If the words "acid" and "face peel" conjure up the image of a completely raw epidermis, a la Samantha Jones in that (seriously traumatizing) Sex and the City episode, there's something you need to know: When made from natural extracts (rather than harsh chemicals), a peel can actually reveal your glowiest skin ever—no red face required.
The exfoliator-mask hybrid product works to remove that dead, dull top layer of skin with the help of some powerhouse ingredients—from enzymes, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), and lactic acid, for example—rather than physical exfoliators like jojoba beads. Unlike scrubs, these at-home peels are actually non-abrasive, and the acids and enzymes typically have the added benefits of brightening and helping with breakouts.
To figure out which are the best glow-getters out there, the Well+Good team was tasked with testing out dozens of peels. As with most face products, your skin type plays a major role in influencing what you should be reaching for—so we cross-referenced every jar, tub, and bottle with Jeni Sykes (co-founder and head of skin care at Heyday, a New York City salon that specializes in quickie facials), who broke down which ingredients are best suited for every need.
Here are the 8 absolute best (and editor-approved!) at-home face peels, divided by skin type.
For dry to normal skin
If your skin's more in need of hydration (and you're not acne-prone), look to fruit enzymes as your exfoliant of choice. "Papaya, cherry, apple, and pomegranate enzymes all work to dissolve a buildup of dead skin without drying," says Sykes. "Regularly treating your skin to these [will] help smooth, decongest, and brighten—plus, they let any hydrating products you use afterwards penetrate the skin properly."
Dry and normal skin can also fare well with acids such as lactic, malic, and mandelic, she adds. "These AHAs work to preserve, rebalance, or support your skin's natural moisture levels while also clarifying and evening your complexion and treating fine lines and wrinkles."
With organic plant extracts (plucked from the alpine Bregenz Forest of Austria, no less) plus gently exfoliating enzymes from papaya, apple, and kiwi, it's a divine, luxurious way to get rid of dull skin—and it feels refreshing. It'll even give your nightly hydrating cream a run for its money, since it leaves you with an uber-soft face.
Smells like cherry pie and looks like jam, but (fortunately) this peel doesn't leave your face looking like you've just slathered it in Bonne Maman. The active ingredients include lactic and salicylic acids, which, combined with anti-inflammatory cherry puree, work to refine your skin and even out discolorations.
This peel combines a concoction of acids—including 25 percent AHA (that's a lot) plus BHA—which refine your skin at a whole other level (minus the irritation). Consider it an at-home, quickie facial that will actually, dramatically make your pores and any imperfections way less noticeable.
For combination to oily skin
Enzymes from pineapple and pumpkin are particularly helpful for combination to oily skin, according to Sykes. "Pumpkin can really help with blackheads and provides natural vitamin A for aging and acne concerns," she says. "Pineapple is a powerful brightener, which is good for evening out sun damage and acne scars."
Sykes notes that if you do fall on this end of the skin-type spectrum, you should also use glycolic acid (which is a type of AHA)—it's too irritating for other skin types, but it's beneficial if you're prone to breakouts. "Salicylic acid can also help regulate oil production and penetrate your skin's natural oils to deeply exfoliate while refining pores," she adds.
It's called an instant facial for a reason—Gwyneth Paltrow's go-to treatment mask leaves you with brighter, clearer skin without having to run to your facialist. The peel will tingle, but that's the AHAs and BHAs working their cell turnover magic to give your complexion a dewy brilliance that's smoother and more even after just a mere three minutes.
Your fave salad ingredients are superstars in this amazingly priced (and effective) peel. Papaya, mango, and apple cider vinegar gently rid your complexion of any dullness, while chlorella, kale, and spirulina add a boost of nourishing minerals that'll leave your skin looking the way your body feels after eating the same ingredients—in other words, really good.
For sensitive skin
Just because your skin breaks out at the merest whiff of a harsh ingredient doesn't mean you have to swear off peels entirely. "Enzymes of all varieties are staple exfoliating ingredients for those with sensitive skin," says Sykes. "The key is choosing soft cream or gel masks, since reactive complexions need an extra dose of calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients to work alongside the exfoliating actives."
Also key? Try to avoid high concentrations of facial acids at home, says Sykes, and definitely avoid products that primarily feature glycolic acid to exfoliate (lest you end up with Sam Jones Face).
This peel is super gentle but still delivers—your skin will feel instantly softer, tighter, and healthier upon drying and rinsing. It applies like a mask (gentle Kaolin clay is the base that helps get rid of dead skin cells) and has a subtle grit to exfoliate. Bonus: Not only do rosemary and spearmint give it a delightfully invigorating scent, but they also help keep acne at bay.
Yes, its gorgeous blue hue resembles a tropical drink you'd order on vacay—but this mask does the job for your skin, too. Papaya and pineapple enzymes plus salicylic acid exfoliate while blue tansy oil reduces inflammation and redness. It feels gentle, smells fruity, and reveals a dewy glow once you rinse off the rich goo—so it's more than just a pretty product.
This is an oldie but a goodie—Ren's concoction of various AHAs (like pineapple enzymes, glycolic, and lactic acids) electrifies your complexion and brings a fresh brightness to the top layer of your skin that may (okay, more like probably) have been hidden underneath all the pollution congestion. Plus: It helps with pesky dark spots.
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