When you look at the ingredients list in your average beauty product, you’ll likely find a lot of chemical-sounding terms like retinol, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide. But these aren’t for building bombs: they’re for improving skin.
That’s because most beauty products are made with either exfoliants or keratolytic agents—and if you’re trying to get rid of sun damage, one or both of those things is probably what you should be looking for.
In this post, we’ll also cover best chemical peel for sun spots and at-home chemical peel for sun damage.
Best Skin Peel For Sun Damage
You spent your fair share of time at the beach this summer, lounging by the pool, and enjoying the many outdoor music festivals Westchester has to offer. Now, as fall approaches, along with great memories of another summer in the Hudson Valley, you also have sun-damaged skin.
Here at Her Secret MedSpa in Mamaroneck, New York, under the direction of Eyad M. Hijazin, MD, you can remedy summer skin damage with a chemical peel. Our highly skilled medical aestheticians customize a chemical peel treatment plan that’s suited to your specific needs, including sun spots, dull texture, and fine lines and wrinkles — typical signs of a summer well spent. Discover an easy way to reveal younger-looking skin without an invasive procedure.
Chemical peels reduce signs of summer skin damage
Chemical peels are a great choice for skin damage on your face, neck, and hands. Peels improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin by removing the outer layer of old, dull, skin using a chemical solution. Once the outer layer of skin sheds, it reveals a new layer of skin that’s smoother, softer, and less wrinkled than the layer that was exposed to the outdoor elements all season.
Your aesthetician at Her Secret MedSpa selects a chemical peel formula that addresses all your skin concerns, including:
- Fine lines around your eyes and mouth
- Age spots, freckles, and dark patches
- Rough texture
- Sun damage
- Enlarged pores
A chemical peel safely exfoliates your skin, so you look more radiant and glowing after a single treatment. And for maximum benefit, many adults like to undergo a series of three or more chemical peels.
Light and medium peels can significantly improve signs of summer skin damage
Depending on your level of sun damage, your skin type, and your desired results, light-to-medium chemical peels can make a noticeable difference in the appearance of your skin.
Light chemical peels
Light peels typically use alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), glycolic acid, or salicylic acid to remove the outer layer of skin. A light peel can improve the surface of your skin and lighten dark spots and areas of discoloration that occurred as a result of increased sun exposure, chlorine, and salty air.
Medium chemical peels
Medium peels often use glycolic acid, trichloroacetic acid, or lactic acid to treat acne, sun damage, and other skin imperfections, such as crepey skin. For the desired damage reversal, you might need two or more medium peels spaced out over a few months.
Once your aesthetician cleans your skin so it’s free from oil and makeup, they apply the acid directly to your skin using a brush, sponge, or cotton ball. The amount of time the acid solution stays on your skin depends on the strength and type of peel. Mild peels neutralize themselves after a certain period of time — often 10-20 minutes — but stronger peels need a neutralizing solution to make them stop working.
After the peel, you reap the benefits
Depending on the strength of the chemical peel, the outer layers of your skin peel off over the next several days. While the peeling may be somewhat of an inconvenience, once that outer layer is gone, you reap the benefits of smoother, softer, refreshed skin.
And on top of treating the outer layer of your skin, chemical peels also promote new collagen building from within, as your skin attempts to repair itself after the injury of a chemical peel. New collagen means long-lasting results, so you can say goodbye to summer skin and greet the fall looking like you escaped the damaging effects of the sun.
At-Home Chemical Peel For Sun Damage
Look at yourself in the mirror, beyond your smiling face, and take a peek at your skin. What do you see? Our most common complexion complaints are fine lines and dullness, but other typical frustrations include dark spots, breakouts, and clogged pores. Believe it or not, there are skincare solutions that can target all of these needs: They’re called chemical peels.
Though chemical peels sound scary (and they got some bad press thanks to that plotline featuring Samantha Jones from Sex and the City), they are largely misunderstood. They vary from gentle to aggressive, in-office to at-home, and come in a variety of different options to treat various skin types and tones. Yes, the strongest professional peels can literally peel off the top layers of skin, resulting in significant downtime. But that’s not what at-home chemical peels do. Consider a basic face scrub: It uses sugar, beads, and other coarse materials to slough off the dead skin cells on your face. However, those can irritate and create micro-tears in the skin because you’re physically forcing the skin to come off. Peels, however, use a chemical mechanism to accomplish this same goal.
