Are you tired of having to hide your face under layers of makeup? Are you frustrated with the time it takes to conceal every last scar on your face so you can feel confident enough to go out in public?
Well, you’re not alone. The truth is that most people struggle with some level of insecurity about their appearance. Whether it’s scars, blotchy skin, freckles, or even wrinkles and dark circles under their eyes, we all want to feel comfortable in our own skin. But it’s hard when we feel like we’re constantly being judged by others.
If you’ve been living with a scar from an old injury or acne problems that have left your face pockmarked and unpleasant to look at, it might be time to invest in a home skin peel. These peels are specially formulated to resurface and refresh your skin, helping you reduce the appearance of scars and even out your complexion.
In this post, we’ll also consider homemade face peel for dead skin and strong homemade chemical peel.
Homemade Chemical Peel For Acne Scars
Although it would be nice to look in the mirror and have it tell me that I’m the fairest one of all, certain insecurities of mine—ahem, acne scars—beg to differ. That being said, I know there’s nothing wrong with acne scars, in fact, women have been embracing these so-called “flaws” rather than feeling ashamed by them.
Still, for those of you who are interested, or maybe just a little bit curious, I’ve done the research and checked in with top skincare professionals on all there is to know about how to treat acne scars. While there are preventative measures we can take to keep acne scars from forming—like washing our faces daily, controlling oil buildup in our pores, and not picking at blemishes once they appear—the most effective tool for diminishing and even vanishing acne scars from skin’s surface may be a chemical peel. It’s gentle on the skin but tough on scars. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about using chemical peels to treat acne scars.
What Is a Chemical Peel?
A chemical peel is a cosmetic treatment in which acids with exfoliating properties are applied to the skin—typically the face. The chemical solution removes dead skin, oil, and debris to reveal newer, smoother, and clearer skin.
According to NYC plastic surgeon Melissa Doft, MD, chemical peels are a strong form of chemical exfoliation in which “an acid solution” does away with dead skin and pore-clogging impurities on contact. Doft says that they “cause a controlled injury to surface skin cells.” It sounds a lot scarier than it is, but remember these injuries are on a cellular level (kind of like microneedling). “The strength of the peeling solution will determine the level of injury to your skin,” Doft says. “After the skin is injured, it will peel off and new cells will replace the old ones. Stronger peels will cause a deeper injury and thus require more downtime to heal.” Since brand new cells replace the old, expect the skin to look more even, glowy, and fresh.
Benefits of a Chemical Peel
If trying to decide whether a chemical peel is right for you, consider the benefits, which, according to Jennifer MacGregor, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, are many:
- Brightens pigment
- Smooths skin
- Evens skin tone
- Unclogs pores
- Reduces acne
- Improves the penetration and efficacy of your other skincare products3
Not too shabby if you ask us. She adds, “If you use a peeling agent regularly for four to six weeks or more (or opt for a stronger peel), you can also smooth texture by building new and healthier collagen and elastin and even boost skin’s own internal hyaluronic acid, which gives it that plump, luminous quality.”
As for the pros of peels if you have acne-prone skin, “The improvement in comedonal acne—the type where pores are blocked and skin is oily—is significant and there can be a mild improvement in texture for shallow-depth boxcar scars over time,” says MacGregor. She continues, “More aggressive peeling can improve acne scars significantly, but these have fallen out of favor due to the recovery profile as it compares to laser and energy devices (the latter having a better ratio of improvement to downtime). Occasionally, we place a stronger peeling agent just into the center deeper scars, which is a spot treatment often called the cross method.”
How to Prepare for a Chemical Peel
“If you have routine skincare, stick to your regimen before the peel. If you use any new and active cosmeceuticals that irritate you before your peel, it could cause even more irritation, unnecessary recovery, and uneven peeling,” says MacGregor.
When it comes to retinoids, she explains, “If you use [them] regularly just inform your physician and don’t change anything leading up to the peel. Some people disagree on this point since retinoids are also peeling agents that thin out the outer dead cell layer, so a peel will be stronger; however, retinoids also thicken the epidermis. The outer healthy cell layer of skin is thicker in retinoid users, not thinner). Just don’t start new retinoids a few weeks before and don’t go to have a professional peel without informing them of your retinoid use and strength.”
