When I’m in the mood to spend my well-earned free time slathering a drippy skincare product all over my face, keep it there for an arbitrary period of time, and then wash it off–I’m skipping face masks and applying a chemical peel instead. I've found the benefits of the at home peel to be pretty hardcore: increased cell turnover, reduced acne and fine lines, and more radiant skin over time. But peels get a bad rap for being too harsh, and not so easy on the eyes. Think of them less like the skincare Bogeyman and more like the skincare Iyanla–at first you'll get some tough love, but when the work’s done, you'll be renewed. Glowy even! The key is to level up gradually, according to your skin’s needs and resilience, so you can peel without too much tingling or any repitilian shedding. Using your peel once a week, get started in stages.
Level 1: Peel Novice
Try Alpha H Beauty Sleep Power Peel
In Alpha H’s Beauty Sleep Power Peel you’ll find glycolic acid and retinol. Which sounds... intimidating! Retinol? For a level one peel? Here's why: if you haven't used retinol before, a peel buffered by moisturizing shea butter you only use once a week is a safe place to start. The glycolic acid brightens and improves the texture of your skin, and retinol expedites skin turnover and promotes collagen production. With each use, you'll reveal newer, healthier skin—it's lowkey enough that it won't make your skin flip out, but still does great work. This peel works overnight, so just be sure to wash it off in the morning. (I like to cleanse with Holifrog’s AHA Refining Wash to boost exfoliation and keep breakouts at bay.) And, please, don’t forget sunscreen!
Level 2: Peel Curious
Try The Ordinary 30% AHA + 2% BHA Peel__
Upping the ante with a treatment that deeply exfoliates with two complementary approaches. A cocktail of AHAs (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and citric acids) brighten, improve clarity, and reveal more radiant skin. Then you’ve got salicylic acid (it's the BHA) to help clear pores, balance oil production, and tackle blackheads. It’s a two-in-one beloved by many, and it packs a punch. Try it as a spot treatment on problem areas before eventually graduating to the full face.
Level 3: Peel Master
Try Peter Thomas Roth Lactic Pore Treatment
Lactic acid is glycolic acid’s chiller, less aggressive kid sister. Pretty ideal if you're concerned with redness, texture, and pore size. A warning, though: this peel looks and feels gentle thanks to its cooling gel consistency, but it’s serious skincare. (I learned the hard way.) If you stick to the three-minute application mark a couple of times a week, prepare for less-visible pores and a more balanced complexion overall. Once you've mastered this guy, you're a peel expert.
–– Utibe Mbagwu
Shop Utibe's favorite peels, from gentlest to strongest:
Photo via ITG