Understanding Glycolic Peels
Can you imagine permanently clear & healthy skin? Is this possible without expensive skincare or breaking the bank at a clinic?
A glycolic acid peel is one of the most in-demand chemical peels done by dermatologists around the globe.
Chemical peels are used both for skin maintenance and to correct skin issues.
The most common conditions addressed by glycolic acid peels are: mild to moderate inflamed acne, acne scars, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (acne spots), melasma, dull skin texture, wrinkles, and sun damage or photoaging, among a host of others.[1, 2, 3]
It also has keratolytic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects.
Another great advantage of glycolic peels is that there is virtually no downtime, unlike other types of chemical peels.
Glycolic acid has the smallest molecule among the AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids), which means it can easily penetrate the skin at a much faster rate than others.
And with the advent of exfoliants for home use, what was only once available at clinics and spas can now be done at your convenience and for only a fraction of the price.
- Understanding Glycolic Peels
- Ask the Expert: What kind of glycolic peel should I use?
- Ask the Expert: How do I prepare my skin for a glycolic acid peel?
- Esthetician's Choice: The Best Glycolic Acid Peels At Home
- Glycolix Elite 10% / 15% / 20% Glycolic Acid Treatment Pads, 60 Count
- CANE + AUSTIN Acne Retexture Pad, 2% Salicylic and 5% / 10% Glycolic Acids
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, Extra Strength
- Murad Rapid Resurfacing Anti-Aging Peel – 10% Glycolic Acid + Antioxidant Vitamin C & Licorice Root Extract Blend
- Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel – Enhanced with Retinol and Green Tea Extract (Professional Chemical Peel)
- Glycolic Acid 50% Gel Peel – Enhanced with Retinol & Green Tea Extract (Professional Skin Peel)
- Glycolic Acid Peel 70% Deep+ Peel Unit – Professional Strength Medical Grade Chemical Face Peel for all Skin Tones
- The Best Glycolic Acid Peel Kits
- Glyco-Lactic Acid 60% Gel Peel (20% Glycolic + 40% Lactic) with After-Peel Neutralizer
- Ellen Lange – Retexturizing Chemical Glycolic Facial Skin Peel Kit
- 30% Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Aging Glycolic Peel System – FREE $65 Anti-Wrinkle Creams Included
- Planet Eden 70% Glycolic Acid Chemical Skin Peel Kit + Glycolic Acid Pre-Peel Cleanser + Antioxidant Recovery Cream + Treatment Fan Brush
- Glycolic Acid Peel: Basic Application Method
- Top 10 Best Glycolic Acid Peels At Home – The Ultimate Review & Guide
Ask the Expert: What kind of glycolic peel should I use?
by Samantha Welch, Esthetician
At-home products are available in varying concentrations and used depending on your skin type and skin tolerance.
The higher the % concentration and lower the pH, the more intense the peel.
As a guide, the basic % strength and classification of glycolic peeling are:
- Superficial Peels – 10-25%
- Medium Depth Peels – 50%-70%
- Deep Peels – Physician’s only
The depth of chemical peels depends on the % strength, number of coats, and the length of time it stays on the skin before it’s neutralized.
The selection below is arranged from lowest to highest in strength, with two different approaches to application:
- For beginners: Daily treatment pads are the easiest to use. These are usually only available in light 5-20% strengths.
- For intermediate users: Glycolic acid solutions come in a bottle and align with what dermatologists and estheticians use in their clinics. It is more potent at 30%+ but gives more dramatic results. This can be done once to twice a month.
Solutions are more complicated to use than daily pads, but nothing a bit of practice won't sort out. There is a how-to guide and video below that you can refer to should you prefer this method.
Ask the Expert: How do I prepare my skin for a glycolic acid peel?
Chemical peels vary in type and strength.
Before choosing which product to use, there are several things you should keep into account:
- Your skin sensitivity or tolerance to acids – This will determine what % or concentration you should choose. Glycolic peels are generally safe for all skin types with oily skin being the most resistant of all.
