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I’ve ignored the benefits of enzymes for skin for far too long. I don’t have an excuse, I’ve just been blinded by the shiny alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids. Enzymes also constitute chemical exfoliants, but they are significantly milder and gentler than these aforementioned acids.
If you have sensitive skin then you might want to have enzyme peels on your radar. You might discover that they are the natural ingredient your skin has been missing all along.
I’ve selected the best enzyme peels, masks and other skin care products on the market for all skin types and needs. I explain exactly what the enzymes used in skin care are, and what the benefits of enzymes are for the skin.
Enzyme peels are not without their side effects, however, so I do outline that in full. To finish things off, I’ve got some explanations on how the various enzyme skin care products should be used.
Enzymes for Skin Guide: Contents
- 19 Best Enzyme Peels & Other Skin Care Products to Try
- What Are Enzymes in Skin Care and What Do They Do?
- Benefits of Using Enzymes in Skin Care
- Side Effects of Enzyme Peels
- How to Use Enzymes for Skin
From the perfect enzyme peel to other skincare products formulated with enzymes, below you can find the ideal match for your specific skin type and needs.
1. Amorepacific Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder
This powder truly allows you to customize your enzyme peel experience. This is a cleansing powder with some surfactants to remove makeup, sunscreen, and oils. Though it’s recommended for daily use we think most folks should only use it a few times a week to avoid over-exfoliation. Its active enzymes are papain and lactobacillus from green tea for dead skin cell removal, though part of its effect also comes from physical exfoliation. Buy it at Sephora!
2. Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate Triple Acid Resurfacing Treatment
For an extra thorough exfoliation, choose a product that combines acids and enzymes for skin renewal. This liquid formula can be applied like a toner at night to give the skin a thorough resurfacing. It contains papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes along with different kinds of AHA at 10%. While it is powerful, it is also soothing thanks to green tea extract and honey for skin. It’ll leave the skin soft and glowing, and will work for all skin types. Get it from Nordstrom!
3. Herbivore Botanicals Blue Tansy Resurfacing Clarity Mask
This bright blue enzyme mask is loaded with soothing blue tansy, to renew the skin without irritating it. It is extremely soothing and helps to clear redness and calm down acne-related irritation thanks to the chamazulene in the tansy and the anti-inflammatory effects of willow bark extract. The papaya and pineapple enzymes here give the skin a wonderful glow. It has a gel texture that is suited to all skin types. Pick it up at Revolve!
4. Bliss Pumpkin Powerhouse Resurfacing & Exfoliating Enzyme Mask
This exfoliating mask utilizes enzymes from pumpkin extract in combination with rice powder to give the skin a refreshed sheen. In addition to offering a super gentle exfoliation, this mask is also incredibly moisturizing thanks to sunflower oil and glycerin. It is super rich in beta carotene, so it will also give you some antioxidant protection. It will work for all skin types and is sold at Ulta.
5. EltaMD Laser Enzyme Gel
Initially produced as a post-laser treatment moisturizer, this light gel is gentle and hydrating. It’d be a phenomenal daily moisturizer for anyone with sensitive or oily skin, since it is wholly humectant-based, and could also be incorporated into a multi-step routine for those with dry skin. It contains glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and butylene glycol as its main ingredients. Bromelain enzyme from pineapple helps to very gently keep the skin renewed. You can order it from Dermstore.
6. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel
Enzymes are only a small part of this intense peeling formula. This clinical-grade exfoliant thoroughly resurfaces the skin with a blend of lactic, glycolic, mandelic, and salicylic acid, boosted by pineapple-derived bromelain. Step 1 features the exfoliants, while step 2 neutralizes the skin after the peel and soothes it with a blend of hydrators and anti-inflammatories. It’s a great product for anyone facing texture issues, but might be too strong for those with sensitive skin. Purchase it from Sephora!
7. Kat Burki PH + Enzyme Essence
This wonderful essence keeps the skin’s pH at a low, healthy level while softening and renewing it with the help of papaya enzymes. It’s infused with a variety of plant extracts, including soothing centella asiatica and brightening licorice root extracts. A few humectants keep the skin soft and moisturized. The amount of enzymes here is not too high, so it’s appropriate for daily use. It is available at Nordstrom.
8. Susanne Kaufmann Enzyme Peel
Papaya and kiwi extracts are the sources of enzymes in this gel peel. It is not too strong, so it is unlikely to irritate the skin, and it features some antioxidant-rich compounds to prevent photoaging. This enzyme peel also contains hydrating products, so after use the skin feels soft and supple. Note that it does contain a bit of alcohol, so it may not be suitable to those with severely dry or sensitive skin. Grab it from Net-a-Porter!
9. Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream
Just about anyone can benefit from this light yet deeply nourishing gel-cream. The enzyme papain is just a small part of this formula, added to aid in skin renewal. It features two types of hyaluronic acid for comprehensive moisturization, along with skin-brightening alpha-arbutin. It is anti-aging, brightening, and extremely hydrating. Find it at Revolve!
10. Too Cool For School Egg-zyme Whipped Foaming Cleanser
Enzyme cleansers are a unique way of restoring extra-sensitive skin. This gentle, sulfate-free cleanser is made with papain and bromelaine, from papaya and pineapple, respectively, but it also features lysozyme, a naturally occurring enzyme with anti-bacterial properties. It cleanses the skin thoroughly and fights acne and irritation, but without over-drying. It’s ideal for those with combination skin. You can get it from Ulta.
11. Eminence Organic Skin Care Yam and Pumpkin Enzyme Peel
This all-natural enzyme peel relies on enzymes from pumpkin, pineapple, and papaya to restore the skin. However, they are reinforced with glycolic and lactic acids in a small percentage. The formula as a whole is quite nourishing, with lots of soothing extracts and some exceptional oils and hydrators. It’ll work for all skin types, but it does contain some essential oils that might not work for those with sensitive skin. Buy it online through Dermstore!
12. Murad Night Fix Enzyme Treatment
Using overnight enzymes for skin is a great way to ensure that you wake up feeling radiant. The rejuvenating enzymes in this blend are derived from a few types of algae, to help combat signs of premature aging. The formula is quite occlusive, and also features antioxidant niacinamide for an additional skin-restoring boost. The fragrance blend is touted to help improve sleep quality. It will work for all skin types, but is ideal for those who lean towards combination or dry. Pick it up from Sephora!
13. Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser
Foaming powder cleansers like this one are great for those with oily and combination skin. This gentle formulation thoroughly removes makeup and excess oil from the skin, while enzymes work to rejuvenate and smooth texture. There is also vitamin C in the mix to brighten the skin and give antioxidant support. It comes in the form of a dry powder, but foams up once blended with water. Only use it a few times a week, unless your skin is particularly hearty and resistant to irritation. It is available at Nordstrom.
14. Mio Skincare Double Buff Dual Action Enzyme Exfoliator
You can totally use enzymes for skin on the body, as well! This body scrub is made with pumice and enzymes that work together to dislodge and buff away those dead skin cells. These ingredients sit in a moisturizing formula of organic botanical oils and hydrating extracts. Use it in the shower a few times a week for silky smooth skin. Order it from Net-a-Porter!
15. Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel
Sulfate-free cleansers are a must have, with this gel being a particularly nice choice for all skin types. It contains papaya enzymes for a mild, daily resurfacing effect, and glycerin for its ability to bind water to the skin. It will work for all skin types, and because of its mild formula will work best as a second cleanser or morning cleanser. Find it at Sephora!
16. Korres Pomegranate AHAs & Enzyme Resurfacing Mask
This resurfacing mask combines the powers of enzymes, AHAs, and mild abrasives to give a very thorough exfoliation. To use it, you apply it to your skin, wait for a few minutes, and then massage and rinse away. The enzymes and acids take dislodging action while the mask sits on your skin, and then the jojoba beads in it complete the job by physically removing the offending dead skin that has just been loosened. It is extremely softening, and will work best for those with non-sensitive combination or oily skin. Get it from Revolve!
17. Naturally G4U Beauty Has No Age Renew & Hydrate Enzyme Mask
If you have dry yet non-sensitive skin, this all-natural enzyme mask is for you. It’s an exfoliating mask with superb moisturizing abilities. For exfoliation in relies on enzymatic pumpkin powder and glycolic acid, while its moisturizing effects come from coconut oil rich in soothing lauric acid and grape seed oil rich in linoleic acid. You can leave it on your skin overnight even, and the lovely fragrance will help put you to sleep. You can purchase it from Ulta.
18. June Jacobs Perfect Pumpkin Peeling Enzyme Masque
Get ready for a bit of a tingle with this wonderful enzyme peel mask. It relies on a blend of pumpkin extracts and ferments to resurface the skin, while vitamin A helps renew and promote cell regeneration. Beyond that, the mask’s focus is on hydration, with a ton of moisture-attracting humectants. Tea extracts give it a soothing and anti-aging effect, as well. Use it a few times a week to give dry skin a nourishing boost. It is sold online via Dermstore.