How Do Chemical Peels Work?
1. The Acid Step
Generally, in-office treatments (and many at-home chemical peels) have two steps: acids and neutralizers. The acid step is formulated with ingredients known as alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs, respectively). “[These] work by loosening the “glue” that holds dead cells together, whether they’re on the skin’s surface or clumped together deep inside pores,” explains esteemed peel guru and board-certified NYC dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross. “This reveals the bright, new skin cells underneath, resulting in a fantastic glow.”
The AHAs you most frequently see in at-home chemical peel formulas are glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. “AHAs are water-soluble and work on the top layer of skin, removing dead skin cells for a smoother texture and enhanced glow,” says Dr. Gross. Alternatively, BHAs, like salicylic acid, are oil soluble. “That means they go deep into the skin, passing through the lipid layers,” he says. “As a result, they clear dead skin cells and oil build-up deep within pores.” There’s also a third acid category increasing in popularity, called polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), which are like the cousin of AHAs. While PHAs function like AHAs, they have a larger molecular structure (more on this later), making them especially gentle.
2. The Neutralizing Step
Remember that neutralizing step? While not typical of at-home chemical peels, neutralizers act as a power switch for the acids in the first step, instantly deactivating them and thus reducing sensitivity. Often, in the case of glycolic acid-based rinse-off treatments, water is acting as the neutralizer—it effectively “turns off” that AHA.
Are There Any Risks to At-Home Chemical Peels?
The riskiness factor of chemical peels gets significantly higher with in-office treatments. “Professional peels are much stronger and can damage the skin if not administered correctly,” warns Dr. Gross. At-home chemical peels are quite mild in comparison, but as is the case with any potent skincare product, it’s essential to do your homework. Dr. Gross points out that picking a product for your skin type will ensure minimal risk, as will selecting a formula from a brand you trust. He also recommends looking for clinical studies that prove the product is efficacious.
There are two caveats, however. The first has to do with your skin tone: If you have a deeper complexion, you should be cautious in your peel selection. “Products with a high concentration of active ingredients … could cause hyperpigmentation,” advises Dr. Gross. “Because darker skin tones already have more melanin than lighter skin tones, they are more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.”
But that’s not a reason to brush off peels altogether. Seeking out a formula that blends many acids at lower concentrations will help ensure you get the skincare benefits you’re looking for without adding new concerns. “The variety of acids works on different levels of the skin due to their molecular size, which diminishes the chances for irritation,” says Dr. Gross.
The other caveat is if you have a medical skin condition, such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea. At this point, you likely already know that you should check with your dermatologist before incorporating new and potentially inflammatory formulas into your routine. If not, consider this your friendly reminder.
How to Care for Your Skin After an At-Home Chemical Peel
Once you’ve used a chemical peel, you should adjust the rest of your regimen accordingly. Dr. Gross recommends using a serum that targets your specific concerns (for example, a vitamin C serum to help brighten), then a moisturizer. “With the skin cleared of dead skin cells, dirt, and debris, your products will penetrate the skin better and give you even better results,” he says. And, of course, don’t forget to wear sunscreen in the morning. While you hopefully already apply it daily, it’s essential to use SPF after using at-home chemical peels, as they make the skin more sensitive to sun exposure.
Now that you’ve got a handle on at-home chemical peels, keep reading. We’ve rounded up 20 of our favorites below across multiple categories, including picks for your body, because why should your face get all the love?
The Most Universal At-Home Chemical Peels
Retrouve Skin Brilliance Priming Pads
These cushy pads offer mild physical exfoliation that doesn’t feel scratchy—just effective—as well as chemical, courtesy of plant extracts that are naturally rich in AHAs. Bilberry, sugarcane, orange, and other botanical ingredients help reveal glowing skin, while panthenol moisturizes and chamomile soothes for a beautifully radiant and comfortable complexion.
Skin Brilliance Priming Pads
Kiramoon Star Jelly Magic Resurfacing Facial
If you’re looking for a fun DIY facial moment that isn’t just about moisturizing and pampering, try this at-home chemical peel from Kiramoon. The preciously packaged product is paired with an application brush (we can attest that using it to paint on the formula makes you feel very fancy) and contains a cocktail of effective ingredients, including glycolic, mandelic, and lactic acids; niacinamide; and hyaluronic acid. After 20 minutes, wash it off to reveal a gorgeous glow.