Some people also have built resistance by having various forms of acids already in their skincare regimen. If you’re new to peeling, it’s best to start with the lowest concentration possible so you can avoid skin irritations.
You can patch test a product before going all out as a precaution if you have sensitive skin. The list below is in ascending order or the lowest % to the highest % for easier assessment.
- Check your skin for scaly patches, any open sores, or lesions – Glycolic acid or tretinoin creams can exacerbate these issues. You’ll need to be well healed before performing any type of chemical peel.
- What skin problems you’re looking to address (dull skin, pigmentation, etc.) – This will determine the necessary depth and frequency of treatments. For solutions, repeat your peeling session every 15 days for 4-6 months until desired results.
If you’re looking to correct imperfections that are deeper in the skin like melasma or acne scars, a series of medium to deep peels would be very beneficial.
- You can prime your skin for increased peel efficacy – Using retinol or retinoids and skincare products with Vitamin C or hydroquinone before the peel can improve results and reduce the risk of hyperpigmentation (discoloration).
- Understand the proper procedures, especially when using glycolic acid solutions – Using the right acid concentration, knowing the peel timing, performing pre-peel priming, neutralization, and having the proper peeling equipment will ensure great results and no potential side effects.
The videos below demonstrate the proper clinical procedure for implementing glycolic acid peels. Make sure to watch and understand, as well as read the instructions that come with the product you purchase.
The Best Glycolic Acid Peels At Home
The list of products below starts from the mildest concentration to the highest.
Video: How to Apply Glycolic Exfoliants at Home by NYC dermatologist, Dr. Neal Schultz.
We’ve chosen the best glycolic acid peels at home for every available % concentration based on our experience, product specifications, value for money, and other consumer reviews.
The list goes up in concentration as it goes on. If this is your first time incorporating acids in your regime, it’s best to start with a low percentage and work your way up.
Best for: All skin types
Treatment for: Acne, acne scars, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, dull skin texture, fine lines, sun damage, melasma
Glycolix Elite 10% / 15% / 20% Glycolic Acid Treatment Pads, 60 Count
Best for: Uneven skin texture & tone, large pores, acne, excess oil, fine lines & wrinkles
Easy and convenient, this package comes with individual pads so there’s less room for mistakes. This is a perfect starting point for beginners. It gently exfoliates and sloughs off dry skin, excess oil, and other residues from the skin.
The key ingredients include:
- Crystalline Glycolic Acid 10% – the purest medical-grade formulation to gently exfoliate and enhance texture and skin tone without irritating the skin
- Vitamins A, C & E – a triple anti-oxidant combination that protect the skin against free-radicals
- Witch Hazel – helps refine pore size and reduce surface oil
Overall this targets uneven skin texture and tone, large pores, acne, excess oil, fine lines, and wrinkles.
This is something that you can treat yourself with on a more regular basis as part of your skin maintenance and prep the skin for other topical treatments.
Available in 10%, 15% and 20% strengths.
CANE + AUSTIN Acne Retexture Pad, 2% Salicylic and 5% / 10% Glycolic Acids
Best for: Reducing wrinkles & fine lines, acne blemishes, blackheads, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation & skin discoloration
This facial treatment is a powerful combination of uniquely formulated pure, active pharmaceutical-grade glycolic and salicylic acid. These are AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) that can work in synergy to gently exfoliate and combat acne and blemishes for clearer, brighter skin.
Unlike glycolic acid, salicylic acid is oil-soluble–meaning it has the ability to unclog deep-seated dirt from pores. Glycolic acid then works to improve overall skin tone and texture in the process.
With regular use, these pads can help reduce acne blemishes, blackheads, enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation, and skin discoloration; as well as reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Available in (2% Salicylic + 5% Glycolic) and (2% Salicylic + 10% Glycolic) combinations.
Video: Cane + Austin | Facial Moisture Cream
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, Extra Strength
Best for: Oily skin & imperfections, uneven skin tone or texture, enlarged pores, wrinkles
Skincare phenomenon and cult favorite Dr. Dennis Gross has packaged his signature 7-acid anti-aging peel into easy-to-use daily peels. It’s an extra-strength version of the peel he developed and uses in his NYC clinic.
