Ever wonder which “peel” would work the best for your skin? I often have new clients walk into my facial room, request a peel, and then crawl in the facial bed thinking that’s it, facial time!
It isn’t that simple as there are many types of facial peels to choose from depending on your skin type and results desired. Each peel targets a specific problem or issue. Let’s break them down so the next time you’re scouring the shelf in search of a cleanser or exfoliant or scheduling a treatment with your esthetician, you understand the options and potential benefits of each choice.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are water soluble rapid chemical exfoliators derived from different fruits and plants found in nature, helping with cell turnover and the shedding of dead skin cells.
Typically the most commonly used peel, derived from sugar cane, glycolic acid has the smallest molecules and therefore can penetrate the deepest of all the AHAs. If you are trying to treat signs of aging, this would be an ideal choice.
Glycolic peels are designed to even skin tone, plump the skin, and treat fine lines and dull complexion. Glycolic acid tends to irritate rosacea-prone skin so check with your Dermatologist if you fit into that category.
A milder choice among peels, lactic acid is derived through the fermentation process, typically from sour milk. Lactic acid is a fantastic choice for more sensitive skin types, known for treating pore size, uneven complexion, and pigmentation. Lactic acid is also an excellent choice as an ingredient in body lotions to help brighten non-facial skin.
Often naturally derived from apples, malic acid is used to smooth the skin, treat short-term hyperpigmentation, and is minimally irritating.
Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) are also natural exfoliants, however, unlike AHAs, they are oil soluble, penetrating deeper into pores to breakdown excess oily sebum.
Typically chosen to treat acne and/or sun damage, salicylic acid is extremely effective at curbing breakouts and clogged pores. Salicylic acid is derived from the same Willow Bark Tree as aspirin and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Anyone allergic to aspirin should avoid using salicylic acid.
This can be in either AHA or BHA category dependent on its formulation. Citric acid is primarily used to dry out excess sebum and clean out dead skin cells within pores.
A few FAQs on peels
Can AHA and BHA peels be combined?
Occasionally they can be combined, depending on manufacturer instructions and strengths. Since glycolic acid will continue to penetrate the skin until it is neutralized while salicylic acid is self-neutralizing, they will rarely be found together. I do not recommend mixing them without proper professional training for the products used.
Should at home AHAs and BHAs be used at the same time?
Unless the two acids are combined in the same product, I recommend using them on alternate days, or different times of day. For instance a glycolic acid cleanser may be used in the morning and a salicylic acid cleanser used in the evening.
What if my skin gets too dry from using peels?
If you notice stinging, persistent redness, or peeling, back off on the frequency of peels or products with AHAs in them, and be sure to be hydrating appropriately after use. Skin needs often change with seasons, travel, and hormonal changes so be aware of these changes.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Photos by Ana Stanciu70