Are you tired of looking in the mirror every morning and seeing a dull, dry complexion staring back at you? Do you feel like your skin could use a pick-me-up, but you’re not sure where to start?
We get it. Skin can be complicated. That’s why we put together this guide to the best over-the-counter peels for whatever your skin needs!
What are chemical peels?
A chemical peel is a liquid that removes dead skin cells from the surface of your face, revealing fresh, young skin underneath. These can be used as an alternative to face lifts—you won’t get quite the same results as with surgical procedures, but there’s no downtime or post-procedure care required.
It’s important to remember, though, that chemical peels are not magic solutions for all of your skin problems. Peels can help treat acne and acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation (aka age spots or dark areas), and sun damage.
They cannot be used to treat rosacea or warts.
Right here on cosmeticsurgerytips, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on best professional chemical peels, best chemical peel for sagging skin, where to buy chemical peel products, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
Best Over The Counter Skin Peel
Chemical peels are an amazing secret weapon to battle a myriad of skin issues. They help you brighten a dull complexion, slough off dead skin cells, and get a healthy, refreshed glow in just a matter of minutes.
Effective, professional chemical peel treatments conducted by an esthetician can be costly, and we get that these luxuries may not fit in your budget. Luckily, many brands offer a more affordable way to get similar spa results at home for less than the price of one professional peel.
The Best At-Home Chemical Peels
- Best Overall: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
- Most Intense Formula: Perfect Image Lactic Acid 50% Gel Peel
- Targets Acne and Fine Lines: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
- Best Kit: Philosophy The Microdelivery Peel
- Best Weekly Peel: Makeup Artist’s Choice (MUAC) Mandelic Acid Peel
- Best Peel Pads: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
- Best for Body: StackedSkincare TCA Lactic & Glycolic Body Peel
- Best Retinol: SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream
- Fast-Acting Formula: Cinq Mondes 3-Minute Phyto Peeling Gel Mask
- Best for Sensitive Skin: HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel
- Packed With Glycolic Acid: goop Beauty GOOPGLOW 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
- Best Overnight Gel: Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
- Best Overnight Pads: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Pads
- Best Gift Set: Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Trio
- Best Liquid Formula: Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment
- Best for Post-Peel: PCA Skin The Post-Procedure Solution Kit
- Best of Clean Beauty: Tata Harper Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask
Before you go playing spa day at home, it’s important that you do your research to make sure you aren’t doing more harm than good to your precious skin. Many of these kinds of products contain high concentrations of acids to chemically exfoliate your skin, so you need to be educated on what you’re using. To help demystify chemical peels, we chatted with skincare experts to learn more about the popular treatment, including their safety tips and favorite product recommendations.
What Is a Chemical Peel? And Why Is It Essential?
You likely already know the importance of a good exfoliation, and probably have a face scrub (or dozen) on rotation at home. A chemical peel takes the buffing process a step further. It’s a chemical solution that is applied to your face to help remove the top layer of skin. It helps soften wrinkles, fade discoloration, and minimize scars, according to Mayo Clinic.
When you incorporate chemical peels into your skincare routine, you’ll reveal a much brighter and smoother complexion when compared to a face scrub. Chemical peels also help unearth oil and dirt trapped inside your pores, making it an enticing option for anyone with oily or acne-prone skin. Plus, removing dead skin cells has the added benefit of helping your products absorb deeper, says celebrity esthetician Shani Darden.
At-Home Versus In-Office Chemical Peels
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Snehal Amin, M.D., highlights that it is possible to achieve skin-brightening exfoliation with an at-home chemical peel, although they likely won’t be as potent or fast-acting as an in-office peel procedure. Why? An in-office chemical peel has a higher concentration level of chemicals that are better able to penetrate deeper into the skin.
But don’t lose hope and think that you’ll only see real results from an in-office treatment. Amin notes that at-home peels “can definitely help to improve skin tone and texture, and reduce breakouts and pigmentation,” but you’ll want to avoid over-exfoliation. He also says that it’s equally important to apply the peel as directed to avoid potential mishaps.
Dr. Dennis Gross, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of his namesake skincare line adds that more doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to at-home chemical peels. “Don’t overdo it,” he insists. “There is a limit to what is useful, beneficial, or safe, and just know that you want to match your skin type.” He says it’s also a good idea to pick a product with a lower concentration of glycolic acid to avoid any mishaps.