Lastly, “Definitely don’t get waxed before a peel. If you are doing peel pads or solution at home, start very gently, and gradually build to more frequent use. If it’s a new product, always test a small area first,” advises MacGregor.
What to Expect During a Chemical Peel
Since there is not just one type of chemical peel, MacGregor says, “[Expectations] vary so widely based on the treatment and formulation.” However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, when you arrive for your peel, you will receive a thorough cleansing of your skin. Deep peels will require general anesthesia to put you to sleep and therefore, must be performed in a surgical setting. Once you’re prepped and ready to go, your dermatologist will quickly and evenly apply the peel and then carefully remove it once ready.
As for how soon you can expect to see results, it depends on a couple of different factors, namely, the type of peel, how often you use it, and your specific skin type. Celebrity esthetician Shani Darden who works with the likes of Jessica Alba and Emmy Rossum says, “Generally, I recommended having a peel every four to six weeks for best results.”
At-Home vs. In-Clinic
Darden uses chemical peels in her studio, using safe-for-skin acids like glycolic, salicylic, and lactic. Doft lauds the powers of a chemical peel for reducing acne scars and acne in the first place. “Both at-home and in-clinic chemical peels can be helpful in treating acne,” she says.
“The peels that are used in a doctor’s office are stronger than those available at home. When applied, they remove the top layer of skin, unclogging pores and improving skin texture by increasing skin turnover. They are also helpful in removing hyperpigmentation and darkening caused by acne flares.” In her office, she uses the VI Peel for acne-prone and aging skin. “It is a medium-strength peel that is excellent for hyperpigmentation and superficial acne scars.”
The Best At-Home Chemical Peels
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel 30 Pk $88.00
At home, Darden recommends using Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads, which use a combination of acidic ingredients meant to target uneven tone and texture, fine lines and wrinkles, and enlarged pores through cell turnover.
Skinbetter Alpharet® Exfoliating Peel Pads $110.00
Although MacGregor says, “No at-home peel products will work for acne scars” she recommends using “Skinbetter Alpharet peel pads one to two times weekly for blackheads, pigment, smooth texture, and glow.”
Topix Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads 20% (60 count) $32.00
MacGregor is also a fan of these peel pads, which happen to come in a variety of strengths. They promise to address skin concerns like large pores, acne, blackheads, and whiteheads by gently exfoliating and moisturizing.
(Editor’s note: If you’re in between chemical peels and you aren’t gearing up for one or healing from one, retinol is a good idea for reducing acne scarring. Darden says, “For reducing the appearance of acne scars and the chance of new scars from forming, I recommend using Retinol Reform. It stimulates cell regeneration, which reduces the signs of aging, scarring, and acne.” This retinol is a Byrdie editor favorite for its effective yet gentle formula which promises to brighten and even your complexion).
Don’t panic if you experience slight irritation or even some actual peeling. According to Doft, “All peels are different as they contain varying acid combinations, which penetrate the skin at a unique level. Superficial peels may leave you slightly dry that evening. Medium-strength peels will cause your skin to peel and blister two to three days after the peel is applied. During this time, your skin may feel dry and tight. It is necessary to keep your face moist using products like Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($5).” It’s after you pass these stages that the real results appear. “If you are prone to cold sores then medication can prevent an outbreak,” adds MacGregor. Just make sure to consult your doctor.
Post peel, the new skin cells may be more susceptible to sunburn. MacGregor advises, “Generally speaking, [aftercare] depends on the peel type, strength, and formulation but the common theme for most is: Sun protect the area with a hat or other physical cover and good zinc, titanium-based sunscreen—the sunscreen in your makeup is not sufficient—also, do not apply retinol or retinoids of any kind of benzoyl peroxide (The number of days you skip depends on the peel strength and how sensitive your skin is).”
If you decide to wash the first 24 to 48 hours after your peel, she recommends, “using a gentle cream or milky cleanser, not a foam-based product. Also, do not wax and avoid abrasives or physical scrubbing modalities (Think: loofah mitts or rough paste cleansers) and other irritating ingredients. Instead, stick to a gentle cleanser, physical sunscreen, and hydrate well with a bland, plumping, soothing moisturizer like Skinmedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream ($59) or Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($17). Some mild active topicals may be allowed the day after, but these should be tested on compromised or lasered skin before considering. Examples would include Skinbetter Alto Defense Serum ($160) and Skinceuticals C E Ferulic ($166).”
