- Advertisement information: this post discusses items gifted to me with no obligation to share them (marked *). In addition I have / have had a brand relationship with Elemis, QVC, Harrods and Skingredients (gifting) and Medik8 (paid advertorial content). My blog has Skimlinks and RewardStyle installed to automatically monetise purchases of products I link on my blog, therefore this post may contain affiliate links. All opinions remain my own and please refer to my Disclosure Page for further detail -
Today we're talking home peels: i.e. intense hits of chemical exfoliation you can get at home. I'll flag up how often I use each of these products but generally it's going to be in the region of once or twice a week. Let's dive into the standout formulas I've found so far...
For me, what I like about a peel is obviously that immediate gratification and the promise of smooth, glowing skin by the following morning; perfect for an event or occasion! But, also: my skincare ingredient priorities are retinoids in the evening and my Vitamin C (preferably ascorbic acid) in the morning. They're intense actives but they're the pillars of my well-ageing routine and exfoliation has to fit in around them, playing a supporting role. That means I have two options: going for a gentle toner or cleanser to use alongside those ingredients a few times a week or I can skip my retinoid once or twice a week and do a peel instead. Either can work for me, depending on how my skin feels at any given moment, but if you're confident with your exfoliation and you want the big guns: a peel is the way to go.
The first thing you need to do is decide if you want a short-contact wash-off product (this can feel quite intense) or a leave-on product (this can be more slow-release). Then you need to patch test it to make sure you don't have a reaction. If I'm doing a peel I'll go for a simple, gentle routine without any other actives and featuring plenty of barrier support. Here's an example...
For a first cleanse, I like the gentle-but effective Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm | £44 | full review. This melts down to being oil-based and emulsifies with water. It'll make quick work of sunscreen and makeup.
The second cleanse is really a personal preference thing but I like a creamy, non-foaming formula. The Skingredients PreProbiotic Cleanse | £26 | full review | is softening and nourishing, which isn't something I commonly find in a cleanser!
You don't have to do this, but I enjoy the extra calm and hydration I get by using the Zelens Provitamin D3 Fortifying Mist | £48 | full review. This provides lasting hydration so you don't have to worry about instantly locking it in if your next step is your peel (you might not want to apply that to damp skin as that could increase irritation).
Then I always finish my exfoliation routine with a moisturiser packed with skin barrier loving ingredients like ceramides. The Kate Somerville DeliKate Recovery Cream* | £69 | full review | is a product I always circle back to and it's actually designed for post-procedure skin (and is used on clients after Kate's famous in-office peels).
I know sunscreen is an essential every morning regardless, but if you exfoliate regularly, just be extra-cautious and make sure you're applying it diligently.
The order to use this example routine in will depend on the type of peel you're using. If it's one of these two-step pre-soaked cloth products: you can treat that almost like a toner step and use it right after cleansing and before the rest of your routine.
If you're using a leave-on product I'd almost treat that like a serum, though some exfoliating masks might be moisturising enough that you don't need to follow them up with moisturiser for your skin type.
Finally, if you're using a wash-off peel, work it into your routine like you would a face mask. For me that's in-between my first and second cleanses.
I couldn't do this post without a bit of DDG! This was one of the first peels I ever tried and honestly, I rate all three concentrations this product comes in but the one I find myself reaching for most often these days is the Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel* | £89 (for 30). I still would not use these daily (not least because that would be expensive and create a lot of packaging waste) but I'd be comfortable with every 3-4 days with this specific iteration of the peel and they're just great for travel, especially if you're flying with a limited liquid allowance. This is a two-step peel, so the first pad is soaked with mandelic acid (a gentle AHA that's great for targeting hyperpigmentation), lactic acid (a gentle, hydrating AHA) and willow bark (a gentle salicylic acid precursor to get into the pores and prevent breakouts). Give your skin a good, throughout swipe-over with this and wait a couple of minutes (brush your teeth or something) then go in with step two. This pad is soaked with a neutralising, soothing solution containing ingredients like zinc, sodium PCA, cica, glycerin and colloidal oat. If you have sensitive skin or you're just a little concerned about how to fit a peel into your routine alongside other actives you're using: this is for you! It's gentle but gives me that glow boost and smooth, even skin.
