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How to choose the right skin peel

By Georgia Seago
31st March 2022

Skin peels are often overlooked in favour of more talked-about tweakments, but they’re actually one of the most versatile tools in a cosmetic practitioner’s kit. Peels can treat anything from acne to skin texture problems and pigmentation, so you may not need to turn to more invasive and expensive treatments just yet. In fact, many practitioners will first advise either a single peel or a course to improve the health of the skin before they’ll perform other treatments. Sometimes, people find this alone gives them enough of an improvement.

Where it can get confusing is knowing which peel is right for you and your skin concerns. The ‘peel’ itself is the acid-based solution your practitioner applies to the skin and the name refers to the basic mechanism it has on the skin, to slough off dead cells in the skin’s top layer so the ingredients can get to work doing their job on fresh skin.

Will my skin peel right off?

Your skin won’t necessarily ‘peel’ off like one of those old face masks you’d get in a packet, but these peeling solutions do vary in intensity, and so generally speaking, the deeper-rooted the skin concern, and the more intense the treatment, the more downtime you’re be looking at in terms of redness, irritation, peeling and flaking.

What are skin peels good for?

Here’s a list of the skin concerns peels can work excellently on, and which type to seek out depending on your skin’s needs. For more general information on skin peels, like how many you’ll need, what your skin will look like afterwards, and how much they cost, visit our Skin Peels tweakments page and download the free, in-depth factsheet.

Make sure the practitioner you choose is experienced and competent at the type of peel they are suggesting for you.

Which is the best peel for you?

1. Fine lines and wrinkles – Retinol
Just like when it’s used as a skincare ingredient, retinol is fantastically effective at creating overall healthy skin, but when used in a clinical-strength peel, it can do even more. A retinol peel is a great choice for general signs of ageing because retinol increases cellular turnover, smoothing and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also slows the accelerated breakdown of collagen that occurs as we age and promotes skin elasticity. Over time, regular retinol peels will help reduce new lines and wrinkles from forming.

2. Dark spots and pigmentation – Glycolic acid
Dark spots and light pigmentation are well suited to treatment with a superficial glycolic acid peel. Glycolic is a tyrosinase inhibitor, meaning it suppresses melanin formation and regulates an uneven skin tone by lightening dark marks and other surface pigmentation like acne scarring (see below).

3. Acne – Salicylic acid
Salicylic (a beta-hydroxy acid) is your go-to for acne and spots thanks to its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It unclogs pores and mops up excess oil on the skin and actually gives a relatively gentle exfoliation, so it shouldn’t be too harsh on already enflamed acne skins.

4. Acne scarring – TCA or glycolic acid
Certain types of acne scarring can be improved with a TCA (trichloroacetic acid) peel, though acne scarring is difficult to fully erase. The goal of a TCA peel with an experienced practitioner will be to stimulate the formation of new collagen and elastin to reconstruct the scarred skin with new tissue. A very small amount of the solution is applied directly to each scar, rather than applied to the whole face or a larger area. Again, depending on the type and depth of scarring, a glycolic peel can also be effective – as mentioned above, glycolic acid works as a tyrosinase inhibitor to lighten dark marks and even out skin tone, making it a good choice for darker surface acne marks.

5. Sun damage – TCA
A TCA peel can work well for slightly more advanced sun damage. Working in a similar way as it does to improve acne scarring, it creates controlled inflammation to encourage the skin to shed its surface layer. This means that initially, signs of sun damage will darken and rise to the surface before the skin peels.

6. Dull and dehydrated – Lactic acid
Peels are a great option when skin needs a little freshening and hydrating. Lactic acid is perfect for this because it provides a gentle, soothing exfoliation while moisturising the skin – leaving you smoother, brighter, and more hydrated. Lactic acid is also a good choice for sensitive skins because it’s a mild AHA (alpha-hydroxy acid) derived from milk.

If you’re not quite ready for an in-clinic peel, have a look at our pick of at-home exfoliants to start you off on the right path.



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