Luzern Au Vin Exfoliating Peel Pads
These Swiss peel pads are saturated with a solution of AHA lactic acid, PHA gluconolactone, clarifying willow bark extract (which has natural BHA properties), and vitamin C. Swiping it across your skin and letting it dry for five minutes will result in a more radiant complexion with decongested pores, less noticeable fine lines and wrinkles, and minimized discoloration.
Omorovicza Copper Peel
This two-step peel will make you feel like a cosmetic chemist—the box contains eight treatments (and sixteen tiny tubes) formulated with copper gluconate, lactic acid, and apple fruit extract to help illuminate the skin while reducing the appearance of pores. Never heard of copper gluconate? This on-the-rise ingredient is said to trigger your fibroblasts, the cells responsible for collagen production, as well as acting as a potent antioxidant. Just apply the peel paste to your forehead down to your neck, then layer the activator on top and massage it in to reap the rewards.
Best At-Home Chemical Peels for Acne and Congested Skin
Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Liquid Peel
During peak pandemic, we were relying on this at-home chemical peel and the toner in the same collection to stave off maskne. We still rely on applying a few drops before bed when we want to decongest our pores but don’t want to overtreat our skin with an aggressive formula. PHA gluconolactone gently sloughs off dead skin while maintaining moisture, while blemish-blasting staple salicylic acid and AHAs glycolic and lactic acids smooth and brighten.
Dr. Zenovia Clear Complexion 10% Glycolic Acne Peel Pads
Though this formula contains potent ingredients like 10 percent glycolic and two percent salicylic acids to fight breakouts, it’s gentle to use up to twice a day, which is atypical. That’s due to the formula’s botanical complex of bakuchiol, genistein, green tea, resveratrol, aloe, and cucumber. These ingredients are more than just skin-soothers—they also provide free radical defense and help fight post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation for clearer, brighter, more even-looking skin.
Replenix Acne Gly-Sal 10-2 Clarifying Pads
Ready to break out the big guns? Replenix is known for its medical-grade formulas, and these peel pads are no exception. Though they’re soft, which means they won’t irritate active acne, they’re also soaked in a solution of 10 percent glycolic and two percent salicylic acids, as well as hydrator/exfoliator multitasker urea, oil-stripping acetone, and soothing witch hazel. Note: The potency of these pads is no joke, so if you have sensitive skin, proceed with caution.
Best At-Home Chemical Peels for Dullness and Dark Spots
Goop Glow 15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
The pads of this cult-favorite overnight peel feature a unique slip-on design for total control of your exfoliation experience, which the brand recommends extending from your face to your neck, chest, and shoulders—standard spots for sun damage. The 15 percent glycolic acid works in tandem with Kakadu plum (packed with vitamin C) and anti-inflammatory yellow mombin, as well as other fruit extracts to provide true “beauty sleep” and a soft, glowy complexion.
Glo-Skin Beauty Hydra-Bright AHA Glow Peel
Sure, you may not be a medical esthetician, but this Glo Beauty set will make you feel like you could moonlight as one. It’s packed with everything you need for a weekly at-home radiance ritual—from peels and serums to applicators, gauze, and even reusable cotton rounds and a headband. The intensive, multi-step at-home chemical peel feels like a true professional treatment and delivers the results of one, too; the formulas in the kit feature star AHAs like kojic, lactic, glycolic, malic, and mandelic acids to fully brighten dark spots. FYI: The potency of this product could result in up to five days of potential downtime, so plan accordingly.
Urban Skin RX Even Tone Resurfacing At Home Peel
Urban Skin RX’s peel contains arbutin, niacinamide, glutathione, and kojic acid, meaning dark spots, PIH, and discoloration don’t stand a chance. You’ll also find lactic acid and retinol in them for comprehensive exfoliating benefits. Plus, the soft pads are individually wrapped, so they’re easy to toss in a weekend bag without fear of leaks.
