They’re one of the few skincare products that deliver almost instant results and refresh your skin ready for a new season. Here’s our pick of the best and everything you need to know on how to use them.
Even though we are all more skincare savvy than ever before, there’s still a little hesitation and reticence around at-home peels perhaps because we have visions of them being so potent and needing some serious downtime for skin to recover. However, by choosing the right one for your skin the best at-home facial peels are arguably the skincare product that can really transform your skin and make it look fresh, glowy and ready for a new start. And who doesn’t want that?
What are at-home chemical peels and how do they work?
First up, we know ‘chemical’ sounds a bit scary, but remember; everything, including water, is a chemical. At-home chemical peels tend to be liquid or pastes that contain exfoliating acids and enzymes. The kinds of ingredients you should be seeing on the packaging are glycolic, salicylic and lactic acid. Daniel Isaacs, Director or Research at skincare brand Medik8 explains why exfoliating is so key for our skin: “exfoliation encourages the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Our skin does naturally shed dead skin cells however this process slows down as we age and when our skin is exposed to environmental factors which can cause a buildup. Excess dead skin cells can be the catalyst for many conditions such as breakouts, dryness, congestion, rough skin texture and a lacklustre complexion.”
There are two main ways to exfoliate your skin - chemically or mechanically. Mechanical exfoliators contain a ‘grit factor’, an ingredient that when combined with you rubbing it into the skin will cause the dead skin cells to be lifted off. And whilst they most definitely have a place and time in your routine, the downside is that they can cause micro-tears to the skin too. Whereas chemical exfoliators, by nature of their liquid format can be more effective. This is because "chemical exfoliators usually contain ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) and natural enzymes that can penetrate into the skin, weakening the bonds that hold our cells together whilst digesting dead cells to evenly remove the uppermost layers of the skin,” explains Isaacs. Chemical peels also have the ability to lower the pH level of the skin temporarily, this drop in pH level makes the exfoliating action even more effective meaning you will get better results from a chemical exfoliator versus a mechanical one.
Are at-home chemical peels safe?
In short; yes! At-home chemical peels don’t contain the same percentage levels as in-salon chemical peels. However, there are times when you may want to steer clear. “If you have had any kind of professional treatment, you should be careful when using peels to ensure you are not over-exfoliating your skin. If your skin is feeling very sensitive, you may also wish to avoid at-home peels until your skin feels more balanced,” advises Isaacs.
Are at-home facial peels bad for your skin?
Another short answer; no! As mentioned above, you never want to over-exfoliate your skin so you don’t compromise your skin barrier but by removing dead skin cells laying on the top of the surface of the skin, you are allowing younger, fresher ones to come to the surface and preventing your skin getting clogged up. Most peels are recommended to be used once or twice a week but it’s best to see how your skin reacts on first use and tailor how frequently use them. They are best used at night because you don’t want to expose fresh new skin straight away. There are some that you leave on, others that you rinse off. With those that you leave on you may find that you don’t want to add any other skincare products on top so as not to take away from the exfoliating action. With those that you rinse off your skin may feel slightly dry and tight so that’s the time to layer on your favourite hydrating serums or something containing niacinamide which is known for soothing, hydrating and calming skin. And it is imperative that you apply a daily SPF to protect the new skin the next day.
14 of the best at-home chemical peels we’ve tried
The at-home peel with built-in applicator: Clarins Beauty Flash Peel, £38
If you love the Beauty Flash range from Clarins (who doesn’t) then you will be impressed with this new addition. The peel - which consists of salicylic acid to purify pores and glycolic acid - comes housed in this clever tube with a brush applicator at one end. You sweep it over cleansed skin and leave it to absorb - it does feel a bit sticky at this stage but as the product sinks in your skin will feel quite smooth again - and then you leave it on. You can layer products on top if you wish but we used it on its own so as not to dilute its exfoliating capability and in the morning we woke up with plump and glowy skin.
The at-home peel for clogged pores: Dr Jart+ Pore Remedy 5% Multi-Acid Radiance Peel, £30
Another great option for anyone with congested skin, or who is prone to blackheads or enlarged pores is this 5% acid containing AHA and BHAs will be able to absorb into the debris and break it up really effectively. It also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid so it won’t leave skin feeling dry or tight. This is also slightly easier to incorporate into a routine as all you need to do is soak a cotton pad with the clear tonic and sweep it all over your skin and the head for bed, allowing it to do its exfoliating magic overnight. Our teen tester loved this and says it took the edge off her breakouts without being aggressive.
The at-home but clinic-inspired peel: Decree Weekly Decree, £120
Created by skin doctor, Dr Anita Sturnham this two-step at-home peel provides seriously good exfoliation along with a replenishing mask to soothe and rejuvenate skin afterwards. You start by opening the acid-based peel pod and smother it over the face and leave it for two minutes - it does tingle and your skin may look a bit red afterwards - but never fear for that’s when the mask comes in. It’s filled with calming rose water, moisturising glycerin and ceramides so that skin is instantly calmed and hydrated and we find our makeup goes on even better the day after using it.
