The 14 Best At-Home Chemical Peels, According To A Dermatologist

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by Lisa Fogarty
Originally Published: 
Amazon / Bustle

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 four ingredients:

  1. Beta-hydroxyacids (or salicylic acid). BHAs will unclog pores and clear up acne lesions.
  2. Glycolic and lactic acids (AHAs). AHAs remove dead skin cells in a more gentle manner than salicylic acid.
  3. Fruit enzymes. Enzyme peels use fruit enzymes like papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple to leave your skin glowing.
  4. Retinol. Retinol helps boost collagen production, promoting smoother skin.

“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 to 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 14 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.

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.


A 10-Minute Peel With AHAs & Salicylic Acid

A favorite peel from a popular brand, this Paula’s Choice exfoliating peel contains a heady mix of several acids: glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, tartaric, and salicylic. It unclogs pores, exfoliates skin, and encourages an overall healthier, brighter looking complexion. To soothe irritation, Paula’s Choice added a botanical ingredient called butterfly pea flower extract 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 (and sunscreen, of course!).

According to one reviewer: "It refined my pores, it’s clearing post acne marks, and my skin is looking glowy and feeling firmer. I don’t know where this has been all my life, this has become a vanity in my beauty routine and I will never be without it. Wow.”


These Convenient Glycolic Acid Peel Pads

Use one of these 20% glycolic acid peeling pads and then toss it — they’re so convenient that you can take them anywhere. The resurfacing pads, which come in a pack of 50 and have more than 13,000 reviews, also contain effective ingredients like soothing allantoin, green tea, and calendula, with antioxidants vitamins B5, C, and E. It’s recommended that you wait 15 minutes after working one of these exfoliating pads across your skin to apply a hydrating serum like hyaluronic acid.

According to one reviewer: "This product is true to advertising. It gently resurfaces and moistened my skin, lightening my dark spots as a bonus. I use this every day for a month now and I look wonderful with and WITHOUT makeup. I am so grateful for an affordable skincare product for a working mom.P.S.The pads are drenched in product and go a long way!”


A Gentle At-Home Peel With Green Tea

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: "I've had only one professional glycolic peel at a spa and another at home from a different product, neither so far compare to this gel peel. This was as gentle as a glycolic peel can get! It had minimal burning even during neutralization. The gel-like quality helped to avoid runniness. This is great for my sensitive skin. I'm completely impressed by the after affects, it's not dramatic like a rough peel but my skin looks refreshed. I think I'm a new long term customer."


This Cult Favorite Peel That’s Great For Acne

Stubborn acne, blackheads, and even hormonal cysts should respond 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. With over 58,000 reviews and a 4.6-star rating overall, it’s clear that this peel is a hit with many people — and it comes in a few different sizes for your convenience, too.

According to one reviewer: "This product has almost completely cleared my stubborn acne in less than a week. I normally don’t struggle with acne, but I work in healthcare and have to wear a mask all day. My cheeks and chin were breaking out horrible with blackheads, large under the skin acne and pimples constantly. I was so embarrassed and tried so many products and this one is amazing!!! It will dry your skin out so moisturize!"


A Leave-On Peel That’s Gentle Enough For Daily Use

For a peel that’s gentle enough to use daily, many reviewers consider this pineapple chemical peel well worth the cost (even reviewers with sensitive skin say it doesn’t irritate). It contains a number of key ingredients that Dr. Shainhouse recommends like AHA, BHA, and retinol, as well as lactic acid, salicylic acid (which is great for acne-prone skin), and exfoliating pineapple enzymes. The gel formula is rich in hydrating hyaluronic acid and differs from most other peels in that you apply it after cleansing your skin, wait two minutes for it to absorb, and then continue with other serums and moisturizers that you’d apply.

According to one reviewer: "A friend turned me onto this product when I was complaining about struggling with adult acne issues. I have tried several prescriptions from the dermatologist, all very expensive, with very little success. Within two weeks of using this, my skin cleared up. I like that it is an all natural product and it smells pretty yummy too. My dog tries to lock it off of my face! I no longer use any prescriptions, only this.”


The Ideal Peel For 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.

According to one reviewer: "It's gentle yet works! Sometimes there is mild flaking and sometimes none. Either way the peel works great! It clears clogged pores, lightens dark spots, and gives an overall smoothness to my skin."


This Deeply Exfoliating Peel With 40% Glycolic Acid

Mild chemical peels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you require deeper exfoliation, this under-$20 pick contains a high 40% glycolic acid in a cruelty-free formula that works in just five minutes. Each bottle provides 20 peeling treatments and is applied with a Q-tip or cotton pad (and must be neutralized with water, as should many chemical peels), left on for a few seconds/minutes (follow the instructions carefully to determine the right amount of time) and then removed. It has more than 4,000 reviews, with many amazed at how well it tightens skin and even eliminates acne.

