and brightens by removing dead surface skin cells
Active Ingredients: Alpha and beta hydroxy acids
Byrdie Clean?: Yes
About the Brand: The Ordinary is owned by Deciem, a Canadian beauty brand that has revolutionized the industry with its minimalist formulations and low price points.
About My Skin: Balanced but prone to congestion
My skin is very fickle. One day it’s clear and the next it's spotty and dull. It can also be quite oily. For the point of this review, I think it’s worth pointing out that I’m pretty well-versed in the world of actives and have used chemical exfoliants regularly for years.
The Contents: A heavy-hitting combination of AHAs and BHAs
The Ordinary’s peeling formula works via a powerful mix of alpha and beta hydroxy acids. According to the ingredients list, the concentration is 30% AHA (glycolic, lactic, tartaric and citric) and 2% BHA (salicylic acid), as well as hyaluronic acid crosspolymer, vitamin B5, black carrot, and Tasmanian pepperberry.
Both AHAs and BHAs exfoliate the skin, but AHAs work on a surface level, so they're great for treating visible signs of aging and sun damage. BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning they dissolve dirt and sebum within the pore and thus act as an effective acne treatment. BHAs are typically better suited for sensitive skin, but when the two acids are paired together, they pack a powerful exfoliating punch.
The ingredients are nothing revolutionary, but the concentrations make this product stand out. A 32% chemical peel is high by at-home standards, meaning it yields serious results.
One last important ingredient to note is the Tasmanian pepperberry. In this case, it’s an extract that’s designed to reduce irritation. (It’s also the culprit behind the wild red color.)
The Feel: Lightweight (but tingly)
As most good routines do, I started with a double cleanse to ensure I was free from dirt, makeup, and sunscreen. Then comes the peel. I found this product really light in texture–it’s quite watery, so you have to apply it quickly (don’t do what I did and spill it on your white bath mat). Despite what TikTok might tell you, I suggest dropping the solution into your hands and then pressing onto your face (don’t apply right from the dropper as it can run into places it’s not welcome, like the mouth and eyes). I looked like an extra from The Conjuring, but hey, good skin doesn't came easy.
To be frank, it tingled. A lot. Not in a painful way but in an “I-want-to-itch-my-face” way. I left it on for exactly eight minutes and rinsed, first with water and then with a gentle cleanser to ensure it was completely off. I used it before bed, so I finished up with a layer of Augustinus Bader The Cream and that was it. Simple.
The Results: Impressively glowing skin
Directly after I removed the peel, my skin was flushed and slightly warm to the touch. I was nervous, but a layer of the aforementioned moisturizer took away any redness. I went to bed hopeful, and come morning, my complexion was glowing. Little spots had been blitzed and my skin’s texture was incredibly smooth. Pores looked refined, flakes were gone, and the cluster of tiny whiteheads on my forehead had been flattened.
I’ve since used it at least five times–typically before a big (Zoom) event or if my face feels like it needs a good refresh. Bonus points for consistency because the luminosity is real every single time. It’s strong, but knock on wood, I haven't had an adverse reaction yet.
Some safety tips:
Remember when I referenced irritation and an impaired skin barrier earlier? Well, the strength of this product means it’s important to adhere to a few rules. According to Deciem, it’s important to:
- Conduct a patch test first
- Avoid if you consider your skin to be sensitive
- Do not use more than twice a week
- Do not use in conjunction with other acids, vitamin A, or vitamin C
- Do not leave it on the face for longer than 10 minutes
- Always wear daily sun protection (but you already knew that)
The Value: Unmatched
At $7 per bottle, it really doesn’t get much better than this. While an at-home product can never truly replicate an in-clinic treatment, this is pretty darn close. For the price of a fancy iced coffee, I highly suggest that the curious folk reading this give it a red hot go (sorry, I had to).
This formula is notably potent, but there are definitely some similar options out there.
- Biologique Recherche P50 Lotion: This is the stuff of skincare legends. It contains a blend of both alpha and beta hydroxy acids, plus sorrell, myrrh extract, myrtle, and onion. Yes, it stinks but, my goodness, it works.
- Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel: Unlike The Ordinary, this peel pad can be used daily thanks to a lower concentration of actives and a deactivating counter pad. It also contains both AHAs and BHAs for extra skin-smoothing goodness.
- Pixie Beauty Glow Tonic: This contains 5% glycolic acid (an AHA) for soft, smooth, bright skin.
Our verdict: Big results at a small price
Overall, I highly rate this product. It’s definitely not something I use often, but that’s part of the appeal. I love knowing I have this tucked away in my vanity for the next time I want a post-facial glow without the actual facial cost or appointment. It decongests, brightens, and smooths like nobody's business, all for less than $10. What more can you ask for?