Types of At-Home Chemical Peels
According to double board-certified facial plastic surgeon Dr. Amir Karam, M.D., an at-home chemical peel falls into one of two categories, based on its ingredients:
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic and lactic acids are known for improving overall skin tone and discoloration.
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid can penetrate deep into your pores and hair follicles to help unclog them. These are great for anyone with acne-prone or oily skin.
Chemical Peel Safety Tips
- Do follow the directions to a T, or you might damage your skin. When done incorrectly, chemical peels can cause burns and scarring, cautions Karam. He says taking matters into your own hands is a common but costly rookie mistake. For example, if the directions say only use two passes and you use more product than necessary, you can damage multiple layers of your skin.
- Don’t mix chemical peels on your own. Seriously, it’s just not worth it because doing so can lead to an unwanted chemical reaction, argues Karam. The only exception is if a reputable company pre-mixed the solution for you.
Taking care of your skin after a chemical peel is fairly simple and straightforward. Here are a couple of key tips from the pros.
- Hydration: When your skin is well-moisturized, it’ll recover more quickly, according to Karam.
- Sunscreen is a power move all year long, but slathering it on is especially important after a chemical peel, says Karam. (We previously covered all things sunscreen, ranging from face sunscreens and spray sunscreens to mineral sunscreens and tinted sunscreens.)
Sensitive Skin and Chemical Peels
Yes, you can use a chemical peel if you have sensitive skin, but consider a peel that’s made with milder chemicals like lactic and mandelic acids, says Amir.
- Lactic acid is handy when you want to shrink the appearance of large pores and fade dark spots.
- Mandelic acid is the most gentle form of AHA, making it ideal for sensitive skin. It’s also helpful for lightening mild dark spots.
- Enzymes are great when you want a gentle exfoliation, and are derived from fruits and vegetables like pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin.
What’s the Bottom Line?
A chemical peel is an excellent way to exfoliate your skin. It can help fade any imperfections you want to fix, like congested pores, acne, hyperpigmentation, and even wrinkles. However, using one requires some discipline, like sticking to the directions provided with your kit. If you’re finally ready to reveal glowing, baby-soft skin, consider adding one of these chemical peels to your online shopping cart before they sell out.
1 BEST OVERALL
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Looking for a chemical peel under $10 to rejuvenate your complexion? Enter this budget-friendly, top-rated pick from The Ordinary. It contains a whopping 30% AHA treatment, plus 2% BHA to give your skin a powerful, chemically exfoliating treatment.
This effective skincare product goes deep into pores to suck out any grime and impurities, giving you an instantly tighter and brighter complexion.
2 MOST INTENSE FORMULA
Perfect Image Lactic Acid 50% Gel Peel
With 50% lactic acid, this is one of the highest concentrations you can purchase to use at home. This potent alpha-hydroxy acid is most helpful for sun-damaged, aging skin. It also works to diffuse the appearance of age spots, freckles, and other discolorations.
3 TARGETS ACNE AND FINE LINES
T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
This at-home chemical peel from Drunk Elephant — adored by both editors and consumers alike — is packed with an impressive 25% alpha-hydroxy acid and 2% beta-hydroxy acid formula that works to resurface your skin.
This product blends both exfoliating acids harmoniously, and it’s one of the best chemical peels you can get your hands on for home use. Just glide on this smooth gel for about 20 minutes, rinse away, and enjoy your freshly exfoliated skin.
4 BEST KIT
The Microdelivery Peel
This two-step, at-home chemical peel by Philosophy resurfaces and rejuvenates aging skin at the same time. Unlike most other peels out there, this one also delivers peptides and vitamin C to the skin while it’s being rapidly exfoliated.
5 BEST WEEKLY PEEL
25% Mandelic Acid Peel
Makeup Artists Choice (MUAC)
Boasting 25% mandelic acid, this strong peel should only be used once a week, advises Amin.
It’s relatively affordable, has great reviews on Amazon, and contains around a dozen ingredients on the label, including oil-absorbing witch hazel. Plus, it’s earned a recommendation from Amin.
6 BEST PEEL PADS
Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel (30-Pack)
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare
Dr. Gross’ at-home chemical peel system gives you both the chemical exfoliants and a neutralizer to keep your skin from freaking out.
“I like the concept of the packets because if you use it exactly how it’s directed, it’s very hard to cause any issue,” says Karam.
Darden recommends using these once or twice a week, depending on your skin condition and the other products you’re using.
7 BEST FOR BODY
TCA Lactic & Glycolic Body Peel
Body acne is as real as it gets, and when the going gets tough on our shoulders, back, and butt, we whip out this intense body treatment.
