Whether you shop for skin care products at your dermatologist’s office, a high-end beauty store or your local pharmacy, you’ve probably noticed that nearly every brand now offers a chemical peel you can do yourself at home. The promises seem almost too good to be true: Just apply as directed and you could see improvements such as faded acne scars and fine lines, fewer pimples, less hyperpigmentation and brighter skin — the same benefits you’d get from a professional chemical peel.
But do home peels live up to the hype? And is it safe to do a chemical peel at home? Here’s what to know before you give them a try.
How at-home chemical peels work
At-home chemical peels come as pre-moistened pads you wipe on your skin or bottled liquids you apply as a mask. The acids exfoliate dead skin cells on the top layer of skin, revealing newer, smoother skin below.
The acids in at-home peel products are similar to those used in the mildest professional peels, but at a much lower concentration. They include alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid) and beta hydroxy acids (salicylic acid). At-home peels may also include other ingredients such as retinol to boost collagen production, fruit enzymes such as papaya or pineapple to brighten skin and antioxidants such as green tea and vitamin C.
What to expect from an at-home peel
At-home peels are worth doing if a quick radiance boost is your goal.
“It’s important for people to manage their expectations when they use at-home peels because they’re not on par with a peel you’d get from a dermatologist or aesthetician,” said Shawna Sopher, a licensed medical aesthetician at Water’s Edge Dermatology. “Less exfoliation occurs, so you’re not going to see very significant changes.”
The people who benefit the most from at-home peel products are those who also get professional chemical peels. “They’re best used about once a month between your professional treatments in order to maintain results,” Sopher noted.
At-home face peels are particularly helpful if you’re preparing for a special occasion. “They give your skin a nice glow, even if temporarily. So, you might use one the night before an event to help your skin look brighter and smoother,” said Sopher.
Is it safe to do chemical peels at home?
While at-home peels are milder than professional ones, they aren’t risk-free. The biggest problem people run into is buying a peel that isn’t well suited to their skin type.
“Usually when patients ask me about at-home peels it’s because they used one that burned or irritated their face, probably because it was too strong for their skin,” Sopher explained. “There are many different peels on the market that contain varying concentrations of acids, so it’s hard to figure out on your own which one is right for you.”
For the best results, consult with your skincare provider before you buy an at-home peel product. Your provider can help you find a product that’s not too harsh for your skin and contains the right ingredients to treat your complexion issues. If your skin is oily, for example, your provider may recommend a peel that contains salicylic acid, which decreases oil production. If it’s normal to dry, a peel with alpha hydroxy acids may be a better option because they don’t sap your skin’s natural moisture.
It’s also important to make sure you’re a good candidate for an at-home peel. Chemical peels, regardless of their strength, shouldn’t be used by anyone who is pregnant, nursing, taking isotretinoin or has inflamed acne or a sunburn. People with dark skin tones should ask their skin care provider about whether peels are a smart choice for them, since darker skin is prone to developing hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
Once your provider has given you the green light to use an at-home peel, keep these safety tips in mind:
- Shop from a reputable source. Sopher said it’s possible to find professional-strength peels (which should never be used at home) from unreputable sellers online. Stick to stores and sellers you know, or better yet, purchase a product from your dermatologist’s office.
- Don’t make your own. If you find a make-your-own chemical peel recipe online, ignore it. Chances are it was created by someone with no credentials and contains ingredients like lemon juice that can burn your skin.
- Do a patch test first. Test the peel on a small, hidden patch of skin to make sure you don’t have a bad reaction.
- Don’t use a peel more often than directed. You might think you’ll get better results in less time, but your skin will likely become raw and irritated.
If you’re not satisfied with the effects of your at-home peel, talk to your skin care provider. There are plenty of professional treatments that target acne scars, dark spots, and other skin issues and deliver lasting results.
Article Written By: Jessica Brown is a health and science writer/editor based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Prevention, Johnson & Johnson, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and many more.
Medical Review By: Shawna Sopher, LME