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5 at-home exfoliators that are the next best thing to a peel at the derm’s office

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchMay 14, 2020

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Photo: Stocksy/Leandro Crespi Studio

Twenty years ago, Dennis Gross, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, put peels on the map en masse with his two-part alpha- and beta-hydroxy peel, and as a result, complexions everywhere got a little bit brighter. Consistent exfoliation helps to solve the question of how to remove dead skin from your face, which doesn’t just result in freshening up skin instantly, it also makes products work better for the long run as well.

“Our skin has a 28-day cycle where the skin cells at the bottom gradually work their way to the surface where they harden, die and flake off to reveal the new cells beneath,” Dr. Gross explains. This process, however, slows as we age, beginning as early as our twenties. “The aging process is not just fine lines and wrinkles—it also includes dead, dull skin sticking around longer, which is why people see a loss of radiance.”

While in-office peels whisk the uppermost layers with high levels of active ingredients for a one-and-done treatment, you can get similar results by utilizing gentler peels consistently in your routine. “Regularly removing dead skin cells is a guarantee that your freshest, youngest layer of skin appears on the surface,” he says. “It is the key to maintaining healthy skin cell turnover.”

There are many, many ways to exfoliate, but most pros (including Dr. Gross) recommend chemical exfoliation, because there are different levels of intensity that can be tailored for each type of complexion. Beyond that, many of these chemical exfoliants also stimulate collagen production, while doing away with old skin cells. And they can even make products work better by increasing ingredient penetrability. “One reason they’ll work more effectively is that there is increased penetration by not being blocked by dead skin,” Dr. Gross explains. “It’s also a win-win because those young, healthy cells on top also take avidly to being fed. Your youngest skin cells which are now residing on the surface more eagerly absorb active ingredients.”

Dr. Gross recommends chemical peels that consist of both alpha hydroxy acids (e.g. glycolic derived from sugar, citric from citrus fruits, etc.) and beta hydroxy acids (e.g. salicylic from will bark acid). “Both AHAs and BHAs work to melt the ‘glue’ that holds dead cells together on the uppermost layers of the skin,” he says. “They will naturally, gently detach and reveal the younger layer of skin beneath.” If you’re confused as to the difference between the two, mainly what you should know is that AHAs are water-soluble, which means they work well on the surface of the skin, whereas BHAs are oil-soluble, which means they’re able to penetrate more deeply. With further ado, try one of the alpha-beta combo peels below.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel, $88

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Image: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare

These editor-beloved two-step peel pads are hassle-free and undeniably effective, if their cult following is any indication. They come in three strengths, too: extra-strength, universal, and sensitive.

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial Mask, $80

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If you’re more of a masking gal, this fan favorite from Drunk Elephant promises gentle exfoliation, brighter skin, and an antioxidant infusion for all skin types. Use it once per week for 20 minutes.

Cane+Austin Acne Retexture Pad, $60

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If you have acne-prone skin, these twice-a-day peel pads may be worth a try as they’re specifically designed to clear and prevent breakouts while simultaneously reducing the appearance of acne scarring.

Paula’s Choice Duo Facial Exfoliants, $53

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Image: Paula’s Choice

With this set, you can customize your peel routine, opting for one, the other, or both depending on your skincare needs. The AHA product is a gel designed to minimize discoloration and the BHA product—the line’s best-seller—is exfoliates, unclogs pores, and combats wrinkles.

The Ordinary Peeling Solution AHA 30% + BHA 2%, $25

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Image: The Ordinary

Even with the brand’s prices rising, you still can’t beat the sticker on this doozy of a peel, which is to be used no more than 2x per week for exfoliation leading to a brighter, more even skin tone. Plus, it’s a bit of a TikTok celeb.

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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