They come in a pair of pre-moistened cotton pads that you use one after the other.
- Step 1: Contains the exfoliating solution. Wait 2 minutes for the acids to penetrate the skin.
- Step 2: Neutralizes the acid while delivering anti-aging and nourishing actives.
This patented two-step formula is incredibly easy to use and add to your daily routine. It takes the guesswork out of the peeling process to help you achieve clear, bright, and smooth skin.
Cruelty-free. Vegan formula. Paraben-free and Phthalate-free.
Available in 5-Count, 30-Count, and 60-Count boxes.
Best for: Oily skin and imperfections, uneven skin tone or texture, enlarged pores, wrinkles
Video: How To Peel: Using Dr. Dennis Gross Daily Peels
Murad Rapid Resurfacing Anti-Aging Peel – 10% Glycolic Acid + Antioxidant Vitamin C & Licorice Root Extract Blend
Best for: Normal, combination to dry skin; Dull & rough skin texture
This 10% Glycolic Acid extra strength peel quickly resurfaces dull skin and replaces dark, damaged cells with a softer, smoother, and younger-looking texture.
It also contains Vitamin C which improves radiance while its antioxidants protect skin from harmful environmental aggressors.
Licorice Root Extract boosts skin brightness and soothes skin to minimize irritation from the acid.
It comes in packets of moist towelettes that contain just the right amount of acid solution. Swipe it on your face, neck, and chest to make the most out of each packet. Allow for 3 minutes to absorb and follow with a moisturizer. You can use this 2-3x a week for best results.
Formulated without: Parabens, Sulfates, Phthalates, Gluten
Best for: Normal, Combination, to Dry skin; Dull and rough skin texture
Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel – Enhanced with Retinol and Green Tea Extract (Professional Chemical Peel)
Best for: Adult acne, large pores, fine lines; Anti-aging, anti-inflammatory
This is a moderately strong solution that has Retinol or Vitamin A, which is a proven anti-aging ingredient because of its ability to induce younger and healthier skin cells.
It also has Chamomile and Green Tea Extracts that act as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agents.
There are glowing reviews for this product from those who have suffered from adult acne. With continuous use, red bumps, large pores, and fine lines have reportedly decreased.
But again, just as with any peel, if this is your first time and would like to opt for a stronger solution than the starting 10%, make sure you prepare by having all the necessary tools on hand and read the accompanying instructions carefully.
Gluten-Free. No Parabens, Sulfates, or Phthalates.
Cruelty-Free – No Animal Testing on Products or Ingredients
Sustainable Raw Materials & Practices.
To maximize your treatment, you can opt for the Glycolic 30% Peel + Hydra Repair Wrinkle Cream Combo. The Hydra cream is designed to repair, replenish, and protect your skin after chemical peels. It has Matrixyl® 3000 (stimulates fibroblast cells) and Argireline® (works similarly to BOTOX®) to boost reduction in fine lines and wrinkles.
Glycolic Acid 50% Gel Peel – Enhanced with Retinol & Green Tea Extract (Professional Skin Peel)
Best for: Reducing fine lines & wrinkles; Promoting collagen to rejuvenate & evening out skin tone
This is a powerful solution that is aimed at more problematic skin issues like deeper lines, acne scarring, and moderate sun damage.
Retinol (Vitamin A) has been proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and promote collagen to help rejuvenate the skin and even out skin tone.
Green tea with cucumber extract is a synergistic combination that provides anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant benefits to the skin.
Even if you have prior experience with chemical peeling, make sure you thoroughly read how to use this product properly. This should come with a pamphlet that is detailed and very informative about pre-and post-treatment, contraindications, etc. to make sure you achieve the best results it can offer.
Gluten-Free. No Parabens, Sulfates, or Phthalates.
Cruelty-Free – No Animal Testing on Products or Ingredients.
Recycled Materials – Sustainable Raw Materials & Practices.
