The newbie’s guide to at-home chemical peels
The skincare superhero you didn't know you needed
Unlike a face mask or scrub, you need to do a fair bit of research before deep diving into chemical peels. If you’ve watched Sex and the City, let Samantha Jones’ post-peel burns be a warning about facial treatments gone wrong. That being said, beauty formulas have evolved since the early 2000s and today’s at-home peel products are gentle yet effective. “Most mild peels contain ingredients like glycolic acid and lactic acid that are derived from natural substances like sugarcane and milk,” explains Dr Harshna Bijlani, dermatologist and medical head of Mumbai’s The AgeLess Clinic. If you’re a newbie to chemical exfoliation, keep scrolling for the complete primer to peels…
What are chemical peels?
“Essentially, peels are acids that exfoliate skin, some can even tackle concerns like acne, clogged pores and pigmentation,” says Dr Bijlani. Light peels require no downtime and clean out dead cells from the surface of your face. Medium strength peels exfoliate the deeper layers of skin and cause skin peeling that will heal within a week with proper care. Without the presence of dead skin cells, your skincare will sink in and work much more efficiently.
Are they safe to use at home?
There’s a possibility that these acids are already a part of your daily skincare routine. Several cleansers, serums and moisturisers have AHAs, BHAs, fruit enzymes, oleic acid, hyaluronic acid or azelaic acid.
When picking a product, remember the lower the pH level (read: acidic-alkaline balance), the stronger the formula. To find out the exact pH level of a product, arm yourself with some litmus sheets. These are accompanied by a chart and within 15 seconds of coming in contact with a cosmetic formula, change colour and tell you how acidic or alkaline it is. “Use gentle AHA/BHA peel pads on a daily basis and reserve stronger formulas for in-clinic treatments as they need medical supervision,” she suggests. Remember that at-home chemical peels are great for your maintenance between in-clinic treatments.
Acids have a reputation to increase skin sensitivity, but this reaction is often triggered when acids are paired with conflicting products. For example: never wear retinol after an AHA/BHA peel. The combination could prove disastrous and cause excessive dryness and irritation. It’s also wise to do a patch test on the skin below your ear or along your jawline to check for allergic reactions. It’s normal to expect a slight tingling, but you must wipe off the product if the symptoms persist. And always, always wear sunscreen to protect your skin after applying an acid treatment.
What should I get?
With a plethora of acid-spiked skincare options to pick from, making the right choice is difficult. If your main concern is dull skin AHAs like glycolic acid are your best bet. “These are water-soluble and help with pigmentation,” explains Dr Bijlani.
Try: Guerlain Gommage De Beaute Skin Resurfacing Peel INR 4267 approx
To clear up clogged pores, try BHAs like salicylic acid. “Oil-soluble acids go deep into the greasy parts of your face and decongest pores. They reduce sebum production, stopping acne in its tracks,” she says.
Try: COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid INR 2,586
To minimise the signs of sun damage, try antioxidant-rich ferulic or ascorbic acid (vitamin C) formulas.
Try: Clarins One-Step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser INR 2,000
Rosacea-prone skin is sensitive and needs extra TLC and Dr Bijlani suggests going for azelaic acid. “It is packed with antioxidants that reduce swelling and smoothen skin. Plus, it can be used during pregnancy,” she says.
Try: The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension INR 522 approx
For very dry and mature skin, oleic acid can do wonders. Dr Bijlani breaks it down and says, “It is high in omega-9 fatty acids that are found in many plants like olives. It is very hydrating and has anti-inflammatory powers.” It is also used to treat skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and seborrheic dermatitis.
Try: Juicy Chemistry 100% Organic Apricot Cold Pressed Carrier Oil INR 450
Known for its hydrating, smoothening and plumping properties, hyaluronic acid is one of the buzziest skincare ingredients around. It is a humectant which means it pulls in moisture from the environment and locks it into your skin. For dry skin, pair it with a richer cream or oil. This will act as a preventive layer and stop moisture from evaporating.
Try: Dot & Key Water Drench Hydrating Hyaluronic Serum INR 895
Thanks to beauty entrepreneur Huda Kattan’s new skincare label, Wishful, we’ve got a refresher on the efficacy of fruit acids. The brand’s Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub is full of pineapple and papaya enzymes that break down dead cells and rejuvenate skin. “These are very mild acids and are perfect for newbies,” says Dr Bijlani.
Try: Shangpree Fresh Peeling Mask INR 1690
Photograph: Rid Burman