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:
If you're looking for effective exfoliation to slough away acne, clogged pores, fine lines and discolorations, look no further than at-home peels. With spa-quality, derm-approved ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, fruit enzymes and more, you can bypass pricey spa treatments when you DIY.
If you’re looking to lighten and brighten without the big spa bill, Bliss’s no-rinse peel pads are just what the doctor ordered. With gradual-release glycolic acid that renews skin overnight, witch hazel and licorice extract are added to target dark spots and fine lines. Hydrating glycerin makes for a gently hydrating yet effective formula.
Formulated to clear acne, this peel contains one percent salicylic acid, lactic acid and green tea extract to unclog pores and speed cell turnover, as well as aloe vera and shea butter to soothe, hydrate and protect from dry, irritated and flaky skin. Massage with light circular movements over a clean face and neck until the gel liquefies on contact, and leave on for up to five minutes before rinsing. Use once to twice a week.
If you're looking for instant gratification, look no further than M-61 Power Pro-Peel, brought to you from the skin-saviours at spa and retail chain Bluemercury. Pads soaked with glycolic acid, salicylic acid and vitamin C target fine lines, acne scars and uneven pigment, and the post-peel lavender and chamomile towelettes instantly reduce redness and inflammation. No redness means you can head right out the door with glowing skin.
M-61 Power Pro-Peel, $28 (10 days) or $74 (30 days).
For sensitive skin types, this peel offers micro-exfoliation with papaya and prickly pear extracts to renew skin by stimulating regeneration. Botanical extracts like chamomile soothe skin, and maintain the skin’s natural pH balance to insulate against irritation. The formula is hypoallergenic and alcohol-free.
This citrus-scented peel brightens skin on multiple levels: glycolic acid exfoliates, lactic acid resurfaces dark spots, nonapeptide helps inhibit the synthesis of pigment-causing melanin, and sepiwhite slows the formation of tyrosinase, the principal enzyme that powers pigmentation. Oils of blood orange, orange peel, red mandarin and grapefruit further clarify skin while boosting moisture levels.
Dr. Dennis Gross
Pre-soaked cotton towelettes come in a two-step process: the first contains a veritable list of the best technology available today: glycolic, lactic, malic, citric, mandelic and salicylic acid for a covers-all-bases peel, while the second pad uses retinol, green tea extract, vitamins A, C, E and resveratrol to coax even the most stubborn skin into submission.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel, $35 for 10 sets or $85 for 30 sets
A dozen pre-saturated chemical peel pads use mandelic, azelaic and phytic acids to dissolve away dead skin cells, clarify skintone and soften the look of fine lines and wrinkles. It’s recommended you use the peel weekly for 12 weeks to experience the most gratifying results, though studies claim that a 96 percent improvement was seen in subjects after four uses.
If you want to play spa, you’ll love this kit. First, squirt four pumps of the 7 percent glycolic peel serum into the mixing dish, swirl and brush on all over face. Wait five minutes, and then swipe the neutralizing pads to halt peel action, with soothing pro vitamin B5, liquorice and Icelandic moss. The gentle duo is safe for all skin types, including sensitive.
Improve the signs of aging, texture and the appearance of pore size with this 25 percent blend of glycolic and mandelic acids, as well as gluconolactone. The duo sets of activator and neutralizer pads can be used up to twice a week on the face, backs of hands, neck, chest and body.
If you’re not crazy about the idea of acid peels, try a gentle yet effective enzyme like the mushroom found in Artistry’s peel, which breaks down protein bonds that hold dead cells to the surface. Skin’s top layer has a pH of about 4.5, and the peel turns inactive once it hits a pH of 5.5 or higher—the magic number for inner layers of skin—effectively controlling how deep the treatment will go.
Targeted for mature skin that is congested, this bioactive complex uses a four fruit acid complex of lactic, glycolic, citric and tartaric as well as papain enzyme to clear skin with rapid exfoliation. Free of parabens, sulfates, silicones and synthetic fragrances, apply the serum to clean skin and leave on for ten minutes, while patting with fingertips to raise up the exfoliated layer of dead skin cells.
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