Best At-Home Chemical Peels for Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Exfoliating Super Peel
Don’t mind the strong smell or tingle: That means this rinse-off solution from Peter Thomas Roth is working. In just two minutes, 35 percent phytic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid work together to brighten, clarify, and shrink pores for seriously smooth skin. If the tingle is a little too much for you, simply splash on some water to neutralize the formula.
Kate Somerville KateCeuticals Overnight Resurfacing Peel
This silky, not sticky, overnight peel dries down to a velvety texture that provides a freshly-dermaplaned level of smoothness; but it’s just getting started: It works overnight to infuse your skin with glycolic acid, slow-release retinol, and niacinamide to help fade fine lines and wrinkles while brightening away dark spots. If you’re sensitive to scent, know that it has a strong but pleasant “clean” smell that reminds us of just-out-the-dryer laundry.
Paula’s Choice 25% AHA and 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel
Paula’s Choice is a no-nonsense, hardworking ingredient-driven brand—so we were pleasantly surprised when we squeezed this 10-minute treatment out of the tube and discovered a pearlescent purple potion. The beautiful hue is from the trendy cocktail ingredient butterfly pea flower, which provides skin-soothing and antioxidant benefits. That helps comfort skin while experiencing the sloughing, radiance-revealing benefits of BHA salicylic acid and AHAs glycolic, lactic, mandelic, tartaric, and malic acids.
Best At-Home Chemical Peels for the Body
Stacked Skincare Hydrating Lip Peel
Lip peels are uncommon, but they really shouldn’t be: That skin is incredibly delicate, and scrubs can often be too abrasive, which is why many people resort to exfoliating their lips with a damp washcloth. This unique offering from Stacked Skincare contains edible grade AHAs, including phytic, lactic, and mandelic acids, as well as mushroom extract to help infuse and seal in moisture. We like using it before putting on lipstick to ensure a super-smooth application.
Sussane Kaufman Rejuvenating Hand Peel
We’ve always heard from skincare experts that hands are incredibly neglected when it comes to skin protection and care. Think about it—they, like your face, are almost always exposed to the elements. For hands that look as youthful as your complexion, massage this Austrian brand’s formula into clean, damp skin several times a week, then rinse. We bet you’ll be posting ring selfies in no time.
Priori 2xFoliant Peel + Scrub For Face and Body
We love a two-in-one, though this peel/scrub hybrid technically qualifies as a four-in-one as you can use the double exfoliator on both face and body. The formula combines lactic acid with ocean-safe wax beads for gentle chemical and physical exfoliation. Because it’s an efficient addition to any shower, it’s worth encouraging any skincare-stubborn dudes in your life to try it—like the dad who’s never used any product other than bar soap throughout his life.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta® Exfoliating Body Treatment
Like the rest of the brand’s Alpha Beta line, this all-over body treatment offers a powerhouse blend of glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids; willow bark extract, bakuchiol, and a host of other ingredients to ensure skin appears smoother and more even with a single swipe. Body breakouts be damned.
Best At-Home Chemical Peels for Sensitive Skin
Versed The Shortcut Overnight Pee
This balmy formula from affordable skincare line Versed is gentle enough to be used nightly but still potent enough (thanks to a blend of lactic and glycolic acids) to deliver results you can see upon waking up. It dries down to a satin finish so you’ll never mess up your pillowcase and the shea butter ensures nourished, touchably soft skin.
Tammy Fender Epi-Peel
Ideally, we’d have this peel applied to our face as we relax under the soothing hands of genius esthetician Tammy Fender at her Palm Beach studio, but we’ll settle for its post-facial glow. The ultra-clean and natural formula uses a mild physical exfoliator plus kaolin clay to purge pores and rosemary to soothe skin for effortless-looking radiance. Bonus: Fender is a big proponent of aromatherapy, so you’ll find a lot of beautiful essential oils in the formula, making this a spa treatment in a jar.
Philosophy Microdelivery Resurfacing Solution
It was the packaging of this peel that caught our eye—the pump top makes it easy to soak a cotton round and glide it across your skin—but the formula held our attention. Because the solution uses a gentle four percent blend of lactic and glycolic acids (plus brightening vitamin C, niacinamide, and soothing cica), you can use it five times a week.
Best Chemical Peel For Sun Spots
Glycolic Acid Peels – Glycolic acid peels or Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) peels are best suited for treating surface level discoloration because it does go deep into the skin. They are also better for those with dry skin.