When you have a very specific skincare concern or are just looking for a unique, targeted treatment for your skin, it can be hard to find the right product. Fortunately, many drugstores stock a wide selection of tried-and-true over-the-counter (OTC) treatments that can be just as effective as the alternative—though often a lot more affordable than professional procedures.
While there are many skincare products available in stores, one of the most popular and effective types is peels. Peels can help improve several different skin concerns, including fine lines and wrinkles, acne, hyperpigmentation, and even sun damage. But what exactly do peels do? How effective are they? And which one should you choose? These are all important questions when it comes to choosing the right peel—and we’re here to help you find the answers.
Right here on cosmeticsurgerytips, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on glycolic acid peel at home, best professional chemical peels, best drugstore chemical peel, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
Best Otc Glycolic Peel
Ready to feel more confident when reading your beauty products’ ingredient labels? Enter, the Allure Ingredient Index. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the most in-demand (and under-the-radar) ingredients in your favorite skin-care products.
Treating breakouts, evening out skin texture, and removing dead skin cells all at once may seem like a big ask from a single beauty product — but there’s one potent ingredient that can tackle all three concerns (and more) all on its own: glycolic acid. “The water-soluble alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), of which [glycolic acid] is the smallest, is most often used as an exfoliant in skin-care formulas,” explains cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko.
While providing powerful exfoliation, the powerhouse AHA also improves skin tone, texture, and minimizes hyperpigmentation. You can also expect some boosts to skin’s collagen production —and since the acid helps remove dead skin cells and prevents other buildup from clogging your pores, products with the ingredient can help stop acne breakouts. In short, there’s very little that glycolic acid can’t do.
If you’re new to glycolic acid, it’s best to ease into using the chemical exfoliant. “Start using it slowly, with a lower concentration of 10 percent or less, or with a glycolic acid cleanser,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. As your skin adjusts over time, you can start adding products with the sloughing acid into your regime in higher concentrations. However, if you have sensitive skin, it’s best to err on the side of caution and check with your dermatologist before using the ingredient at all.
No matter what the season, using glycolic acid will keep your skin clear and bright year-round. Ahead, we’ve gathered up 16 of the best glycolic acid treatments — recommended by dermatologists and Allure editors — in a range of concentrations and formats, to help get you glowing no matter what the state of your skin at the moment.
1/16 SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser
If you’re new to the ingredient, Hartman advises gently incorporating this SkinCeuticals’ Glycolic Renewal Cleanser into your regimen. It uses an 8 percent concentration of the AHA, along with phytic acid, to remove dirt, oil, and long-wearing makeup without stripping away any moisture.
2/16 Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser
Dr. Hartman recommends the Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser to his patients because its gel texture makes it really easy to apply. Use the wash as part of a double-cleansing routine when you need to break down makeup or grime on the skin’s surface. Or, swap the cleanser in place of your daily wash, one to three times per week for regular maintenance.
3/16 The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
The Ordinary’s 7% Toning Solution packs a punch by mildly exfoliating to increase brightness and radiance. Over time, it’ll also help improve the appearance of skin texture, too, which is why Dr. Hartman is a fan. “However, with its affordable price, the peel could bring a higher risk of irritation and redness that pricier options may avoid with other ingredients to soothe the skin,” he notes.
4/16 SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
Before you catch some ZZZs, board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, M.D., who is based in New York City, recommends slathering on this SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream. It’s formulated with alpha hydroxy acids — including glycolic and lactic acids, along with vitamin A — to boost collagen production, combat fine lines, and improve your skin’s overall tone and texture. You can also count on a combination of vitamins C, E, and coenzyme Q10 in the cream to help neutralize damaging free radicals. “It is a dermatologist favorite for good reason as it boosts collagen, combats fine lines, and improves tone and texture,” says Dr. Murphy-Rose.
5/16 Drunk Elephant T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
A trio of glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids in Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C Framboos Glycolic Night Serum clears congestion from deep within the pores to keep pimples from coming to a head. “This is a great non-retinol serum to gradually reverse sun damage, fine lines, and dark spots,” says Dr. Murphy-Rose. Plus, raspberry extract and a combination of citric and tartaric acid work together to gradually reverse sun damage, fine lines, and dark spots.
