Face Peels: An Introduction

Jul 09, 2015

Face Peels: An Introduction

The words “face peel” may sound like something out of a horror flick, but don’t let the mental image of red, irritated skin scare you away. Peels are just another form of exfoliation, and in many cases, they can be gentler than a scrub. Peels made for at-home use are designed to be safe for even the most delicate skin types, says New York dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, and once you see how soft and glowing they leave your complexion, you’ll become a convert. Here’s what you need to know before you dive in.

What exactly does a face peel do?

Unlike physical scrubs, which use beads and crystals to slough away dead skin, face peels exfoliate the skin by using gentle acids or enzymes (often derived from fruit) to promote cell turnover, which reveals new, brighter, smoother skin. Over time, peels can fade discolorations like sun spots, reduce fine lines, improve skin’s texture, and help clear up acne by unclogging pores.

How do you use a face peel?

Typically, you’ll apply a peel to your skin like a mask, wait a few minutes, then rinse it off. Some peels are gentle enough to remain on your skin without rinsing, even overnight. Others, like the gel peels popular in Asia, are meant to be massaged into the face to help remove dead skin even faster.

When should I use a face peel?

Most skin types can benefit from using a peel once or twice a week, though milder formulas can be used more often (check the directions on the package to know which type you’re using). Since peels can leave skin more susceptible to sun damage, use them at night. If you use retinols or retinoids, take a break for two to three days before using a peel to avoid irritation, advises Dr. Engleman.

Which type is right for my skin?

Different peels contain a range of exfoliating ingredients, so it’s important to choose one that’s designed to treat your specific skin type — and one that fits into your skincare routine. A salicylic acid peel (like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant) will help unclog pores and reduce breakouts, while one with a low percentage of lactic acid is ideal for brightening up dry, dull skin, says Dr. Engelman — try derma e's Overnight Peel with Alpha Hydroxy Acids. To fight dark spots caused by sun damage, look for a peel that combines salicylic acid with glycolic acid.

How do I care for my skin afterward?

Always follow up a peel by hydrating your skin with a gentle moisturizer, and steer clear of any creams or cleansers containing acids, advises Dr. Engelman. Sunscreen is even more essential in the days after a peel, so use an SPF of 30 or higher before you head outdoors. Any post-peel redness should only last a few minutes, but if your skin stays pink or stings, try a calming treatment like Temple Spa's calming face and body balm.

Wendy R. Recovering gel manicure addict, amateur Spotify DJ, expert roller skater.