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Chemical Peels You Can Do in Your Own Bathroom (That Work & Don’t Hurt)

By Melissa Epifano

Who would’ve guessed that we’d be at a point where we could do mini derm appointments ourselves from the comfort of our own bathrooms? While it’ll never compare to the precision of our beloved doctors and estheticians and the potency of their products, it’s especially appealing during times like this. Dermaplaning, micro-needling, facial massage, LED therapy–you name it and there’s a DIY version for you. Chemical peels are another one of those things that are becoming a popular at-home treatment thanks to the instant glow results they provide.

Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says that these options are wonderful since most combine a great group of super ingredients together. “These peels usually contain several AHAs and BHAs so it is important to choose which to use based on your skin type,” he says. “For example, if you have sensitive or dry skin, you aren’t going to want to use something with many strong acids unless it also has some soothing properties. Since these are stronger peels, they are intended to be used by people who are familiar with at-home peels that have several skin concerns that they have difficulty treating with milder options.”

Completing a peel, let alone choosing a formula, can be a beast in itself. Dr. Sobel explains that there are several types of exfoliants out there that can be beneficial — glycolic, salicylic, and fruit enzymes to name a few — it all comes down to your skin type and concerns. “Chemical peels use exfoliating ingredients to address different conditions and skin types. All types of chemical peels have the same method — they lift off dead skin cells and replace them with new cells. They can prevent acne, improve skin texture, make fine lines and wrinkles look less visible and give you clearer, glowing skin, but each ingredient and type of acid, like AHA or BHA, has different properties intended for certain skin conditions.” 

What to Know About Chemical Peels at Home

First things first, there’s a difference between the chemical peels done at your derm’s office and the ones you can buy in-store and use at home. Dr. Anna H. Chacon, MD FAAD and expert medical writer for ZELEN Life blog, says, “Most chemical peels need to be performed professionally, particularly if they contain medical-grade ingredients such as trichloroacetic acid, tretinoin, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, etc.” As for the ones you can do at home? There are two routes you can take. First, there are acids and exfoliants that help give a peel-like feel but aren’t nearly as harsh as the ones you can find in office.

There are also a little bit more higher strength versions, but still nothing compared to office treatments. “On occasion, there will be well known dermatologic companies that manufacture chemical peels which can be done at home that are not medical grade or potent,” says Dr. Chacon. But even though, erring on the side of caution is a must so you don’t end up needing to see your derm for an emergency repair. Dr. Chacon explains, “When trying a new peel or ingredient, it is always best to thoroughly read the label and directions, and try to follow them as much as possible. It is also sometimes better to try the product on an area of the skin that is not as sensitive such as the foot. Once it is tolerated in this location you can consider moving to a more sensitive area.”

“During the process, it is best to be in tune as much as possible with your body, and listen to it. If something starts to burn or you feel hot, red, or tender, stop immediately. 

The aftercare is equally as important. Dr. Chacon says to keep the area you had the peel done cool and distract yourself so you don’t pick at it and cause scars. “Moisturizing with a petrolatum or light preparation, and practicing sun protection for at least six months,” is also essential, according to her. And before you jump back into your usual skincare routine, Dr. Chacon says to consult with your physician or derm first.

If you’re still not comfortable with an office visit or just need a quick fix at home, take a look at the following four exfoliants to get you close to a professional after-peel glow.


Doctor’s Daughter Papaya Enzyme Peel ($88)

Dr. Deborah Longwill, DO, board-certified dermatologist at Miami Center for Dermatology, loves this option since it’s far gentler than your classic chemical peel. “It’s packed with super ingredients like aloe, papaya, and red algae, making it the perfect at-home peel to defend the skin against harmful blue light. Using this peel once a week can diminish the look of brown spots and hyperpigmentation, as well as prevent the breakdown of collagen, which would otherwise lead to wrinkles and skin laxity,” she says.


The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution ($7.20)

This is a cult-favorite for a reason, and according to our friend circles, this has replaced some pretty big name brands for them. It smells a tad funky and looks like berry juice on your face, but when you wake up the following morning the results are so worth it. The AHA and BHA up your radiance, clear up those pores and contain a low pH, which is ideal for your skin.


Moon Juice Acid Potion Resurfacing Exfoliator ($42)

Yes, this one too is full of an AHA and BHA blend of acids (aka glycolic, lactic, and salicylic) but it has a couple other fan-fave ingredients to keep your skin in check. Niacinamide makes an appearance to ensure your face stays hydrated, and the less familiar reishi mushroom is involved to support your skin barrier and ax redness. So while you’re exfoliating, you won’t be zapped of moisture or left with discoloration that puts Zoom calls off the table. 


Sobel Skin Rx 30% Glycolic Acid Peel ($46)

Have two minutes? Cool, then you have time for this peel. You only have to leave it on for this length of time to get the benefits, following it with a rinse and thick moisturizer. Dr. Sobel says, “This is a professional-grade, at-home facial peel that retexturizes, exfoliates, and brightens skin due to the potent 30% glycolic acid that powers this innovative, derm-grade treatment. It gives the same benefits of an in-office peel without the expense, hassle, or downtime.” We’re sold.

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