Designed to help shed dull layers of skin in favor of fresh skin cells, the chemical peel will rejuvenate your face and complexion — when used correctly. Luckily, the best at-home chemical peels are a fantastic way to reap the benefits of a chemical peel at an affordable price without needing to leave your home. So, we asked a dermatologist: What makes for a good at-home chemical peel?
Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills, says when it comes to choosing an effective at-home chemical peel, stick to five ingredients:
- Beta-hydroxyacids (or salicylic acid). BHAs will unclog pores and clear up acne lesions.
- Glycolic and lactic acids (AHAs). AHAs remove dead skin cells in a more gentle manner than salicylic acid.
- Fruit enzymes. Fruit enzymes like papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple will leave your skin glowing.
- Retinol. Retinol helps boost collagen production, promoting smoother skin.
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA). Dr. Shainhouse says TCA can penetrate deeper layers of skin, allowing newer, smoother skin cells to surface.
“At-home peels are generally milder than professional-grade peels, but they do contain many of the same ingredients," says Dr. Shainhouse. She warns that an at-home peel is still a peel, and 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.
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 a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide with at least SPF 30 for the week following your peel — since mineral formulas reduce the risk of irritation. She also recommends wearing a wide-brimmed sun protection hat for extra coverage.
Editor's note: Most experts advise you consult with your dermatologist or doctor before attempting an at-home chemical peel. There are many potential side effects, some painful or dangerous, and someone versed in your personal skin needs will be able to help you find the best one for you.
The seven best at-home chemical peels, below, each 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.
1. The Most Affordable: The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%
A cult-favorite peel from a popular brand, The Ordinary's AHA 30% + BHA 2% peeling solution contains a heady mix of three acids: glycolic, salicylic, and lactic. It unclogs pores, exfoliates skin, and encourages an overall healthier, brighter looking complexion. To prevent irritation, The Ordinary added a botanical ingredient called Tasmanian Pepperberry into the formula, so this peel should be safe enough for all skin types to use. Leave it on for no longer than 10 minutes before rinsing off and following with a moisturizer.
According to one reviewer: "Make sure your skin is bone dry before applying this product or it can burn areas of your face. If you’re new to acid peels, don’t leave on the full 10 mins the first time you use this. Start at 3-5 and work up to 10. I have been using glycolic peels for years and I find this one to be good for a quick refresher. Kind of like a mask. If it burns too much, just rinse it off. Water neutralizes the acid. Love The Ordinary line!!"
2. The Best Chemical Peel Pads: Exuviance Performance Peel AP25
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. It might seem a little pricey, but this six-week supply of peels is a favorite amongst Amazon reviewers. Many 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).
According to one reviewer: "This is one of the best acne-fighting products on the market! Although it's marketed for anti-aging, I use it to clear up my skin. A representative at a beauty store told me that the reason it's so good at reducing acne is because it helps your skin rejuvenate at a fast rate; that is, your skin cells have no choice but to slough off. This peel simultaneously prevents ones from growing and eliminates ones that are already there - and fast! FANTASTIC PRODUCT! Worth the price!"
3. A Gentler At-Home Chemical Peel: Perfect Image Glycolic Acid 30% Chemical Peel
The retinol in this at-home chemical peel promotes collagen and re-texturizes skin to address any aging concerns, while 30% 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.
According to one reviewer: "Okay so let me start off by saying I’ve had many peels in spas and 3 done in a doctor’s office (2 laser). This peel is not going to have your skin falling off like strong TCA, laser, etc. However it is AMAZING for texture, tone, breakouts, minimizing and unclogging pores and this DEFINITELY had my skin glowing after the second use! No scent, no extreme burn. This is a great product!"
4. A Stronger Peel With TCA: Skin Obsession 25% TCA Chemical Peel
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% TCA formula before graduating to this — because it's effective but no joke.
According to one reviewer: "Used to spend a fortune on peels at the salon. This one is really strong, though, it takes some practice. I have fair skin and I wouldn't recommend leaving on more than 45 seconds the first few times. Peeling is the worst on the 3-4th day, but it heals pretty quickly!"
5. Great For Acne: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Stubborn acne, blackheads, and even hormonal cysts respond often well to this 2% 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.
According to one reviewer: "I got this to try and help my skin with a few issues. I had breakouts, a few scars, big pores that looked like my skin was dirty, and some Melasma on my upper lip from pregnancy. I have been using it every other day at night time for a week and have noticed a big difference in my skin already! My acne cleared up, my scar already has reduced in visibility as has my Melasma, and my skin just looks and feels so much better. I would definitely recommend for any of the things I listed. I have sensitive skin too and had no issues. You can feel it is acidic though so I follow up with a good moisturizer afterwards as well. Worth the buy!"
6. Great For Dark Spots: Perfect Image 50% Lactic Acid Gel Peel
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.
According to one reviewer: "I'm 25 and have had acne since I was 12. It has been virtually impossible to get rid of acne, that is until using this product! I also have really sensitive skin, but I'm able to use this once a week or every other week whenever I have acne and it noticeably minimizes the acne within a day. I pair it with organic rose oil and a moisturizer and have never been happier about my skin! There can be a 1-2 day period of super dry skin, but hang in there, keep moisturizing, it's all worth it."
7. The Editor's Choice: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Ask any beauty editor, esthetician, or skin care junkie what their favorite at-home peel is, and they'll probably tell you Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare's Alpha Beta universal daily peels. The peel is actually a two-step process: First, you use the step 1 pad, which exfoliates skin and unclogs pores. Then, you apply the step 2 neutralizer, which nourishes skin to leave it clear, bright, and balanced. Together, they're like a one-minute facial — and the results are impressive, according to the countless devoted fans.
Editor's note: I use these peel pads regularly and love them. They can feel harsh for the first few uses, but the tingling or stinging you feel when you use them becomes less noticeable with regular use.
According to one reviewer: "I have used this product for years [and] will continue to do so. Nice exfoliating cloth system but not abrasive. The individual packages are easy for travel and don’t dry out."
Still looking for answers? We've got you covered.
Can chemical peels be done at home?
While chemical peels can be done at home, you're at a much higher risk of painful or dangerous side effects without the supervision of a licensed dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon. So if you're doing an at-home chemical peel, you'll want to consult with your doctor or dermatologist first, and pay a lot of attention to the instructions of whatever at-home peel you use.
Beginners to at-home peels should perform a patch test on a small portion of their body not visible, waiting at least 48 hours to see how their skin reacts. Be sure to start slow. If you're new to peels, you'll want to leave the formula on your skin for less time (think seconds, not minutes), and space out when you perform your peels to give your skin plenty of time to heal.
What chemical peel is the strongest?
For the strongest chemical peels, you'll want to visit a dermatologist or dermatologic surgeon. Keep in mind, the strength of a chemical peel is reflected both by the percentage of active acids (AHA, BHA, lactic acid, etc.) in the formula, as well as the type of acids in the formula.
Word to the wise: The strongest chemical peels will be best for those who have tried gentler formulas first. Just because a chemical peel is stronger does not necessarily mean it will achieve your desired results better than a gentler peel. Your doctor or dermatologist can help you determine which peel is right for you.
How often should I get a chemical peel?
How often you can get a chemical peel depends on the strength of the formula, as well as your skin's reaction to it. For gentler peels, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends waiting between two and five weeks in between peels. For medium-strength peels, the AAD recommends waiting between four and six weeks, so your skin can heal. Keep in mind, since reactions to chemical peels can vary widely, the best way to determine how often you should get a chemical peel is by consulting with your dermatologist.
Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist at Stay Skin Safe in Beverly Hills