6/16 Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser
Consider Glytone’s Mild Gel Cleanser your solution to achieving your smoothest, firmest skin yet. With each use, the wash helps remove dead skin cells to reveal a healthy, revitalized complexion while balancing your skin’s pH level — which is why it’s another of Dr. Murphy-Rose’s favorites. This formula has an acid level of 4.7 — making it an ideal choice for daily use and well-suited for more sensitive skin types.
7/16 Charlotte Tilbury Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial Treatment
Charlotte Tilbury’s Super Radiance Resurfacing Facial Treatment revamps dull skin, making it appear more radiant,” says board-certified dermatologist Jeannette Graf, M.D., who is based in New York City. The formula uses three different types of acids: glycolic, of course, which penetrates the skin to brighten from within; salicylic acid, which is a pore-clearing beta-hydroxy acid (BHA); and bio agave acid, a gentle polyhydroxy acid (PHA), that removes dead cells on the skin’s surface. “From experience, I have noticed the treatment reduces the appearance of acne bumps and helps remove some inflammation,” Dr. Graf adds.
8/16 Isdin Night Peel
This product has a patented, triple-acid (glycolic, lactic, and salicylic) formulation that works together powerfully to address many skin concerns all at once,” explains Dr. Graf. In addition to glycolic acid in this Isdin Night Peel, there’s also tartaric and malic acid to exfoliate the more superficial layers of dead skin cells. Use the treatment at night when your skin is in its most reparative state, and you’ll wake up with skin that’s softer, exfoliated, and — thanks to moisturizing glycerin — more hydrated. Plus, each ampoule is resealable, so you don’t have to worry about using the entire portion in one shot. Just use enough to thinly coat your face.
9/16 La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum
As implied in the name, La Roche-Posay’s Glycolic B5 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum contains a straight, no chaser 10 percent dose of the powerful AHA, plus vitamin B5. The product can be used solo — or, if you’re just dipping a toe into the glycolic acid pond, try the treatment as a booster with a moisturizer. Either way, you’ll reap its dark spot-diminishing benefits over time.
10/16 No7 Laboratories Resurfacing Peel 15% Glycolic Acid
A little bit of this potent No7 Laboratories Resurfacing Peel 15% Glycolic Acid goes a long way in vanishing dirt, pollutants, and other grime to reveal a gorgeous glow. Sounds like a win-win for skin.
11/16 L’Oréal Paris Revitalift 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum
Searching for a drugstore pick that works as effectively as its pricier counterparts? L’Oréal Paris’ Revatalift 10% Pure Glycolic Acid Serum has you covered. The treatment contains a combination of glycolic acid and aloe, which are ideal for correcting dark spots, evening out your skin tone, and reducing wrinkles — without any irritation whatsoever.
12/16 Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Peel Pads
Dr. Dennis Gross’ best-selling Alpha Beta Pads have earned their spot as one of the best glycolic acid treatments around. The two-step peel system uses a trio of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids to help you achieve professional-level results at home. All three acids work in harmony to reduce signs of aging, unclog pores, support collagen production, and help with cellular turnover. Sign us up.
13/16 M-61 Power Glow Peel
This one-minute, one-step M-61 Power Glow Peel exfoliates to help you achieve your best glow yet. Using both glycolic and salicylic acid, it’ll give you a whole slew of benefits (like improving the skin’s texture, tone, and clarity) without any redness, thanks to soothing chamomile and lavender.
14/16 Pixi Clarity Acid Peel
A multi-acid blend of salicylic, glycolic, and lactic acids team up for the Pixi Clarity Acid Peel to grant us some major exfoliation deep within the skin. Bamboo stem powder in the product also smoothes away roughness on the skin’s surface — leaving behind radiant, luminous skin.
15/16 Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant
Dullness, dry skin, and acne are no match for the mixture of moisturizing hyaluronic and exfoliating glycolic acids that you’ll find within the Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant. You can also count on hydrating panthenol and soothing aloe in the formula to keep skin from becoming irritated as the acid goes to work smoothing.
16/16 Acure Resurfacing Overnight Glycolic Treatment
Make the most of your beauty sleep with Acure’s Resurfacing Overnight Glycolic Treatment. Glycolic and lactic acids refine and resurface the skin, while true unicorn root works in tandem to boost your skin’s glow. Avocado and jojoba seed oils replenish moisture that may have been lost in the sloughing process.