Glycolic Acid Peel 70% Deep+ Peel Unit – Professional Strength Medical Grade Chemical Face Peel for all Skin Tones
Best for: Fine lines, age spots, hyperpigmentation, dilated pores, sun damage, dull & uneven skin tone, dehydrated skin
A 70% solution is the highest you can go without a prescription.
If used correctly, the results can be phenomenal. This is the type of chemical peels that one would pay top dollar to an aesthetician for.
This deep but superficial peel is recommended for those with experience in peeling.
Fine lines can disappear, as well as age spots, hyperpigmentation, and dilated pores.
Best for sun-damaged, dull, uneven-toned, and dehydrated skin. Great for overall skin rejuvenation.
The Best Glycolic Acid Peel Kits
When you buy your first bottle of chemical peeling agent, you’ll need to purchase other tools as well, like a brush applicator and a neutralizing agent among others.
You can save yourself the trouble and reduce any chances of buying the wrong one by getting a complete set instead.
Glyco-Lactic Acid 60% Gel Peel (20% Glycolic + 40% Lactic) with After-Peel Neutralizer
Best for: Stimulating collagen to reveal younger skin; Improving dry or dehydrated skin, acne, dull skin, wrinkles, & hyperpigmentation; Brightens & evens out skin tone
This is a 2-in-1 set in more ways than one. This peel combines 20% glycolic acid + and 40% lactic acid in one bottle, combining the benefits of two of the most popular chemical peels used by dermatologists.
Both exfoliates and stimulate collagen to reveal a younger-looking skin but each type has its own unique strengths:
- Glycolic acid is fast-acting and penetrates deeper into the skin. It treats acne, dull skin, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and more.
- Lactic acid attracts moisture to the skin and hydrates it, improving dry or dehydrated skin. It also helps brighten and even out the skin tone.
This at-home kit comes with its own neutralizer so you don’t have to purchase one separately. Their calming After-Peel Neutralizer stops the peeling action to prevent burns and irritation. It also contains 6 acne-fighting and anti-aging ingredients: Aloe Vera, Kojic acid, Vitamin C, Retinol, Mulberry, and Licorice.
Ellen Lange – Retexturizing Chemical Glycolic Facial Skin Peel Kit
Best for: Refining pore size, controlling break outs, releasing congested & clogged pores, evening out skin tone, reducing dry patches, fine lines, & wrinkles
This professional skin peel helps refine pore size, control breakouts, release congested and clogged pores, even out skin tone, and reduce dry patches, fine lines, and wrinkles.
It’s a unique system that combines 3 different exfoliants: glycolic acid, enzymes, and physical exfoliation to resurface and rejuvenate skin texture.
The kit includes:
- Peel prep – an enzyme scrub
- Peel Accelerator Pads (60 counts) – pre-moistened glycolic peel pads
- Glycolic Peel Solution – the original peel kit solution
- Fan brush and Dispensing cup
The Ellen Lange Retexturizing peel utilizes their SubSurfacing technology proprietary delivery system that accelerates product migration into the epidermis. Its controlled oxygen feature targets collagen regeneration, metabolic activity, and dermal cell production. This combination helps clear complexion, improve texture, even out skin tone, and enhances the skin’s overall glow.
Allure Best of Beauty Award
Leaping Bunny Certified (Cruelty-Free Certification)
Plastic Surgeon Tested.
Not tested on animals.
Free from: Parabens, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Gluten, Barley, Wheat.
30% Anti-Wrinkle Anti-Aging Glycolic Peel System – FREE $65 Anti-Wrinkle Creams Included
Best for: Minimizing oil production, acne breakouts, scars, redness & inflammation; Improving skin tone & texture; Collagen production & moisture retention
Safe & proven brand with over 27 years of servicing dermatologists and spas.
This professional strength glycolic acid is to minimize oil production, acne breakouts, scars, redness, and inflammation; all while improving your skin’s tone and texture. It also stimulates collagen production and moisture retention.
You can see the same results done by professionals by using the same products AND save money in the long run. Peels at spas & dermatologist that uses this brand can run from $100 to $500 PER SESSION. This kit offers great value as it’s good for an estimated 10-15 facial peels, with each peel clocking at just roughly $7.50.