According to one reviewer: “I’ll be honest, I was more than a little hesitant purchasing professional grade chemical skin care without having in depth knowledge on how to use it. It seemed like there would be a LOT of room for error. But omg, Divine really went above and beyond in the care they put into this product AND instructions for use. All of my fears were put to ease and now my skin is literally glowing. I can’t recommend this product enough. So far in just 3 applications my breakouts have been dramatically reduced [...] I feel so confident after using this, and I’m so excited to see my skin improve as I continue with this product.”


The Editor's Choice

Ask any beauty editor, esthetician, or skin care lover 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 one pad, which exfoliates skin and unclogs pores. Then, you apply the step two 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 absolutely LOVE this product! My aesthetician used this during my facial, so I bought it in hopes that I could get the same wonderful results at home, and I did! This smoothes my very dry (in winter) skin out and makes it so soft! All those little annoying flakes disappear after using this. I use this weekly and love the results."


A Peel With Vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid

A product packed with good-for-your-skin ingredients, this 30% glycolic acid peel seems to have it all — including lactic acid, vitamin C for fighting free radicals and boosting collagen production, and hydrating hyaluronic acid to restore moisture and balance to your skin. Apply a thin layer of the peel after cleansing and leave it on for 30 to 60 seconds before wiping it off.

According to one reviewer: “I really love this product. It's easy on the skin and non irritating but also really deeply exfoliates leaving my complexion nice and my skin so smooth and glowing”


A Spray-On Peel For Your Body & Face

Made with retinol and organic enzymes, this spray-on gel peel is designed for use on your body and face, so you can get the benefits of exfoliation just about everywhere. The formula is packed with beneficial ingredients for even better results, including soothing aloe vera, cucumber, rosehip oil, and rosewood. Use is super easy, too — just shake the bottle, spray it on wherever you want to exfoliate, and repeat three to four times a week as desired.

According to one reviewer: “Man, it makes my skin feel like BUTTER! I've only used it on my face so far but I'm definitely going to try this on parts of my body that are a little rougher than others, namely my knees and elbows. LOL. I would suggest this to anyone who's interested in doing a skin peel at home. It really easy to use and it works like a charm!!”


A Chemical Peel Kit For Start To Finish Skin Treatments

This is so much more than a chemical peel — it’s a chemical peel system that includes two highly rated products that take your skin from beginning to end in the peeling process. Cleanse your skin and then start with the highly effective 70% glycolic acid peeling treatment that you can apply with an included fan brush (just make sure you dilute it with water). Follow up with the intensely hydrating antioxidant recovery cream to add moisture back to your skin.

According to one reviewer: “This is a really strong peel. [...] The creme is also really nice. It's very moisturizing and feels great on the skin after using the peel. I've already noticed that my skin is smoother.”


This Overnight Lactic Acid Peel

Formulated with exfoliating lactic acid and hibiscus-derived AHAs, this overnight peel should be applied to cleansed skin and left on overnight so it can work its magic. By the time you rinse it off in the morning, your skin should be softer, smoother, and brighter. In addition to the AHAs, the peel is boosted with peptides, so you wake up with soothed, replenished skin.

According to one reviewer: “Elemis Peptide4 overnight Radiance Peel is a milky colour the overnight peel which gently exfoliates while replenishing your skin with moisture for a brighter, flawless looking complexion, I used 3-4 drops over my face,( I didn’t put it near my eyes or my lips to be on the safer side ) left it on overnight, rinse off in the morning with warm water & I can say my skin does feel a lot cleaner, smoother, which I didn’t expect on the first night of using it, in my own personal experiences with Elemis overnight radiance peel I certainly do recommend this, even if you have very sensitive skin like myself & it didn’t irritate it or flare it up at all which normally creams do.”


The Affordable Leave-On BHA Peel For Smoother Skin

Another amazing leave-on chemical peel that cuts down on the work needed on your part, this one is formulated with 2% beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, and fruit extracts. This vegan, cruelty-free peel is an exfoliant that you apply after your cleanser and leave on overnight. With a 4.4-star rating, this pick is gentle enough to use daily (but the manufacturer recommends that you space out the time between applications until your skin gets used to it). Expect to wake up with smooth, soft, glowing skin.

According to one reviewer: “Its soooo good! I love that it doesn’t feel like its stripping my skin. It leaves a glow and I’ve seen a difference in my skin already. I have acne prone skin, but my skin is also dry this just leaves it feeling clean and soft.”


A 2-Minute Peel With Fruit Enzymes

Ease into chemical peels with this gentler peel that brightens and softens skin using more mild levels of glycolic acid and fruit enzymes from watermelon, beet, lychee, and purple carrot. The daily peel is ideal for all skin types and is simple to use — apply it after your cleanser, leave it on for two minutes, and then wash it off and apply a moisturizer. This pick has a high 4.7-star rating, more than 1,000 reviews.

According to one reviewer: “I love the way this scrub smells! It’s so refreshing. It felt like it did a good job exfoliating my skin without drying it out. Overall thought it is a good product for the price point.


Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a dermatologist at Stay Skin Safe in Beverly Hills

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