Glycolic Acid Peel At Home
Like Seamless and Amazon Prime, beauty brands are making it so you never have to leave your house again. See: at-home peels, which promise spa facial-like results, no appointment required.
“At-home peels come in a variety of forms that range from the agents used to the application methods,” says Ava Shamban, a Beverly Hills celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Skin Five. “Their benefits range from a useful gentle exfoliation, to treating acne, to improving texture tone and pigmentary abnormalities.”
Because there are countless peels on the markets with different hero ingredients—like glycolic acid, lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), and citric acid, to name a few—we turned to Shamban and Dhaval Bhanusali, a New York City-based dermatologist and laser surgeon, to break down exactly what you need to know before trying a peel yourself.
DO: Read the ingredients
“If reading the label is important for every day skin care, it is extremely important when choosing a peel,” Shamban says, “If you choose incorrectly you may not turn into a reptile, but your skin could certainly peel like a snake shedding its skin.”
The most important part is picking the right acids for your skin type and goal. “If you want to improve the tone and pigment of skin, try AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid,” explains Bhanusali. “BHAs like salicylic are good for acne-prone skin and help with oil control. And if you want a light exfoliation, try a peel with fruit acids in it.”
Shamban is also a fan of AHAs, which she says “can be extremely useful for treating conditions from acne to pigmentation abnormalities.” Enzyme peels (made with fruit ingredients like papaya or pineapple) offer a more gentle alternative.
DON’T: Get too caught up in percentages
You might see an acid-based product claiming a percentage of acid in the formula. “A peel with 20% glycolic is something completely different than one with 20% salicylic acid,” Bhanusali says. “My advice is to start with the lowest strength peel and work your way up.” Shamban claims the percentage of glycolic acid should be higher for more mature and sun damaged skin. Aging skin can be treated with up to 20 percent. However, she adds, “With repeated peels, results will be seen almost regardless of the concentration.
DO: Test first
Bhanusali warns: “Be careful with glycolic acid. It can cause chemical burns if it’s too strong.” And those with darker skin tones should be extra wary of chemical peels. “These skin types are more likely to get hyperpigmentation and even chemical burns,” he says. “Start with a lower strength peel and work your way up.”
Shamban’s hack: “If your skin is sensitive, be sure to test the peel behind the ear or right in front of the ear before applying.”
DON’T: Go overboard with skin prep
“Using a peel doesn’t require prep, really, just gently cleanse your skin,” Bhanusali suggests, adding that it’s great to use a product with glycerin, chamomile, or other calming ingredients Make sure your skin is makeup-free and clean of grease—no need for heavy exfoliation or toning, because “the combination may overwhelm the skin.” If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even use a facial steamer beforehand to let ingredients penetrate even deeper.
DON’T: Do anything that might irritate skin further
Stay away from scrubs, lasers, products with acid, and any waxing treatments for the first 24 to 72 hours. This is also not the time to enjoy a day in the sun. If sun exposure is a must, make sure you apply sunscreen.
DO: Say goodbye to retinoids, vitamin C, and other products with acid
Both Shamban and Bhanusali suggest editing your skincare routine pre-peel so you cause your skin to become super sensitive, which may lead to redness or even a bad reaction. That includes dodging retinol-based products, as well as vitamin C, AHAs, and BHAs, for two to three days before the peel.
DON’T: Use physical exfoliators immediately after a peel
Take a break from the Clarisonic. “You are doing a chemical exfoliation, so be careful with any device that will do a physical exfoliation as you will be rubbing off the top layers of your skin,” Shamban says. Another thing you should skip? Makeup for at least 24 hours after the peel, because it might lead to further irritation.
DON’T: Peel too frequently
“Once a week, or once every two weeks is all you need,” Bhanusali says. Additional peels or overpeeling can disrupt your microbiome and leave your skin raw.
DO: Use gentle skincare products after a peel
Seek products that add moisture and nourishment back into the treated skin. Shamban suggests following with a “general non-comedogenic moisturizer” while Bhanusali stands by a “lightly moisturizing often with something gentle.”