13 of the Best Glycolic Acid Peels for a Radiant Complexion - The Dermatology Review

13 of the Best Glycolic Acid Peels for a Radiant Complexion

SKIN CARE REVIEWS

01.24.22DISCLAIMER

If you’ve experienced the results that come with an in-office peel, then the concept of a glycolic acid peel at home may sound like a euphemism at most. While there’s something to be said for professional strength treatments, the benefit of glycolic acid peels for home use is that they can deliver superior results minus any downtime. Along with the benefit of performing a peel in the comfort of your own home, you’ll also save some money in the long run. 

From glycolic acid peel pads to pre-saturated wipes to no-rinse solutions, at-home treatments take the guesswork out of the peel application process. However, since there are several glycolic acid peels on the market, how do you know which ones are the best for your skin type and concerns? 

Here at Deep Science, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare routine that’s safe and effective — even if that means adding a glycolic acid peel to elevate your skin goals. 

Ahead, 13 of the best glycolic acid peels to help promote a healthy, radiant complexion.

Glycolic Acid Peels: The List

Kate Somerville Kateceuticals Resurfacing Overnight Peel, $98

Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel, $95

SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight, $80

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Peel Mask, $39

Exuviance Performance Peel AP25, $79

Natura Bisse Diamond Glyco Extreme Peel, $295

Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Acid Face Peel Pads, $22

Glo Skin Beauty Hydra Bright Glow Peel, $85

Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Exfoliating Super Peel, $88

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution, $8.70

Glycolix Elite Resurfacing Peel Pads, $32

Perfect Image Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel, $29.95

Radical Skincare Age-Defying Pads, $75

The Science Behind Glycolic Acid Peels

A glycolic acid peel removes dead skin cells and debris by sloughing off the external and middle layers of skin. It’s considered a unique and valuable ingredient due to its minuscule molecular size. Molecular size matters because the smaller a molecule, the more easily it can penetrate deep into the skin. That said, glycolic acid penetrates the skin better and faster than all acids in the same family.

While there can be glycolic solutions as high as 70% for in-office treatments, the percentage in homecare products is typically between 8 and 30% — but a glycolic acid peel at home falls between 8 and 15%.

 

Glycolic Acid Peel Benefits

Glycolic acid increases collagen production, refines texture, brightens and refreshes skin tone, reduces wrinkles, and is a particularly excellent chemical peel for acne scars — especially stubborn marks left behind from old breakouts. Like most peels, glycolic acid also treats discoloration and acne — though less effectively than salicylic acid.

Related: Best Glycolic Cleansers

What to Look for in a Glycolic Acid Peel for Home

For a DIY skin peel to indeed be effective, look for a formula with a glycolic acid strength of  8-15%. While some experts believe anything less than 10% isn’t likely to be effective, those new to peels or have ultra-sensitive skin should consider starting with a glycolic acid level of around 5% and a pH level between three and four. 

Keep in mind that professional strength glycolic acid peels range from 20-70%, so if you’re accustomed to tolerating such a strength, you can use a higher GA level for home use to help maintain results in between treatments. 

To help counteract any potential irritation such as redness or dryness, look for a glycolic acid peel that’s also formulated with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and green tea extract to help circumvent these side effects. 

How to Apply a Glycolic Peel At-Home

No two at-home glycolic acid peels are alike, so start by thoroughly reading the instructions that come with your treatment of choice — but here is some general guidance. 

  • Cleanse: Always perform an at-home glycolic peel on clean skin. Before starting the peeling process, be sure to remove all traces of makeup and impurities thoroughly. 
  • Protect: Consider protecting extra sensitive areas around your lips, eyes, and the corners of your nose with a small amount of Vaseline. 
  • Apply: The application process will vary from peel-to-peel. Standard methods include pre-soaked pads or wipes, an application brush (often supplied with the product), a cotton round, or even clean fingertips. 
  • Wait: The waiting time often depends upon the strength of your glycolic peel as well as your tolerance level. A light prickling feeling is normal, but an extreme burning sensation is a signal to remove the product ASAP. 
  • Remove: Again, this step may vary. Some peels are removed with a tepid, damp washcloth, whereas others are neutralized with a second solution. You’ll even find some formulas that are meant to be left on the skin overnight, so check your product’s instructions. 
  • Observe: Start by using a glycolic peel at home around two times per week unless stated otherwise on the package. If excess drying or irritation occurs, cut back. Stop using the peel altogether if your skin condition doesn’t change — or gets worse. 

