The one and only time I received a professional chemical peel I emerged one week later from a cocoon of dead skin cells and flakes to discover the brightest-looking skin of my life. But the price of pro treatments adds up quickly, which makes at-home chemical peels as compelling as ever — especially given the fact that I can vouch for the otherworldly radiance a good peel gives your complexion.
That doesn't mean at-home chemical peels don't intimidate me just a little — my dermatologist was supremely careful during my chemical peel to apply chemicals with a light hand, giving me a superficial peel that could improve skin texture but would be gentle enough not to irritate my sensitive skin.
So how do at-home peels stack up? According to Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, “At-home peels are generally milder than professional grade peels, but they do contain many of the same ingredients." But an at-home peel is still a peel, and Dr. Shainhouse warns that they come with the risk of burns and irritation — especially if they aren't applied correctly or aren't suited for your particular skin type or condition.
When it comes to choosing effective at-home chemical peel ingredients, Dr. Shainhouse says to stick to five: Beta-hydroxyacids (or salicylic acid), which unclogs pores and clear up acne lesions, glycolic and lactic acids that remove dead skin cells in a more gentle manner than salicylic acid, fruit enzymes like papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple to make skin glow, retinol for increased collagen production, and tricholacetic acid (TCA), which Dr. Shainhouse says can penetrate deeper layers of skin.
Once the peel is off, protecting your freshly-exfoliated skin is of the utmost importance. “Any peel will leave your skin more prone to UV-damage and sunburn," cautions Dr. Shainhouse. She recommends using an SPF 30 (or higher) mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide for the week following your peel — since mineral formulas reduce the risk of irritation — and wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
If you're ready to try an at-home treatment, these seven chemical peels contain effective ingredients that leave skin brighter, clearer, and more even-toned. But, be sure to always read labels carefully and remove the peel immediately if you experience discomfort.
1Glycolic Acid Peel Pads For Smaller Looking Pores & Brighter Skin
No need to fumble around with droppers with these glycolic acid chemical peel pads, which can be used twice weekly (as long as your skin isn't too sensitive) to minimize pore size and make skin appear truly radiant. Reviewers say this is one of the best peels they've ever used and that you'll see results in as little as one month (but make sure you're using a quality moisturizer because these can dry out your skin).
2A Subtle Glycolic Acid, Retinol & Green Tea Peel That Reduces Acne Scarring
A powerful trio of ingredients — retinol, 30 percent glycolic acid, and green tea extract — join forces in this chemical peel, which reviewers say helps eliminate acne scarring, tightens skin, reduces the appearance of pore size, and gives skin an overall glowier look. Those who say they're used to peels that make you shed serious flaky skin for days rave about how subtle the after effect is with this product.
3A Glycolic Acid Peel With Retinol & Chamomile For Dull Skin
The retinol in this at-home chemical peel promotes collagen and re-texturizes skin to address any aging concerns, while 30 percent glycolic acid penetrates deep into the skin to exfoliate dead skin cells. If you're worried about your skin drying out from peels, soothing ingredients like green tea extract and chamomile provide antioxidant and anti-bacterial benefits while moisturizing and calming skin.
4A Liquid Salicylic Acid Peel That You Can Use Daily
Stubborn acne, blackheads, and even hormonal cysts respond to this two percent Beta Hydroxy Acid chemical peel, which unclogs pores, exfoliates dead skin cells, and refines your skin's texture. Unlike most other peels, this can be used daily as an exfoliant, but only if your skin isn't easily irritated by salicylic acid.
5A Strong TCA Peel For Softer Skin With Fewer Dark Spots
The key ingredient in this chemical peel is Trichloroacetic acid, a professional-level strength acid that boosts collagen, lightens pigmentation caused by sun damage, and improves skin tone and texture. This peel is only safe for light skin tones (there's a risk of pigment change on darker skin) and peeling newbies are encouraged to start off with a 15 percent TCA formula before graduating to this — because it's effective but no joke.
6A Gentle Daily Peel With Amino Acids & Botanical Extracts
When your sensitive skin can only take a super gentle peel, one you'd prefer to incorporate into your daily skincare regimen, these peel pads are perfect: they're packed with alpha, beta, and gamma exfoliators, amino acids, retinol, and soothing botanical extracts like ginger and rose flower water. Use one each night after cleansing and before moisturizer to give your skin what one reviewer calls a "mini facial in a jar."
7A Lactic Acid Gel Peel With Bearberry Extract To Help Fade Dark Spots
This lactic acid gel peel contains brightening ingredients that help fade dark spots and post-acne marks, and also work overtime to eliminate free radicals — among them you'll find kojic acid, licorice, and bearberry extract. Because of the high level of lactic acid in this peel, it's recommended that you try a less potent peel first — until your skin gets used to the ingredients.
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