MacGregor notes, “Intense peeling may call for ointments until the outer layer of cells recovers (epithelialization) and has a whole other list of post-care requirements.” Again, it’s best to reach out to your doctor.
What are the best chemical peels for acne scars?
OK, so we’ve convinced you that chemical peels for acne scars aren’t a scary thing. Great! Let’s jump into our fave chemical peels for scarring.
1. Estée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Instant Resurfacing Peel with 9.9% AHAs + BHA 50ml
Formulated for acne scars and large pores, Estée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Instant Resurfacing Peel with 9.9% AHAs + BHA 50ml balances a high concentration of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) with calming Hyaluronic Acid to curb irritation.
Inspired by professional chemical peels, just one use of this treatment accelerates skin’s natural cell turnover and immediately unveils a smooth, glowing complexion. For optimal results, use 2 times per week in the evening. Remember to limit sun exposure and wear SPF daily to protect your healing skin.
2. Skinstitut Enzymatic Micro Peel
The mild formulation of Skinstitut Enzymatic Micro Peel is suitable for all skin types. This exfoliating peel is infused with a blend of moisturising Papaya Extract, Chamomile, Passionfruit Oil, Grape Seed Oil, and Niacinamide. Papaya contains gentle enzymes that work to selectively break down dead cells, revealing the radiant skin underneath. By ‘selectively’, I mean that the enzymes stop exfoliating when no more dead skin remains. Pretty clever!
In addition to its exfoliating properties, the formulation utilises Vitamin B5 and Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) to nourish skin and help heal barrier damage. Plus, anti-inflammatory Chamomile Extract and hydrating Hyaluronic Acid calm the redness of acne scars.
Another plus of this chemical peel is that it can be used either daily after cleansing or as a weekly face mask. Choose the exfoliation method that suits your skin’s needs.
3. Pixi Peel & Polish
If you’re looking for a peel that won’t break the bank, we’ve got a great option for you. Pixi Peel & Polish is an enzyme-rich exfoliator that offers a combination of physical scrubbing (Sugar Extract) and gentle chemical exfoliants to help improve skin-cell turnover and heal your acne scars faster. Lactic Acid offers a gentle peel to lighten dark scar tissue and smooth the texture of the skin. This affordable peel is suitable for all skin types and should be used 2 to 3 times per week. Not tested on animals and paraben-free.
4. EmerginC Vitamin C + Retinol Mask
Tap into the power of Vitamin C with this clay mask that brightens and smooths your skin. Vitamin C (antioxidant to firm and brighten) preps the skin, while Retinol gently exfoliates to brighten scarring and pigmentation. This exfoliating treatment removes dead skin cells to reveal new skin, increasing your skin’s production of collagen. Your skin is left looking luminous and comfortable. You may want to use EmerginC Vitamin C + Retinol Maskweekly for best results. Free from phthalates, parabens, and petrolatum / mineral oil.
5. Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel
A gentle yet effective treatment, Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peell is a unique, biphase chemical peel that leaves the skin radiant and nourished. This peel contains an exfoliant trifecta: Salicylic Acid (BHA), Tranexamic Acid (TXA), and Lactic Acid and Malic Acid (AHAs). This effective combination of acids works on different layers of the skin to gently buff away roughness and hyperpigmentation from acne scarring. Holy Basil Leaf Extract (Tulsi), an adaptogen, is added to support your skin’s barrier so your skin can resist stress. This product can be used daily and is suitable for all skin types and ages.
6. Alpha-H Beauty Sleep Power Peel
Alpha-H Beauty Sleep Power Peel is a bestseller for a reason. This powerful night cream combines active cosmeceuticals to brighten scars and clear the complexion. Key ingredients include Glycolic Acid, an effective exfoliator, to decongest skin and clear the pathway for other active ingredients to penetrate more deeply and easily. Retinol, another powerful ingredient, helps increase collagen production, fade discolouration, reduce scarring, and minimise acne breakouts. Alpha-H Beauty Sleep Power Peel is also enriched with Chronodyn, an algae derivative that helps with skin repair and skin-cell renewal. Axolight assists with skin brightening, and helps prevent age spots.
