Peels include alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs), which exfoliate away old skin and stimulate collagen production, essential in keeping skin firm. “The acids dissolve dead skin cells along with toxins and sweat on the skin surface,” explains Ildi Pekar, an esthetician at Ildi Pekar Skin Care in New York City. “A buildup of these toxins can cause your skin to appear dull and irritated.”
Maybe, if you’re not careful. “They may not be as strong as professional peels, but used incorrectly they can cause irreparable damage to the skin,” says Sejal Shah, M.D., founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York. “If the peel is too strong, there is a risk of skin irritation, burns, scarring, and discoloration.” Make sure the peel you are using is intended for home use and follow the directions closely, notes Shah. Talk to your dermatologist if you’re worried about using them—especially if you have sensitive skin due to rosacea, eczema, prescriptions, or over-the-counter retinols. Avoid using an at-home peel immediately after intense, direct sun exposure, since that will leave your skin more sensitive and potentially lead to more irritation.
And keep in mind that it’s fairly normal for peels to bring a few unwanted side effects, such as breakouts, dry patches, or uneven skin tone, warns Pekar. “After a peel, you need to give yourself as much as a week of downtime to see results,” she says. “It needs to get worse before it gets better.”
With so many options out there, you can target your needs with certain ingredients. “I highly recommend keeping it simple,” Pekar says. Look for lactic acid for pigmentation problems; salicylic acid for acne and/or oily skin; glycolic acid for hyperpigmentation and texture; and vitamin C and enzyme peels for sensitive skin.
Some at-home peels are designed for daily use, but that varies based on the peel, your skin type, and other skin products you may be using. “I recommend starting one to two times per week and not more than three times per week,” says Shah. “If you have more sensitive skin, start once per week and gradually increase as tolerated.” Read the directions, since they vary from product to product.
If you’ve been doing an at-home peel regimen and still aren’t seeing the results you want, it might be time to seek out a pro. “Professional peels are generally stronger than the at-home versions, so they need to be administered by trained professionals in a medical or spa environment,” explains Gross, who recommends a monthly professional peel followed by at-home maintenance to extend and build on the overall benefits.
A skin-care pro can also help if you’re looking for true correction of skin issues or have severe skin concerns, advises Shah. The pro versions can also be tailored to fit specific skin types and issues.
For most of us, at-home peels can get the job done. “Peels have been used in-office for so long that dermatologists have been able to master and perfect an at-home version; they are tried and tested,” says Gross. “At-home peels are a no-brainer for anyone looking to improve skin and prevent signs of aging.”
BY CELIA SHATZMAN