I also couldn't do this post without mentioning my beloved Algenist Blue Algae Vitamin C Dark Spot Correcting Peel* | £80 | full review. This multi-acid formula contains PHAs (a gentle, more hydrating form of exfoliation), glycolic acid, mandelic acid and salicylic acid, so you really have the big guns in terms of AHAs and BHAs. They're bolstered by other ingredient to fight against uneven skin tone like ascorbic acid, tranexamic acid and azelaic acid. This is definitely an advanced peel, suitable to use around once a week but the glycerin in this formula really helps buffer these powerful actives so I don't find the overall formula irritating for my skin. This is my top pick for you if you suffer with uneven skin tone, melasma, old sun damage, hyperpigmentation or anything else similar, because the actives in here can target the issue from multiple angles. Plus, you get baby-soft, glowing skin along with it!
Moving into more recent discoveries, when it comes to instant gratification: the IS Clinical Active Peel System* | £75 (for 15) | definitely hits the spot! Again, the brand says it can be used every other day, but it feels like a 'once or twice a week' job for me, if I'm honest. This is a two-step product and the first step is primarily a salicylic acid peel, so it's great for when you're breaking out and need a quick fix. I would just flag that it does have a really menthol feel on the skin - I'm not a huge fan of it because it doesn't serve a particular purpose, it's just there to make you feel like the product is working, but this product does work in its own right so it feels superfluous. The second step (as I mentioned with the Dr Dennis Gross, just wait a couple of minutes for it to work its magic before going in with the neutraliser to bring the pH back) is honestly so, sooooo soothing and is formulated with peptides (for those well-ageing benefits) and soothing sodium PCA so by the end, things feel nice and calm. This is great for those situations where you're congested or breaking out and need a quick fix. It also makes my skin feel so incredibly smooth after use.
Next, let's talk about a slow-burn love: the LixirSkin Peel Express* | £31. I have to say, I don't love the packaging (getting towards the bottom can make things tricky) but the formula itself is great. This is a humectant-rich peel with added shea butter, which all acts as a buffer to take the edge off the exfoliant, which is glycolic acid. I'm honestly quite picky when it comes to glycolic acid, simply because every time I've had a reaction or irritation from an exfoliant, it's contained this ingredient. Its small molecular size means it can be irritating if it's not formulated correctly. However, this product absolutely is formulated at the right concentration and with enough soothing ingredients to give me all of the benefits without the irritation. You slap this on for 20 minutes before rinsing it off and it gives my skin such a healthy, radiant look alongside helping with resurfacing and overall smoothness.
Yes, this is me recommending not 1 but 2 glycolic acid formulas... This next product is leave-on and I personally use this like a serum, so cleanse (and tone if you wish) then use this once your skin has dried down a little. It's the Medik8 Sleep Glycolic* | £35 | which uses a strong 10% concentration of glycolic acid that's buffered with glycerin to create a formula that's totally non-irritating for my skin. I was a little apprehensive when I first opened it, to tell you the truth: glycolic acid at this concentration isn't for beginners and it has to be formulated correctly. However, this product has been fantastic for me and I do really recommend it particularly for mature skin or those who are confident at this point with their skincare and want to reap some well-ageing benefits with the most powerful chemical exfoliant. I would personally use this once or twice a week.
Last but not least, we have the new Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel* | £39. This is the big guns: a once-weekly treatment for advanced skincare users who know what they're doing (which is generally the target demographic for Paula's Choice, to be fair). This is a wash-off gel-based peel with 25% AHA and 2% BHA - breaking that down, we have: 8.5% glycolic, 7.1% lactic, 5% mandelic, 2.5% tartaric and 2% malic, then 2% salicylic. Tartaric and malic are really supporting acids formulated alongside the tried and true, like lactic and glycolic. The blend here targets uneven skin tone, texture, active breakouts and also blemish scarring. Then there are lots of humectants for hydration and skin-soothers like bisabolol and allantoin. They help to counteract any irritation. It's short-contact therapy so you leave it on for 5-10 minutes for it to work its magic. I find this incredibly effective and well-rounded so you're hitting lots of different beats.
I hope this was helpful in deciding which acid or product could be for you if you're interested in trying a peel at home! Make sure to patch test, sun protect and approach with caution...
Have you tried a home peel before?