Best Glycolic Acid Peels

Kate Somerville Kateceuticals Resurfacing Overnight Peel, $98
This clinic-grade overnight peel from Kate Somerville contains both glycolic acid and retinol (vitamin A). Together, these powerhouse ingredients help boost cell turnover to remove dead skin cells that cause dullness and clogged pores and make skin look overall rough. 

Retinol is encapsulated within a ceramide to quickly release into the skin, visibly improving firmness and promoting cell turnover that helps smooth the look of fine lines and wrinkles while enhancing radiance with minimal irritation. This glycolic acid peel also contains niacinamide (vitamin B5) to help fade away the appearance of discoloration.

Dr. Dennis Gross Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel, $95
Dr. Dennis Gross formulated this pro-level peel for ultimate pore refinement, wrinkle reduction, and increased radiance. Step one contains a potent concentration of glycolic and lactic acids combined with the enzymatic action of bromelain to effectively resurface the skin and jumpstart the skin cell renewal process.

The neutralizer is formulated with colloidal oatmeal to help counteract any potential irritation, dryness, and redness. Centella Asiatica extract (tiger grass) provides antioxidant properties while protecting the skin’s moisture barrier. 

SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight, $80
As mentioned, glycolic acid has the most negligible molecular weight of all the acids in its class, so it penetrates the deepest, can stimulate collagen production, and vastly improve texture and tone. This potent formula features 10% glycolic acid and 2% phytic acid to improve overall radiance — even if pigmentation issues are present. Along with providing an intense exfoliation, a blend of botanicals work to deeply condition and soothe your skin while you sleep. 

Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Peel Mask, $39
This glycolic peel from French beauty brand Caudalie promises to rejuvenate the skin, fade discoloration, and soften wrinkles. In addition to glycolic acid, this peel contains papaya enzyme, an excellent exfoliant promoting cell turnover. It sweeps away dead skin cells in just ten minutes, visibly refines the skin texture, and evens the complexion for a radiance boost.

Exuviance Performance Peel AP25, $79
This product has excellent reviews and was voted a Harper’s Bazaar Editor’s Choice winner. It contains a 25% AHA and PHA blend, including glycolic acid and mandelic acid, to help improve skin texture and minimize signs of aging with regular use. It also contains gluconolactone, a relatively gentle acid that’s great for sensitive skin. You can use this peel on your face, hands, body, and neck.

Natura Bisse Diamond Glyco Extreme Peel, $295
While this glycolic acid peel from Natura Bisse costs as much as an in-office peel, it provides several applications. Glycolic acid sloughs off dead skin cells to reveal a younger, healthier-looking complexion. A beta-lipoic acid molecule helps the other ingredients — including several other acids — penetrate deep into the skin for maximum results. With regular use, discoloration and the signs of age are minimized. 

Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Acid Face Peel Pads, $22
These single-step, no-rinse peel pads from Bliss gradually release spa-strength 10% glycolic acid overnight to target fine lines, discoloration, and imperfections for smoother, brighter skin by morning. The pads also include witch hazel, a natural astringent.

 Inspired by the facial peels performed by the brand’s experts, it’s no surprise that texture and tone are noticeably improved after just one use. 

Glo Skin Beauty Hydra Bright Glow Peel, $85
This pro-level peel kit targets dullness, dehydration, discoloration, fine lines, and wrinkles, thanks to a blend of glycolic, lactic, and ferulic acids. Unlike other home peels, this one has protective and reparative properties to shield the skin from damaging free radicals while nourishing the skin with hydrating hyaluronic acid and anti-inflammatory botanicals. It’s considered a level one, a perfect introduction to an at-home peel — though downtime is between zero and five days. 

Peter Thomas Roth Pro Strength Exfoliating Super Peel, $88
This no-rinse peel from Peter Thomas Roth delivers 35 percent glycolic, phytic, and salicylic acids into the skin to brighten, clarify, and refine pores.  It’s a simple yet potent formula, so don’t be surprised if you feel a tingle — splash some water on your face to neutralize the formula if you find it’s too much for your skin to handle. 

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid Toning Solution, $8.70
The Ordinary’s line of products has become quite popular in only a few short years thanks to their effectiveness and affordability. This particular product, for example, is less than ten dollars. In addition to 7% glycolic acid, this solution features a Tasmanian pepperberry derivative to help prevent irritation that can be common when using any type of acid. However, this is not recommended for sensitive skin, as it can exacerbate the condition.

