When you’re used to professional-level spa facials to smooth and brighten your complexion, using one of the best chemical peels at home—and likely on your own—might seem a little scary at first. Thankfully, there are a number of tried-and-true formulas available that are not only editor and expert approved, but also work quickly to deliver worthwhile results. “While it’s definitely best to leave the pro-strength peels to the professionals, the beauty of using an at-home peel is it can deliver dramatic benefits without the downtime and discomfort, and in the comfort and convenience of your own home,” Tammy Yaiser, the VP of product development at Algenist, says.
How do at-home chemical peels work?
A literal chemical solution, peels are topically applied to remove the very top layer of the skin, revealing the newer—and younger—skin underneath over the course of one to three weeks. As chemical peels feature varying concentrations, each formula is designed to penetrate the skin differently. When it comes to using any type of peel at home, professionals advise starting slowly. If you’re using retinol as part of your daily regimen, peels powered by glycolic acid—especially in higher concentrations—can cause chemical burns, leaving behind hyperpigmentation, especially on darker skin tones. Try doing a test spot with a peel of a lower concentration peel (aim for between 5 and 10 percent glycolic acid) before treating the entire face.
Which ingredients should you look for in an effective at-home peel?
The best formulas include a blend of active ingredients, like alpha hydroxy acids (including glycolic, lactic, and mandelic acids), beta hydroxy acid (like acne-fighting salicylic acid), plus a gentle exfoliant, like fruit enzymes. In addition to these staple ingredients, experts suggest keeping an eye out for other skin care essentials in your chemical peel for more specific skin care needs.
“It’s so important to read the label when it comes to at-home peels, otherwise you will be shedding like a snake or develop an unwanted or unforeseen reaction,” Azadeh Shirazi, a board-certified dermatologist at La Jolla Dermatology in La Jolla, California, tells BAZAAR.com, adding that skin type is also crucial when considering formulations. “If you have normal skin and want to improve tone and pigment, then go for a glycolic acid,” Shirazi says. “And if you have acne, a peel that features a combination of glycolic and salicylic is most effective. For dry or sensitive skin, formulations with mandelic or lactic acid are most suitable.”
What are some red flags that indicate sensitivity to a chemical peel?
While many peels are created for a wide range of skin types, there are a few signs that make it clear your skin may be experiencing irritation from one. “A slight tingling or sunburn-like sensation may occur, but it should resolve pretty quickly,” Shirazi says. “If it worsens and doesn’t go away, then it’s always best to seek professional help. Any itchiness or swollen skin may indicate an allergic reaction to the ingredients.”
To soothe sensitive skin after using a peel, Shirazi suggests reaching for a moisturizer containing calming ingredients like glycerin and ceramides, which help restore barrier function and maintain hydration. She also recommends using products containing allantoin, an ingredient that helps calm inflammation and irritation, and phytosphingosine, a natural lipid that not only strengthens the skin barrier, but also contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties—especially when combined with glycerin.
Without further ado, here are 19 of the very best at-home chemical peels worth adding to your weekly—or monthly—skin care rotation.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.