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One of the best ways to have a brighter, clearer and smoothe-looking complexion is to incorporate exfoliating ingredients into your weekly regimen. These ingredients help lift away dead, dull, rough patches of skin, prevent clogged pores, and ensure that the most youthful and healthy cells stay at the surface.
There are lots of ways to exfoliate, from serums to acne treatments to cleansers. The strength of each product varies, however, depending on its combination of ingredients, as well as its intended use. And no such product is as potent as the peel.
The word “peel” sounds a lot more daunting than it is, at least in regards to an at-home procedure. While an in-clinic peel can really redden the face (and require a day or two of social hibernation), an at-home one is typically much gentler. As opposed to lasers and esthetician-monitored chemicals, you’re only dealing with gels, wipes and creams—all of which are approved for DIY use.
Read on for more intel about the best at-home peels, and a handful of recommendations that’ll get you stellar results in the comfort of your own bathroom.
How to Use an At-Home Peel
While many exfoliating products suggest a twice-weekly or every-other-day application, the best at-home peels tend to have a higher concentration of ingredients; they can do the same work in half the time (typically in just one or two applications). A once-weekly DIY treatment is extremely effective at lifting away those aged-out cells, without overdoing it. You can always add a second targeted application, as needed, to problem areas (like you might do with an acne spot treatment). There are exceptions to this—some products even advertise themselves as daily peels. Just know that this means they are far less intense on a daily basis (like a gentle exfoliant, really), but when used over the course of a week, will offer the same benefits.
Peels typically use alpha and beta hydroxy acids, as well as fruit enzymes which aid in exfoliation. AHAs include glycolic, mandelic and lactic acid and they target the surface layer of your skin by dissolving dead cells. BHAs are usually salicylic acid, and they can seep into your skin to dissolve dead skin from within the pores, while also mitigating sebum buildup and overproduction. (BHAs can also help to smooth surface texture.)
As with other exfoliating products, it’s best to apply a peel late in the evening, ideally with your bedtime regimen, in order to recover while you sleep. You shouldn’t use any other harsh ingredients on your skin before or after a peel. Use a gentle cleanser beforehand to ensure a clean canvas. Sometimes you need to cleanse the skin after the peel, too. Save the retinol, deep-pore cleansing masks, and razor shaves for another day—tonight centers on the peel and the peel alone.
A good night’s rest and a nutrient-dense night cream (like Aesop’s or Triumph & Disaster’s) are the best ways to follow a peel and ensure that your skin looks its best the next day. (There’s a good chance your skin will look fine immediately after the peel, too, but you can never be too sure. That’s why it’s important to incorporate it in the evening and to plan ahead with a full night’s rest and repair. Better safe than sorry.)
Follow the specific instructions of your peel product, since their use and formula differs from one to the next. Test a small patch of skin prior to a full-on face application, to ensure that you do not experience an adverse reaction. (Guys with sensitive skin should be especially cautious, and might instead consider a twice-weekly exfoliating serum application.) It is normal to experience some redness after a peel, though any burning sensations should raise flags. It might indicate improper usage, or that your skin wasn’t in a sturdy enough state for the peel. If you’ve just shaved or your skin is parched thanks to cold, dry winter air, you might not be ready for a peel. If you’re nervous, just do another patch test to see how your skin responds. Avoid the area directly around the eyes, too; this skin is far more sensitive and thin than the rest of your face, and can instead be fortified with a thorough eye cream.
The Best At-Home Facial Peels
Herbivore PRISM AHA + BHA Exfoliating Glow Facial
This gel leaves skin as glowy as the product itself, thanks to a high dose of AHAs (20 percent) and BHAs (5 percent). Use it once weekly for 20 minutes, and enjoy that tightening, tingling feeling as PRISM does its job.
The INKEY List Apple Cider Vinegar Acid Peel
Fruit enzymes and a 10 percent glycolic formula give this weekly peel a straightforward aim: brighter skin—at a fraction of the cost.
Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel
AHAs and fruit enzymes give clinical-level results with this two-step regimen, while deploying soothing tiger grass to help skin repair and rebuild as you sleep.
Dr. Loretta Micro Peel Peptide Pads
Gentle enough to use twice or even three times a week, these peel pads target surface texture and complexion with a 10 percent glycolic acid concentration. They’re also loaded with algae peptides to help boost skin’s firmness and resilience.
Advanced Clinicals 10% Glycolic Peel Serum
A blend of fruit enzymes plus glycolic, lactic, phytic and salicylic acids help dissolve dead skin at the surface and within the pores, giving this peel serum one of the best lineups on this list—and at the lowest cost no less.