Glycolix Elite Resurfacing Peel Pads, $32
Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads come in 10%, 15%, and 20% strengths, depending on your skin needs and tolerance. These robust glycolic acid pads help even out skin tone, reduce wrinkle appearance, and protect against free radical damage, thanks to vitamins A, C, E, and green tea extract. Free radical damage to skin cells can lead to wrinkles and skin laxity.

Perfect Image Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel, $29.95
Here’s a very powerful glycolic peel that can expertly reduce pore size, soften fine lines, and fade the appearance of discoloration caused by sun exposure. This formula also contains retinol to help smooth out wrinkles while stimulating collagen production. Perfect Image’s peel penetrates both the epidermal and dermal layers of the skin. It helps improve the skin absorption rate of the results-driven ingredients in the rest of your skincare products that make up your routine.

Radical Skincare Age-Defying Pads, $75
Exfoliating pads are great because they are effective and easy to use. Radical Skincare’s version contains a variety of acids to thoroughly exfoliate the outer, dead skin layer to reveal healthier, glowing skin. As it chemically exfoliates, it also helps soften wrinkles, minimize dark spots, and enhance collagen production. These pads can be used on the face, neck, and décolleté area.

Glycolic Acid Peels: The Bottom Line

While there’s something to be said for professional strength treatments, the benefit of glycolic acid peels for home use is that they can deliver superior results minus any downtime. Of course, along with the benefit of performing a peel in the comfort of your own home, you’ll also save some money in the long run. 

From glycolic acid peel pads to pre-saturated wipes to no-rinse solutions, at-home treatments take the guesswork out of the peel application process. For a DIY skin peel to indeed be effective, look for a formula with a glycolic acid strength of anywhere from 8-15%. While some experts believe anything less than 10% isn’t likely to be effective, those who are new to peels or have ultra-sensitive skin should consider starting with a glycolic acid level of around 5% and a pH level between three and four. 

Keep in mind that professional strength glycolic acid peels range from 20-70%, so if you’re accustomed to tolerating such a strength, you can use a higher GA level for home use to help maintain results in between treatments. 

To help counteract any potential irritation such as redness or dryness, look for a glycolic acid peel that’s also formulated with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and green tea extract to help circumvent these side effects. 

What’s the best glycolic acid peel, in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!

 

FAQs
Glycolic acid peels slough off the surface and middle layers of skin, along with clogged pores and debris. Since glycolic acid is made up of tiny molecules, it readily penetrates the skin, removing the intercellular “glue” that holds dead skin cells together.
Avoid exfoliating a week before a glycolic acid peel because it is an in-depth exfoliating in itself. Also, make a conscientious effort to avoid excessive sun exposure and never perform a peel on sunburnt skin. The same rule applies to overly dry, cracked skin and those who tend to be on the extremely sensitive side.
Every at-home glycolic acid peel has a different set of rules — some can be used daily, whereas others are best reserved for 2-3 times a week, but work up to a tolerance you’re comfortable with. While you should follow the instructions on the product you’re using, it’s also vital that you pay attention to how your skin is reacting. Decrease frequency if you’re noticing excessive or prolonged redness, peeling, or other signs of irritation.
To make a gentle, natural peel, mix cane sugar and yogurt until you have a slightly grainy paste. Use your fingers to apply the mask to your face, avoiding the eye area. Let the peel rest on your face for ten to 15 minutes before wiping it away with a soft washcloth and cool water.
While it’s not nearly as strong or effective as glycolic acid, apple cider vinegar is rich in malic acid, which exfoliates the skin. Gentle exfoliation encourages cell turnover, sloughs away dead skin cells, and may even get rid of dirt and oils clogging pores.
If it’s a peel you remove after 10-15 minutes, follow up with a serum and a night cream. During the day, don’t forget to add sun protection since the peeling action makes your skin more sensitive to UVA and UVB rays. Not doing so can lead to further sun damage, discoloration, and premature aging — all of the concerns you’re trying to correct with a glycolic peel in the first place.

Sources:
Photoprotective and Antiinflammatory Effects of Topical Glycolic Acid,” NICHOLAS V. PERRICONE MD, JOSEPH C. DiNARDO MS, Wiley Online Library.
Glycolic Acid Peel Therapy – A Current Review,” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.
Salicylic Acid As A Peeling Agent: A Comprehensive Review,” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.

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