In the past, the idea of a “chemical peel” likely conjured scary images of high-end spas and painful treatments, all in the name of beauty. However, today’s chemical peels are just treatments that use chemical properties instead of physical exfoliation to slough off dead cells and revitalize your skin.
If you’re ready to make the leap and get to peeling, this guide is for you!
Table of Contents
- How to Use Face Peels
- Most Affordable: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
- Best Multi-Acid Formula: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel
- Best Luxury Option: Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial AHA + BHA Mask
- Best Clinical Formula: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel
- Best Two-Step: philosophy The Microdelivery Vitamin C Resurfacing Peel
- Best Vegan Formula: Saturday Skin Rub-a-Dub Refining Peel Gel
A face peel might sound intense and/or intimidating, but it can actually be a refreshing and accessible type of skincare, as long as you know what you’re getting into before you actually apply anything to your face.
Recently, manufacturers have moved away from physical exfoliants, which can leave microtears in the skin, toward chemical exfoliants. This is because the properties of certain compounds encourage cell turnover and remove dead skin cells.
In most cases, face peels will use some combination of exfoliating acids to break down the bonds between skin cells, loosen dead skin, and repair skin texture. For the most part, peels will include one or more of the following:
- Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA): This group of water-soluble acids doesn’t penetrate deep into the skin. Instead, they work at the surface to refine texture and tone and moisturize. Acids in this group include glycolic, lactic, malic, and mandelic.
- Beta hydroxy acid (BHA): More commonly known as salicylic acid, BHA is oil-soluble and penetrates deeper into the skin, which makes it a popular ingredient in acne treatments. It helps clear out pores, reduce oil, and even has anti-inflammatory properties.
Peels contain these acids in much stronger concentrations than you’d find in everyday skincare products. To use peels safely, we recommend the following precautions:
- Do a patch test: Place a bit of the product on a tiny area to see how your skin reacts before using it all over your face.
- Don’t use it every day: You should only use a peel for short time periods with several days, or even weeks, in-between. A peel, after all, is a “special” treatment—it’s not intended to be part of your daily skin routine.
- Only leave it on for a few minutes: Again, these products contain strong concentrations, so you only want to leave one on for a few minutes—check the product’s instructions for the recommended time limit.
Now, that you know how to use a skin peel, let’s dive into six of the most popular options available for all skin types.
It’s one of the products most frequently mentioned by skincare aficionados, but be aware The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is a serious product for serious exfoliation.
This isn’t a “starter” product—you should definitely work your skin up to using this liquid peel, which takes just a few minutes and uses both AHA and BHA to target surface cells, as well as penetrating deeper into the skin to battle blemishes and improve skin texture and radiance.
Similar to the option from The Ordinary above, the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel is a serious exfoliant combining the two most popular hydroxy acids, albeit at a slightly lower concentration.
A blend of popular AHAs (glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, and tartaric acids) smooth the skin at the surface, while BHA unclogs your pores, and a gentle butterfly pea flower extract soothes potential irritation.
Drunk Elephant is, famously, not a brand for the budget-conscious, but it does have tried-and-true products that are popular because they work for a lot of people! The T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial AHA + BHA Mask is a super-popular product that combines a 25% AHA blend with 2% BHA.
It’s a strong peel, like similar dual-acid masks, and meant only for occasional use. It’s also made with high-quality, cruelty-free ingredients.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel is a higher-end product, as noted by the price and the “clinical” label. However, it essentially works the same as other liquid peels: It uses chemical exfoliants to slough off dead skin cells, clear pores, and promote cell turnover.
The formula, interestingly, doesn’t use the traditional AHA/BHA blend, though; instead, it combines two powerful AHAs (lactic and glycolic acid) with the plant-based exfoliator bromelain. This provides a pH of 3.5 (skin is naturally around 5.5 pH), which resurfaces the skin for better texture and radiance.
One of the joys of doing a face peel is feeling like you’re getting a spa treatment at home. philosophy’s The Microdelivery Vitamin C Resurfacing Peel two-step treatment does just that!
The first step consists of vitamin C/peptide crystals, followed by an AHA/BHA combo in the activation gel. This revitalizes the skin and fights signs of environmental and age damage while exfoliating. There’s also a hint of physical exfoliation with the “crystals,” but it’s really about the chemical interactions between the different steps.
If you’re just dipping a toe into the world of peels, or just prefer a gentler approach, you might like the Saturday Skin Rub-a-Dub Refining Peel Gel.
This vegan product takes advantage of the particular chemical properties of specific fruits and other plants (active ingredients include papaya, pineapple, and aloe) to gently exfoliate and refine the skin. It also clears congested pores and soothes irritated skin.
You don’t have to be intimidated about using a face peel. As long as you have the facts, you’re good to go. If you still think a peel would be too much for your skin, you can always go for a more easygoing specialty treatment, like one of these masks.