19. Sanitas Skincare Pumpkin Enzyme Mask
You will surely enjoy the brightening and anti-aging effect of this enzyme mask. It contains pumpkin enzymes along with brightening vitamin C. Its moisturizing effects are courtesy of hyaluronic acid and squalane. It also has a high amount of antioxidant and soothing vitamin E. It’s ideal for those with dry skin, but will work for everyone except the ultra-sensitive. Buy it from Dermstore!
Enzymes are molecules that speed up different kinds of chemical reactions. There are many different kinds of them, but the enzymes used in skin care usually came from fruit extracts.
As Michelle of LabMuffin explains, these enzymes are a type of protein that breaks down other proteins. It just so happens that the main component in dead skin cells is protein – keratin, to be specific. In skin care, fruit enzymes are meant to help break down those proteins to facilitate the shedding of dead skin cells.
The most common enzymes used in skin care come from papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin, but occasionally we’ll see other sources as well. Papain is the active enzyme from papaya extract, while bromelain is what’s in pineapple and kiwi. With pumpkin, the situation is a little more unique since Michelle explains that the enzyme in pumpkin extract is actually a strain of bacteria called Bacillus.
What are the benefits your skin will get using enzymes?
Since enzymes can break down proteins, they help exfoliate the skin. They aid in the removal of dead skin cells, which allows for the skin to regenerate more quickly, and can also aid with a variety of skin issues and concerns including premature aging and acne.
The other benefit of dead skin cell removal is that it allows other skincare products to penetrate into the skin more quickly and thoroughly, which improves their overall function.
Enzymes are less exfoliating than acids like glycolic, lactic or salicylic acid by a magnitude, so they are more appropriate for those with highly sensitive skin or skin that is thin and prone to over-exfoliation. They are much less likely to cause irritation.
• Softening, Soothing, and Antioxidant
According to manufacturers like Making Cosmetics, most of the enzyme-rich extracts have other skin benefits, including an ability to soothe and soften the skin. These ingredients do this without causing breakouts, so they are great in moisturizing products for all skin types.
Beyond the typical papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin enzymes, occasionally we see other enzymes in cosmetics that have even more powerful soothing, skin softening, or antioxidant effects although they usually won’t have the ability to exfoliate.
• Wider pH Range
Chemical exfoliants based on AHAs like glycolic or salicylic acid are very pH-dependent. This means that if the product is formulated at the wrong pH or if the skin is too alkaline for whatever reason, the exfoliation will not be as thorough. Enzymes, on the other hand, function at a wider pH range so formulation and product order don’t have to be as big of a concern.
As with all naturally-derived skincare ingredients, there is a chance for irritation or allergic reaction with enzymes. In fact, enzyme peels pose a slightly higher risk of irritation than other products with botanical extracts specifically because of their keratolytic effects. Exfoliants as a class are powerful ingredients with excellent results, but that comes hand in hand with an increased chance that they’ll irritate the skin.
If you already have an allergy to one of the fruits from which the enzymes were taken, then it is best to skip the product altogether. Many people will find that their mouth swells up or gets irritated when they eat pineapple or papaya specifically because of the papain or bromelain.
There are some warnings about enzymes (especially papain) causing serious damage to the skin barrier or causing contact dermatitis. It is important to note, however, that the concentration of papain used in these studies was significantly higher than what you will find in cosmetics, or otherwise we would see hundreds of reviews complaining about customers having reactions to those products.
Nevertheless, it is important to practice safe skincare habits like patch testing. To patch test enzyme peels for sensitivity, apply the peel to a small section of thin skin. The upper arm, forearm, or behind the ear are all good places to do a patch test. Depending on the strength of the product and how often you would like to use it, you can apply it for a few days in a row or apply it, wait a few days, and then apply it again.
If no adverse reactions occur, then you can try the product on your face next. Once you start using the product on your face, pay attention to signs of over-exfoliation like flaking, stinging or tightness. Over-exfoliation is much less likely with enzyme peels than it is with acid peels, but it’s still good to pay attention. If you notice those signs, discontinue use.
• Enzyme products come in all kinds of forms, and should generally be used as the packaging directs.
• Because enzymes are effective at a higher pH than most skincare acids, they can be used towards the end of the skin care routine, although this also depends on the type of product.
• An important thing to keep in mind is that enzymes can be more exfoliating or less exfoliating depending on their percentage in any given formula, as well as what other ingredients they have been combined with.
• Often, brands will recommend customers use products more frequently than some skin types can tolerate, so it is always better to be cautious.
• After you’ve patch tested a skincare product with enzymes, consider using it slowly.
• If the product is intended for daily use, start out by using it every other day, while if it’s intended for use 3 times a week, then start out by only using it once a week.
Photos via @brittanyxavier, @ohglowygirl, @neighha