The cult favourite at-home peel: Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial, £25
If blocked pores and congested skin are your issues then this is a great weekly treatment to slot into your regime plus it's loved by beauty editors around the world. It has a slight clay-like texture to it and it tingles almost immediately on contact with the skin but settles down after a few minutes. It is a bit sticky so we advise tying your hair back whilst you have it on and you need to give it 20 minutes to work its exfoliating magic before washing it off with warm water. The slightly pink formula contains some of the best chemical exfoliants AHAs, glycolic, lactic, citric and salicylic acid so will exfoliate your skin whilst balancing out oil levels and it contains hydrating ingredients to prevent it from feeling parched and stripped.
The fast-working at-home peel: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate, £24
Inspired by Kate’s famous in-spa facial this 30-second treatment contains both chemical exfoliators of fruit enzymes along with hydroxy and lactic acid along with silica grains that act as a mechanical exfoliator and are designed to be massaged into the skin once applied all over the face. Don’t be put off by its dark green, slightly sludgy colour, it goes more transparent and feels a little bit tingly and warm on the skin. It also has a gorgeous warming scent of clove that we find very comforting.
The at-home peel for oily skin: Goldfaden MD Fresh A Peel, £75
A light, unscented gel that gets to work in three minutes. It contains a combination of lactic acid and fruit enzymes that slough away the dead skin cells and also rebalances oil levels in the skin making it a good option for oily and combination skin types. A little goes a long way so this pump could last quite a while.
The wrinkle softening at-home peel: Elemis Pro-Collagen Tri-Acid Peel, £73
With an 8% acid complex, this peel is focused on working on fine lines, improving skin tone and boosting glow. It also contains the brand’s signature algae to provide extra hydration and make skin feel firmer. It has a light gel texture that smells utterly gorgeous and you simply slather it all over the face, leave for 15 minutes - you will feel a tingle but again, this is just it getting to work - and rinse off with warm water.
The no-fuss 2-minute at-home peel: Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel, £19 for a pack of 5
We love the simplicity of this at-home peel. It consists of two pre-saturated pads. The first is saturated with the acid treatment that contains a combination of 7 different AHA and BHA acids to soften fine lines and to smooth away any rough texture. You sweep the pad over the face and wait for two minutes so that it can fully sink in. To neutralise any redness and to provide the skin with a dose of hydration post-peel, you follow with the second pad. And it’s as simple as that.
The overnight at-home peel: Medik8 Sleep Glycolic, £35
An overnight peel that gets to work on diminishing pores and making skin look fresh and alive in the morning. It’s a thick cream that sinks in immediately. Depending on your sensitivity levels you may feel zero tingling with this one but that doesn’t mean it’s not working. When we use it we wake in the morning to skin that feels like velvet.
The at-home face peel for all skin types: The Organic Pharmacy Enzyme Peel Mask, £49.95
Packed with a blend of acids and fruit enzymes this gel consistency mask feels really refreshing on the skin without any tingling. It has a gorgeous fruity scent (unsurprising perhaps as it contains papaya) and you leave it on overnight and wash it off in the morning. We were worried it was going to feel sticky but it sinks in really quickly so you don’t even really notice you have it on. It's gentle enough to be suitable for all skin types.
The at-home peel for sensitive skin: Verso Enzyme Peel, £60
For those that are short on time, this gel consistency peel is a great option. It combines AHAs, which have excellent exfoliating prowess, with PHAs that deliver moisture to the skin. It also has a very pleasant mild scent, which smells like it’s going to do something good to your skin (you’ll understand what we mean by that when you try it). You only need to leave it on the skin for one to three minutes, before rinsing off and carrying on with your usual skincare routine so even sensitive skins should be able to tolerate this.
The at-home peel for dry skin: Lixir Skin Peel Express, £31
Don’t let the slightly small pot make you think the light pink gel inside isn’t going to deliver on results, because it does. Containing glycolic acid as well as some fruit enzymes, apply this all over the skin and then massage it in so that the gel transforms into a slightly milkier, white cream consistency. Then leave it for 15 to 20 minutes; we did feel a very gentle tingle as it got to work. And then rinse away. The gel/balm consistency is a more moisturising alternative to alcohol-based peels. Follow with a hydrating serum, which your skin will drink up immediately.
The vegan formulated at-home peel: bareMinerals Ageless Phyto-AHA Radiance Facial, £44
This might not be a brand you think of for your skincare but we were really impressed with this at-home facial peel. Firstly, it smells gorgeous with a very light cherry scent. The liquid gel goes on pink but quickly turns translucent and it wasn’t tingly at all. It contains plant-based AHAs and definitely doesn’t feel as aggressive as other so a great option for anyone who hasn’t tried a peel before. You leave it on the skin for 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse off.
The multi-tasking at-home peel: Dr Levy Radical Reboot Pro Peel, £89
There are a few ways to use this genius product, which is always nice. If you’re looking for a deeper, more intensive treatment then apply onto dry skin and leave for five minutes like a mask. If you’re looking for a lighter exfoliation then you can use it almost like a cleanser and put it on wet skin, give it a quick massage and rinse away. With natural microbeads, enzymes and acids, it uses both mechanical and chemical exfoliators but it doesn’t feel scratchy at all, it delivers just the right amount of tingling to feel like things are happening without feeling overwhelming.