Think of it as a chemical peel, but for the neck down. It has a five-acid formula to target all of your acne and texture woes. Plus, it also brightens dark spots and smoothes fine lines and wrinkles. Sensitive skin types can indulge without worry because this body peel was formulated to gently soothe skin ailments like eczema.
8 BEST RETINOL
Retinol 0.5 Refining Night Cream
You no longer have to be intimidated by retinol. One of Amin’s favorite at-home peeling methods is to apply a classic Retin-A cream. He considers it an entry-level retinol, and a great starter peel agent.
This non-comedogenic product also contains skin-calming bisabolol, and is formulated without pesky fragrances or parabens.
The brand suggests those with oily, combination, or normal skin types use this retinol. If you have sensitive or dry skin, you’ll be better off trying a different product on our list.
9 FAST-ACTING FORMULA
Phyto Peeling Gel Mask
Our beauty editor, Nicole Saunders, has been using this lightweight peel on her oily skin since 2018, and considers it a gentle and effective skin brightener for special occasions.
“What I enjoy most about this light peel is that it only takes three minutes to help brighten my face and enhance my glow,” she says.
It smells like citrus, thanks to its combination of three fruit acids — most notably glycolic acid — which helps exfoliate dead skin cells.
10 BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN
HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel
Just because you have ultra sensitive skin doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a resurfacing chemical peel every now and then. Instead of the more intense formulas, try opting for this gentle option from HydroPeptide.
What truly makes this chemical peel stand out is its integration of red and green tea, which work hand-in-hand to nurture your skin, prevent redness, and soothe inflammation.
11 PACKED WITH GLYCOLIC ACID
15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
If you’re looking for a slightly more powerful at-home chemical peel, then allow us to introduce you to these overnight peels from Goop Beauty. They contain a whopping 15% glycolic acid to remove just about every piece of dirt and grime from your pores. Plus, they’re infused with hyaluronic acid, so your skin won’t ever dry out or get irritated.
12 BEST OVERNIGHT PEEL
The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel
Would you rather snooze while transforming your skin? Well, clearer complexions are just one dream away, thanks to this nifty overnight peel from Versed. It contains vitamin A, lactic acid, and glycolic acid to give your skin a jumpstart overnight. Plus it’s vegan and fragrance-free, making it ideal for sensitive skin types.
13 BEST OVERNIGHT PADS
That’s Incredi-Peel Pads
Another highly coveted option for those who prefer their chemical peels in pad form, Bliss’ Incredi-Peel packs a serious punch. These pads allow you to take the Bliss Spa home with you, as each one gradually releases glycolic acid overnight to target fine lines and imperfections for smoother, brighter skin by morning.
14 BEST GIFT SET
Peter Thomas Roth
This toner is so well-loved, it’s sold out across reader-favorite shops like Walmart, Dermstore, and Nordstrom. But luckily, we found it as part of a three-piece set at QVC.
The gift set includes everything you need to maintain your results at home, including a face wash and moisturizer infused with up to a 10% concentration of glycolic acid.
Peter Thomas Roth’s toner boasts an 8% concentration of glycolic acid, and combines witch hazel to soothe and exfoliate. We love that it’s multipurpose and won’t strip your skin during the exfoliating process, as similar acidic products can.
15 BEST LIQUID FORMULA
Liquid ExfoliKate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment
Kate Sommerville has recently formulated its best-selling physical exfoliator into a liquid version. This nighttime, at-home chemical peel uses a triple blend of glycolic, malic, and lactic acids to deeply exfoliate your pores.
16 BEST FOR POST-PEEL
The Post-Procedure Solution Kit
Whether you opt for an at-home chemical peel or an in-office treatment, sometimes, your skin can go through some less-than-lovely situations (think flakiness, redness, and dryness) after such an intensely clarifying process.
That’s where this post-peel kit from PCA Skin comes in. It includes just about everything you need for your skin to recover smoothly while restoring skin health, protecting your complexion, and speeding up the healing process.
17 BEST OF CLEAN BEAUTY
Resurfacing BHA Glow Mask
If you’re a fan of clean, all-natural products, then this glow mask is perfect for refining your complexion. It has willow bark extract, which contains all-natural BHAs to help slough off any impurities lingering in your skin.
Plus, pink clay and pomegranate enzymes work to give your skin a fully refreshed and cleansed feel, along with tighter, smaller pores.