What You Actually Need To Know About Skin Peels

They divide professional opinion, but the right peels can deliver results that are nothing short of transformative, says SUZANNE SCOTT


Peels come in a number of strengths and formats, and can be formulated from a variety of ingredients, making them a tricky category to navigate. What they do have in common, though, is this: peels remove skin cells to reveal fresher, newer, plumper skin from underneath. It’s that simple. Just how much you remove depends on whether you are using an at-home or in-clinic treatment – with the latter delivering the most dramatic results but requiring more downtime. At-home peels can be just as effective, but the results take longer to achieve. This is no bad thing, as it means there’s no downtime.

Most peels are based on AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), or a combination of the two. An example of an AHA would be glycolic acid, and a common BHA is salicylic acid. As a rule, AHAs are your go-to for softening the appearance of lines and reducing excess pigmentation, while BHAs tend to clear and refine pores and treat breakouts for smoother, more uniform skin. Another iteration would be enzymes, which nibble away at dead skin over time and deliver subtler results.

While most skin types respond well to peels, there are some exceptions. All peels, no matter how gentle, have the potential to be sensitizing if you have very reactive skin. So, if you have an inflammatory skin condition, such as rosacea or acne, you should proceed with caution. Many at-home peels are now formulated with calming ingredients like niacinamide, ceramides and peptides, alongside the acid to keep sensitivity to a minimum – but, if you are in any doubt, you should test the treatment on the inside of your arm a day or two before applying it to your face.

Daily peels

Applied after cleansing and before your serum, moisturizer and SPF, daily peels deliver results over time – and with consistent use. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is iconic – and has been for a number of years. It’s a two-step peel, combining AHAs and BHAs, as well as more calming ingredients, so your skin isn’t left feeling tight or sore. Recent research confirms that after just one week of daily use, pores and fine lines are less noticeable. And after two weeks, congestion and hyperpigmentation are improved.

Intensive treatments

Stronger treatments, such as 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Multi-Acid Accelerated Peel and Glo Skin Beauty GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Peel Kit, are not designed for frequent use, but they are an effective way of rejuvenating skin when you have a special occasion on the horizon and you want your skin to look exceptional. Always do a patch test first – plus, we recommend using a calming face mask immediately afterwards, such as Dr. Barbara Sturm Deep Hydrating Face Mask.


Peels are excellent for treating keratosis pilaris (the little bumps that appear on the backs of your upper arms), as well as chest and back breakouts, while also smoothing rough patches on knees, elbows and ankles. If you use fake tan, using a peel a couple of days beforehand will create an even surface for smoother application, plus remove any vestiges of previous self-tanning products.

The aftercare

Most daily peels have been formulated to be safe to use in the morning, but we prefer to use them at night to remove every scrap of the day – and to give our skin a full eight hours to settle before exposing it to daylight. Either way, you should wear a high-factor broad-spectrum SPF during the day at all times of the year, but especially when you are using peels, which may increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Additionally, opt for moisturizers and masks that will calm your skin to further reduce the risk of sensitivity. Dr. Barbara Sturm The Better B Niacinamide Serum is a very good option because it instantly takes the heat out of angry skin. Apply after cleansing and then chase it with moisturizer.


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