It used to be that pricey spa treatments and the dermatologist’s office were the only gateways to a good peel, but the explosion of at-home peel products in the past few years has brought the democracy of reinvigorated skin to the masses. From sun spots to fine lines and acne, there’s hardly a skin concern a peel can’t help slay. “Your skincare products will also work better post-peel, since skin is in its most receptive form,” says New York dermatologist, Dr. Dennis Gross.Here’s what you need to know about doing your own peels at home, and how to get the best results for skin that glows.
How To Peel
Ease up your skin routine.
If you use products containing any form of retinol or alpha hydroxy acids (think glycolic, lactic and citric acids), discontinue use the night before, day of, and if dry or sensitive, day after your peel, so that skin doesn’t turn parched and irritated. It’s also redundant to exfoliate the following morning. “Scrubs are mechanical exfoliators and peels are chemical exfoliators,” explains Gross. “Doing both is too much for the skin.”
Plan to peel at night.
“Peels are best done at night so you can avoid makeup or sun exposure immediately afterwards,” explains Maryland dermatologist, Dr. Noelle Sherber. Applying a peel before bedtime also takes advantage of the body’s natural healing cycle, which amps up skin regeneration while you sleep.
Gently hydrate post-peel.
A simple and soothing moisturizer that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides is best applied after your treatment, to enhance the work of the peel without adding more cloying ingredients. “Avoid any additional exfoliators or retinol in your moisturizer,” advises Sherber.
For your best skin, peel regularly.
When using at-home peels, read the package instructions on recommended frequency of usage for optimal results; for many products, that often means weekly – but don’t let that deter you if you only have the time to peel once in a while. “Any exfoliation is better than none!” says Sherber.
Mind your sunscreen.
Since peels remove the surface cell layers of skin, you’ll be more sensitive to sun rays. Wear a daily SPF of 30 for protection, and refrain from soaking up sun right after a peel, says Gross. Ignoring the sunscreen advice can significantly worsen the UV exposure symptoms like spots, wrinkles and blotchy pigmentation that you’re likely trying to treat and improve with the peel in the first place.
Pick The Right Ingredients
Heed the expert advice.
“I believe in using multiple acids in lower concentrations versus one or two in very high concentrations,” explains Gross. “This makes the formula much more effective, and has also been proven to score lower on irritation tests.”
Decipher the AHA / BHA lingo.
When peel shopping, you’ll likely run into lots of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) terminology on bottles. “The key distinction is AHAs, by dissolving in water, can absorb into the collagen layer of the skin for anti-aging benefits, while BHAs, by dissolving in oil, can absorb into the pores to unclog them,” says Sherber. AHAs are acids found in fruit, corn, sugar cane and milk, with popular examples being glycolic acid, malic acid, lactic acid and citric acid. The most popular form of BHS is salicylic acid, with less common derivatives beta hydroxybutanoic acid and tropic acid.
Target your main concern.
While experts believe that “cocktail” blends produce the best results, you’ll want to look for specific ingredients if your goal is to target one of the following concerns:
- Wrinkles / fine lines: glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, retinol
- Active acne: salicylic acid
- Acne and post-inflammation pigmentation: malic acid, lactic acid
- Brown sun spots and patches: AHAs mixed with azelaic acid, licorice extract, or other brighteners
- Dull complexion: lactic acid, malic acid
- Best all-around for multiple issues: glycolic acid and lactic acid mixed with vitamins A, C, D, E or retinol