What Exactly *Is* an At Home Chemical Peel, And Which One Is Right for Me?
You spring clean your home. How about your skin? As we leave winter (and the dull, dry skin associated with it) behind, a quick way to refresh your glow is to try an at home chemical peel.
What exactly is a chemical peel you ask?
According to Dendy Engelman, MD, of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York, "it’s a method of exfoliation that uses a powerful dose of acids to weaken the cellular bonds between skin cells in the dermis. This helps to slough away dead, dull-looking cells, reveal healthy cells, reduce hyperpigmentation and improve skin texture."
How do I choose between the different types of at home chemical peels?
It depends on what you’re looking to troubleshoot. If you are acne-prone or tend to easily get blackheads, BHA are your best bet. "Beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid or willow bark extract have keratin-dissolving properties that can break down dead skin cell build up and decongest pores," says Engelman.
If you have dry or dull skin, Engelman recommends an AHA. "Alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic acid has the smallest particle size, meaning it is the most effective at breaking down the cellular bonds, which in turn, helps to reveal new, fresh skin cells." What this means for you: Major glow.
If you have sensitive skin that is easily irritated, try a PHA. "Polyhydroxy acids like gluconolactone or lactobionic acids have a larger molecular structure than AHAs and BHAs, which means they take longer to penetrate the skin and they won’t penetrate as deeply, so they’re a much milder way to exfoliate," explains Engelman.
OK, now that we’ve learned more about chemical peels, let’s talk shop. Ahead are ten of our (and Dr. Dendy’s) favorite at-home peels.
The 10 Best At-Home Chemical Peels
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
This cult peel has been a favorite amongst dermatologists, estheticians and beauty editors alike. (And fun fact: It’s celebrating a milestone anniversary of 20 years!) The peels were created by a top New York derm and were one of the first at-home options available to the masses. Dendy likes them because they "contain both alpha and beta hydroxyl acids like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, malic acid, which is a great combination to tackle a variety of skin issues including blocked pores, dull skin and hyperpigmentation." We like how easy they are to use. Just swipe the first pad over skin, wait two minutes and follow up with the second pad to finish.
Indie Lee Gentle Daily Peel
For the easily irritated, these gentle pads by Indie Lee are a safe bet. Made with natural beta and alpha hydroxy acids (from wintergreen and Australian caviar lime, respectively) and balanced with jasmine and burdock root extracts, you’ll get the skin clarifying benefits of exfoliating without any afterburn or redness.
iS Clinical Tri-Active Exfoliating Mask
For any face mask lovers out there, consider this as your weekly treatment. Dendy likes that it "combines powerful botanical enzymes with salicylic acid and eco-friendly microbeads to provide an ideal combination of physical and chemical exfoliation." Just smooth it over damp, clean skin in a thin, even layer and let sit for five minutes before rinsing off using small, circular motions.
Neogen Dermalogy Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
Another option that combines both physical and chemical exfoliation, these wine-soaked pads by Neogen Dermalogy are a cult favorite within the K-beauty community. Each wipe is made with a lattice-woven gauze that gently scrubs away surface debris, while the blend of lactic and glycolic acids tackle anything that’s left behind. (You’ll want to rinse this off after a few minutes because it has a slightly sticky residue.)
GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
Inspired by the chemical peels Gwyneth used to get at her derm’s office, this weekly treatment is packed with an impressive 15 percent glycolic acid (making it one of the most potent at-home peels we’ve ever tried). To use, slip your fingertips inside the glove and swipe the soft side over the delicate skin of your face and the textured side over your neck, chest and shoulders. Note: You will likely feel a tingling sensation at first, but you will also wake up with a noticeable glow.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
Let’s be clear: The "baby" in "babyfacial" is referring to how soft and silken this peel makes your skin feel after using it. It has nothing to do with its strength—which is pretty darn potent with a whopping 25 percent blend of AHAs. (That’s glycolic, tartatic, lactic and citric acids, by the way.) Drunk Elephant's Babyfacial also features two percent BHA to keep pores clear and pumpkin ferment extract to really get the job done. As a result, the glow is real, y’all (but don’t use it more than once a week).
Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads
For those of us with stubborn blackheads and breakouts, these peach-scented pads are a godsend. Formulated with both salicylic and glycolic acids, they work double duty to clear pores of excess oil while dissolving any dead skin cells that sit on and beneath the surface. Within a few weeks of use, we’ve noticed that our normally speckled noses are much clearer.
Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
Gentle on your wallet—and your skin. With a blend of lactic and glycolic acid (plus vitamins A and E), this overnight treatment sloughs off dead skin cells while you sleep. Allantoin and rosehip add a buffer, so your skin doesn’t get dry or irritated. Oh, and this budget brand is also clean, vegan, cruelty-free and nothing in the line (including this peel) costs over 20 dollars.
Renée Rouleau Triple Berry Smoothing Peel
What do Demi Lovato, Lili Reinhart and this beauty editor have in common? A love for this delicious mask from celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. Jam packed with four different acids, bromelain (an exfoliating enzyme derived from pineapple), blueberry, raspberry seed oil and strawberry, it also looks and smells like a berry jam. We use it as a weekly preventative measure against future breakouts (and a brighter visage).
Elizabeth Arden PREVAGE Progressive Renewal Treatment
For a gradual glow, Dendy recommends this 4-week treatment, which combines PHA, AHA, and idebenone (a supercharged antioxidant) to exfoliate the skin, soften fine lines, and improve the overall radiance and evenness of your skin tone.
What are the different types of chemical peels?
"The main difference between the acids used in chemical peels is particle size. AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids, are the smallest, then comes the BHAs, or beta hydroxy acids, followed by the PHAs, or polyhydoxy acids, which have the largest molecules," explains Engelman. "In-office procedures use stronger concentrations, which penetrate deeper into the skin, thus revealing more noticeable results as compared to an at-home peel, but because of their strength, they should only be administered by a licensed practitioner."
Should we take any precautions when using an at-home chemical peel?
"Before you commit to using an at-home peel, there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself, such as: Are you using a retinol or retinoid? Are you using any other exfoliating products (such as a scrub), and are you going to shave around that area of skin?" says Engelman. "All of these things remove the top layer of your skin so adding a peel to the mix can deplete your epidermis and compromise your skin barrier. If you answered yes to any of those questions, I’d recommend stopping them for three days before and after you use a peel to minimize irritation."
A good practice when introducing an active ingredient (like retinol or chemical peels) into your skincare regimen is to start slow. "I always recommend starting off with one to two times a week at first—maybe even once every two weeks for people with very sensitive skin," advises Engelman. See how your skin reacts and then you can increase usage as needed. "The biggest mistake people make with exfoliants and with any products is over-doing it."
Next, post-peel care is very important. "You want to use an occlusive moisturizer, which is designed to prevent water loss in your skin. Preventing water loss allows your skin’s natural oils to nourish the newly revealed, younger skin cells,” says Engelman. “Look for moisturizers that have ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and peptides to strengthen the skin barrier."
And last but certainly not least: "It is important to limit sun and wind exposure by applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, wearing protective clothing and staying indoors during peak hours (between 10 am and 4 pm), since your skin is more vulnerable to environmental aggressors after a peel."