Face peels: everything you need to know about at-home chemical exfoliators

It's like the magical treatment that can cure all

face peels - the best at-home chemical exfoliators
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The term 'face peels' conjures up some pretty vile imagery. Combined with the word 'chemical' and you've lost a great deal of people. But at-home face peels are nothing to be frightened of, in fact this transformative product is one that every single people should have in their beauty arsenal. Sure, they need to be used with caution, but if you're picturing Samantha in Sex and the City, think again.

Face peels can help with a plethora of problems, from pigmentation to scarring, hydration to acne, skin texture to fine lines and wrinkles. Dr Rabia Malik, GP and holistic aesthetic doctor, explains that one of the best things about using an at-home face peel is convenience: 'In my opinion, face peels are hugely underrated treatments. Most at-home formulations are quick and easy to use, and the benefit is the speed with which you will see results.'

What are face peels and how do they work?

At-home face peels are essentially a punchy exfoliator. We know that we need to exfoliate every so often to help get rid of dirt, grime and dead skin cells, to encourage cell turnover. Some people prefer a physical face scrub, but these are often more abrasive on the skin. As scary as a chemical exfoliators sound, if you use them properly they're actually more gentle and provide a better way of dealing with skin issues.

All face peels slough away the very top layer of skin to exfoliate, but some remove more than others depending on the type you decide to try. Some skin issues need deeper penetrating face peels than others, so it's important to identify your skin concern and the outcome you're hoping to achieve. The peels that delve further down into the layers of your skin do have to be performed by a medial professional. 'Specific skin conditions - such as hyperpigmentation or melasma - would require special peels at a higher concentration than those available for use at home,' explains Dr Malik.

In your at-home face peels, you'll find alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acids. They're all known to be quite light, so can be used without needing any downtime. They're especially good for combatting dull, dry and congested skin, because they break down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together allowing for easier exfoliation.

AHAs, like glycolic acid and lactic acid, are best for improving skin texture and boosting glow, they work best on drier skin types. Salicylic acid peels are ideal for those with acne-prone or oily skin.

How to use an at-home face peel

Before you try a new at-home face peel, Dr Malik suggests doing a patch test on the inner arm and reading the instructions clearly. She advises against making the mistake of leaving the peel on for longer to achieve more of a 'result'. 'This is a common mistake I see people make, and it can really cause problems, so stick to the times given on the box.'

We recommend using a peel at night, just before you apply your best night cream. Skin goes into repair mode whilst you sleep, so it's a good idea to prep it well. It also means that you're giving your skin time to calm down and avoiding any UV exposure straight after use.

When you apply the peel to dry skin you're likely to feel a tingling sensation, this is normal. (If the feeling goes beyond tingling, for example burning, itching or pain, remove the peel immediately with cold water and don't use it again.) Skin will likely appear quite pink at first, but this is normal. Soon it will look brighter and over time will get noticeably smoother.

On the subject of regularity, Dr Malik recommends 'anywhere between once a week for someone with oily, blemish-prone skin and once every few weeks or monthly for those with very dry or sensitive skin.'

It's important to never apply ingredients that can irritate your skin post-peel, such as retinol. Hyaluronic acid will help rehydrate your skin post-peel and a really decent face oil will also help to nourish.

If your skin is in need of some proper TLC, Dr Malik recommends the below...

It's also vital that you protect your skin from the sun afterwards, so be sure to use an SPF moisturiser or a facial sunscreen. SPF30 or above only.

Here's our roundup of the best at-home face peels...

Katie Thomas

Katie Thomas is the Senior Beauty Editor at Marie Claire UK. With over 10 years of experience on women's luxury lifestyle titles, she covers everything from the best beauty looks from the red carpet and stand out trends from the catwalk, to colonic irrigation and to the best mascaras on the market. She started her career on fashion desks across the industry - from The Telegraph to Brides - but found her calling in the Tatler beauty department. From there she moved to Instyle, before joining the Marie Claire digital team in 2018. She’s made it her own personal mission to find the best concealer in the world to cover her tenacious dark circles. She’s obsessed with skincare that makes her skin bouncy and glowy, low-maintenance hair that doesn’t require brushing and a cracking good manicure. Oh and she wears more jewellery than the Queen.