You should see a difference after 4-6 applications when used regularly. Just keep in mind that this is NOT a one-time solution but a long-term skin regimen for consistent, younger-looking skin. Please be patient.
Aside from this solution, the kit is also available in various strengths:
- LIGHT (30% Glycolic acid) – for those looking to peel away blemishes and reveal healthy skin. Use to get rid of age spots, fine lines, and acne-prone skin. No downtime or heavy peeling.
- MEDIUM (40% Glycolic acid) – For experienced peelers that would like to have faster results than those seen at 30%.
- DEEP (60% Glycolic acid) – For very seasoned peelers with damaged skin that you’re working to correct.
The glycolic acid used is derived from natural cane sugar and supplemented with hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, green tea, chamomile, cucumber, grapefruit, and grapeseed to ensure a clean peeling session that hydrates and doesn’t overly dry the skin.
This is 100% Vegan, Paraben-free, Cruelty-free, and doesn’t contain Sulfates, Synthetic Dyes/Fragrances, Mineral Oil, Formaldehyde Releasers, Alcohols, and MI/MCI Preservatives.
Planet Eden 70% Glycolic Acid Chemical Skin Peel Kit + Glycolic Acid Pre-Peel Cleanser + Antioxidant Recovery Cream + Treatment Fan Brush
Best for: Acne, enlarged pores, fine lines, sun damage, wrinkles, keratosis pilaris, age spots, melasma, freckles, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, dry dull skin, & rosacea
It’s best not to second-guess your peeling process, especially when dealing with very strong concentrations.
This package is great because it has everything you need every step of the way, from cleansing to the recovery cream.
The recovery cream, in particular, is formulated with over a dozen different antioxidants that help heal your skin after your peel. It provides anti-inflammatory protection and stimulates collagen. This is geared towards restoring skin elasticity and refined skin texture.
This concentration is recommended for a whole host of skin issues like acne, enlarged pores, fine lines, sun damage, wrinkles, keratosis pilaris, age spots, melasma, freckles, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, dry dull skin, and rosacea. You’ll notice an improvement as well in hydration and suppleness within a few uses, and see continuous improvement with regular use.
That said, it is still a whopping 70% in strength so is recommended only for those who have experience with peeling and looking to correct damaged skin.
Glycolic Acid Peel: Basic Application Method
Video: DermTV – In-Office Lunchtime Glycolic Peel Demo NYC dermatologist, Dr. Neal Schultz.
How Do You Use Glycolic Acid Peels at Home?
If you're new to peeling, always start with the lowest concentration you can get (5%-10%). You can work your way up in chemical strength once your skin has acclimated to using skincare acids.
For dramatic results, stronger chemical peels used in-clinic start at 30% above.
Total Time Needed :
- Bubanj, M. (2011). Glycolic acid peeling in the treatment of mild to moderate inflammatory facial acne vulgaris.
- Hurley ME, Guevara IL, Gonzales RM, Pandya AG. Efficacy of glycolic acid peels in the treatment of melasma. Arch Dermatol. 2002 Dec;138(12):1578-82. doi: 10.1001/archderm.138.12.1578. PMID: 12472345.
- MOY, L.S., MURAD, H. and MOY, R.L. (1993), Glycolic Acid Peels for the Treatment of Wrinkles and Photoaging. The Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology, 19: 243-246. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1524-4725.1993.tb00343.x
- Howard Murad, Ava T. Shamban, Paul Scott Premo, The Use of Glycolic Acid as a Peeling Agent, Dermatologic Clinics, Volume 13, Issue 2, 1995, Pages 285-307, ISSN 0733-8635, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0733-8635(18)30082-2.
- Kafi R, Kwak HS, Schumacher WE, Cho S, Hanft VN, Hamilton TA, King AL, Neal JD, Varani J, Fisher GJ, Voorhees JJ, Kang S. Improvement of naturally aged skin with vitamin A (retinol). Arch Dermatol. 2007 May;143(5):606-12. doi: 10.1001/archderm.143.5.606. PMID: 17515510.