10 best at-home peels
From indulgent citrus-scented masks to rich exfoliating treatments, find the perfect product for you
A ‘peel’ sounds horrific (and may well conjure images of Samantha and her bright red, raw face in Sex and the City), but they’re actually totally safe and are a worthwhile addition to your routine for satisfyingly visible results. If you’re familiar with using an acid-based exfoliating toner, peels act in a similar way to remove the outer damaged layers of skin, but more effectively over a longer period time as they are left on the skin for five-ten minutes like a mask. They can help with everything from eliminating dry, flaky patches and reducing acne scars and pigmentation problems to simply softening and brightening.
Carbolic and trichloroacetic acid peels are heavy-duty and we don’t recommend using them at home. Instead, look for ones that use AHAs or BHAs: the former – glycolic or lactic acid – for normal/combination skin types, and the latter – salicylic acid – for oily or sensitive. A lot of our favourites use fruit enzymes or acids naturally derived from fruit, so also keep an eye out for citrus, pineapple and papaya in ingredient lists.
We recommend using these peels once a week, unless otherwise mentioned, and if you’re not used to using exfoliating acids, perhaps start with a toner to build up to a peel. They’re pricier than your average skincare product, but you use them far less frequently so they last a long time. Apply to clean skin and follow with a hyaluronic acid serum (or any product that moisturises and nourishes deeply) and, as always, always wear sunscreen, particularly after using acids on your skin.
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REN Glycolactic Skin Renewal Peel Mask: £36, SpaceNK
Every now and again a product lands on our desk that we can’t stop talking about and recommending to everyone. REN’s Glycolactic Skin Renewal Peel Mask is just such a wonder: its slightly sticky, orange-scented blend of passionfruit, lemon, grape, pineapple and papaya extracts towels off (cloth included) to reveal glowing, so-soft-you-can’t-stop-touching-it skin, with redness evened out and pores clear and tightened. An absolute hero.
Murad Intensive-C Radiance Peel Face Mask: £55, Murad
Vitamin C is one of the few proven anti-ageing skincare ingredients (it encourages collagen production) and it also improves signs of sun damage and scarring, so is a serious addition to a peel. Murad’s combines ascorbic acid with glycolic acid for a winning pairing that gives smooth, bright skin. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, so you’re also boosting your skin’s ability to protect itself from future damage.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: £6.30, The Ordinary
The Ordinary’s glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic acid peel is an alarming blood-like shade of red, but if you can stand looking like a horror film extra for ten minutes, you’ll be rewarded with visibly different skin texture and evenness, plus smaller-looking pores. Our favourite for significantly reducing shine on oily skin over time.
Dr Dennis Gross Skincare: £61, Cult Beauty
A slightly different setup for when you don’t have time to leave a mask on for five or ten minutes, Dr Dennis Gross’s patented peel has two steps: a pad soaked with 15 fruit acids, which you sweep over your face, and a peptide milk, which firms and hydrates. While we aren’t keen on the waste generated by opening a new packet every time, we are keen on the glowy-skin results of the combo of glycolic, lactic, malic, citric and salicylic acids.
Sand & Sky Flash Perfection Exfoliating Treatment: £34.90, Sand & Sky
This, from the Australian brand with Instagram-beloved pink packaging, had 13,000 people on its waiting list by the time it launched earlier this year. It combines bamboo and macadamia seeds to mechanically exfoliate, plus AHAs for the classic peel effect. Our tester found her skin was smooth and plumped the morning after. Massage into moist skin, then leave on for five minutes to do its work before rinsing off; use one-three times a week as wished.
Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel: £33, Elemis
Elemis’s peel has a creamier texture than everything else we tested and as a result feels more luxurious and nourishing. It’s packed with those natural fruit enzymes we mentioned at the start – papaya and pineapple – for exfoliation, along with milk protein, vitamin E and algae to moisturise and protect newly exposed skin. Our favourite for mature skin.
Beauty Pie Plantastic Micropeeling Super Drops: £50, or £6.80 with subscription, Beauty Pie
Beauty Pie is an innovative new brand that cuts out the middleman and sells products straight from the factor. You can either subscribe monthly (£10 a month) and pay a reduced price for products, or pay full RRP without subscription. Its Micropeeling Super Drops is a leave-on treatment (preferably overnight) which uses those fruit acids – banana and mango – and salicylic acid to exfoliate. Our tester found her skin was softer and more hydrated with little irritation. Use a couple of times a week, or more if you’re struggling with a breakout.
Omorovicza Copper Peel: £55, Omorovicza
This, from the luxury Hungarian spa brand, is another two-step peel (you get four tubes of each), but unlike Dennis Gross’ offering, both are applied at once. First apply a layer of the paste, then add the activator on top and massage the two together (it will foam) for two minutes, before rinsing off. Skin is left soft, lines are reduced, pores appear tighter and skintone is evened out. Sure, it’s a lot of money, but it’s the closest thing we’ve found to facial results at home. If you want to give it a test drive before shelling out, or you just want a boost before a big event, you can buy the travel size (enough for two or three applications) for £12.
DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel: 358, SpaceNK
An even quicker formula for the time-poor, DCL’s peel comes in textured pad form; swipe across cleansed skin and go. They include Mandelic acid, an underused AHA (despite the fact that it’s used in a lot of clinical treatments), which is more gentle than others, making it great for sensitive skins. Skin is left soft, brighter and firmer, and they’re gentle enough to up to three times a week; give your skin a day off in between.
Zelens PHA+ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads: £52, Look Fantastic
Zelens’ pads are soaked in four acids (polyhydroxy, lactic, citric and salicylic) to sweep away dead cell build-up, smooth rough texture and reduce scarring and pigmentation. Simply swipe over your skin after cleansing and go. They’ve got a slightly eye-watering smell, so you may want to avoid breathing in when applying around the nose.
Verdict: Best at-home peels
For big and small budgets, sensitive, dry, combination, oily and mature skins, it has to be REN. You can’t go wrong.
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