Homemade Face Peel For Dead Skin
A lactic acid peel for dry, dull skin
Lactic acid is one of the milder alpha hydroxy acids and is derived from milk. It is known for its hydrating properties, which is what your parched skin is looking for. It is both exfoliating and moisturising. “The acid helps bind water into the skin to reveal a hydrated glow. The substitute for this at home can be buttermilk which is a great source of lactic acid and helps get rid of dead and dull skin,” says Sethi. Start by taking two tablespoons of buttermilk. Make sure it isn’t too dilute as it won’t sit on the skin. Apply a generous amount on the face, avoiding the eye area. Leave it for ten minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.
A glycolic acid peel to fight fine lines
Glycolic acid is one of the stronger AHAs on the market, and is usually derived from sugarcane. Known for its anti-ageing properties, it helps fight fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation. “Glycolic acid is also known for its antimicrobial properties and we have always raved about sugar being a natural exfoliant. This is where they come together. A sugar peel is highly effective for a plump looking and firm skin,” says Sethi. Take two tablespoons of sugar and honey. Add two to three tablespoons of water to it. Mix them all together and make a paste. Apply this mixture on the face evenly. Keep it for five minutes and rinse.
A salicylic acid peel for clogged pores and acne-prone oily skin
Salicylic acid is a powerful BHA that is known for working on acne, breakouts, inflammation and clogged pores. It is derived from willow bark and is common in all anti-acne products. “Willow bark extract is not commonly found or easily available but you can always use mint leaves as it also contains a high content of salicylic acid,” says Dr Sethi. As for the technique? “Wash mint leaves with water, crush them, and put them in a glass jar. Add grapeseed oil to the mix and let it sit for 48 hours. Mix soaked cabbage and buttermilk to create a thick paste, and then apply to the face,” she says. Cabbage is rich in antioxidants, and buttermilk will soothe the skin, essentially making this an AHA-BHA peel. “Focus on the nose and T-zone, which is most prone to clogged pores,” says Dr Sethi.
Strong Homemade Chemical Peel
You can go very mild with this recipe or go for a deeper peel with stronger acids. The variations are listed after the recipe.
- 1 small cucumber, seeded and pureed (about 1 cup)
- 1 package or 1 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
- a few drops natural liquid meat tenderizer OR ¼ tsp. powdered meat tenderizer
- a dash of ground cinnamon (adding too much may irritate skin)
- water if necessary
- Place the cucumber inside a medium sized bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin. Add a little water if it doesn’t start to dissolve.
- Sprinkle the meat tenderizer and cinnamon over the cucumber mixture and stir well to combine. The gelatin will dissolve and become pasty. Add water if you need to make it spreadable.
- Spread this over your face and allow it to dry, 15-20 minutes.
- When completely dry, start at the jaw line and slowly peel from your face. Rinse off any residue and follow with moisturizer if you wish.
Note: You can do this once a month, but no more often as it may irritate skin.
Cucumber is the most mild, but you can substitute other ingredients for this.
- Papaya and pineapple contain papain and bromelain, both of which are used in tenderizing meats. This is why I add a small amount of meat tenderizer to the recipe. You can omit the meat tenderizer and use pureed fruit instead.
- Pumpkin has a great deal of fruit acids. You can steam some fresh pumpkin or use it from the can. (Be sure it’s plain pumpkin and not pie mix.)
- Avocados are high in acid too, and have added moisturizers.
- Tomatoes are another good choice. The newer hybrid tomatoes are lower in acid, but are still great for this type of application. Use fresh puree or juice.
- Sugar can work well too. Sugar cane is high in acid and makes a great chemical peel. Use the same amount as you would puree or juice.
Want to go even milder? Used a pureed apple. They are mildly acidic.
Want to go deeper? Try lemon or lime juice. The possibilities are endless as long as there is some acid to the fruit or vegetable you use.
Do you have a problem with acne? Crush an aspirin or two and add this to the mixture. The salicylic acid is one of the only things that dissolves blackheads. The cinnamon in the recipe should help to keep new blackheads from forming.