Chemical exfoliation is the current gold standard in skin care, with chemical peels being the go-to skin-improving solutions for more and more women. Physical exfoliation is passé for a few reasons: it’s often too harsh on the skin, it does not give an even or thorough enough exfoliation, and many of the face scrubs on the market contain environmentally destructive microbeads.
If you have decided to experiment with chemical exfoliation and are looking for the best chemical peels for your skin type, check out our product suggestions below! These acid-based exfoliants are the best on the market.
Chemical Exfoliators for Combination, Oily, Sensitive, and Acne-Prone Skin
1. Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid
This salicylic acid toner is considered as one of the best formulated chemical exfoliators – it very well might be the best of the best chemical exfoliants. Every little detail was considered when putting this product together, so the pH is perfect, and there are absolutely no potential irritants.
In addition to BHA, this liquid also includes skin-soothing green tea. The loyal followers of this product rave about its ability to smooth out their skin, control their breakouts, and minimize their pores without causing any irritation.
Paula’s Choice also offers BHA chemical exfoliants in lower and higher percentages, and in thicker textures, if a liquid is not your jam. You can purchase this product at Nordstrom.
2. COSRX BHA Power Liquid
This liquid contains betaine salicylate, a gentler form of salicylic acid, to exfoliate the skin and fight inflammation without any risk of irritation. This liquid also includes uber-calming willow bark extract, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and brightening niacinamide. Customers about over this toner’s ability to make their pores shrink, and reduce their redness. It can be purchased at Ulta.
3. Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Treatment and Moisturizer
This moisturizer from Philosophy makes fighting acne and banishing excess dead skin as easy as slathering on a bit of cream – tiny pores guaranteed. This formula is mild yet effective, with a 1% salicylic acid content. It contains some wonderful skin-repairing ingredients, like squalane and oligopeptide, so you’ll certainly get more than you’ve bargained for with it. Just remember that this won’t suffice as your lone daytime moisturizer, and that you will need to apply a sunscreen on top! Pick it up at Amazon!
Chemical Exfoliators for Normal and Combination Skin
4. Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Moisturizer
I love me a two-in-one, but I didn’t think a moisturizer and exfoliant in one could be such an incredible blend. Does anything sound easier than simply washing your face, and then applying a cream? It’s such a wonderful and easy nighttime routine that will hydrate, moisturize, exfoliate, and fight all signs of premature aging.
The glycolic acid in this formula has been paired with arginine, which slows down the speed with which the glycolic acid penetrates into the skin. This means that over night you can receive a thorough exfoliation but with a reduced chance for irritation.
This moisturizer could be wonderful for those with dry skin, as well, although they might also want to include a second moisturizer in their routine. This excellent chemical exfoliator is available at Amazon.
Chemical Exfoliators for Oily, Thick, and Textured Skin
5. Makeup Artist’s Choice Mandelic Acid Toner
While mandelic acid is normally gentler on the skin, here it comes in the uniquely low pH of 2.5. This 5% mandelic acid toner is the real deal, giving a thorough exfoliation that leaves the skin looking impossibly smooth, and the pores tiny. While the formula does contain some skin-soothing ingredients like green tea extract and aloe, there is also alcohol, so it should still be followed up with a super nourishing and soothing moisturizer – so sensitive skin types, please beware! You can order this toner from Amazon.
Chemical Exfoliators for Sensitive, Dry, and Mature Skin
6. First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads
There is a lovely collection of glycolic and lactic acid in these pads, to exfoliate the skin completely, yet gently. These pads were made for all skin types, but those with dry and mature skin will certainly appreciate added ingredients like hyaluronic acid and licorice root extract that hydrate and brighten the skin. The loyal addicts of this brand rave about these pads’ ability to really improve their complexion, and tighten their skin. You can purchase these pads at Sephora.
7. Zelens PHA+ Bio Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads
These facial pads exfoliate the skin gently and thoroughly, with the new acid superstar lactobionic acid (as well as some salicylic acid and lactic acid). They are gentle, and formulated specifically to both exfoliate, and to work synergistically with the rest of your skin care.
This means that after you swipe on these dead skin busting pads, any serum or lotion you apply afterwards will penetrate your skin better, and do a better job hydrating and beautifying you. If you have sensitive skin that does not tolerate glycolic acid, these pads are a perfect choice for a chemical exfoliant. You can purchase these lovelies at Net-a-Porter.
8. Sunday Riley Good Genes All in One Lactic Acid Treatment
I almost feel guilty including this product on the list of the best chemical exfoliators, because the cost, as one reviewer described, is heartbreaking. This serum includes strictly the gentlest of AHAs, lactic acid, but at a pH of 2.6, which might still irritate some.
The results of using this serum are dramatic – the skin looks brighter, smoother, and clearer, not to mention well hydrated thanks to some lovely emollients. If you have $158 burning in your pocket, and you want to try the chemical exfoliant everyone is raving about, you can buy it from Sephora.
Chemical Exfoliators for Sensitive and Normal Skin
9. Silk Naturals 8% AHA Toner
This toner represents simplicity at its finest. It includes both lactic acid and gluconolactone (a.k.a. PHA). What’s more, the formulators clearly put a lot of thought into the science behind these ingredients, so they kept the formula short and sweet – just a bit of aloe vera, and some preservatives. It exfoliates phenomenally, can be integrated into almost any skin care routine, and should not irritate the skin even a little bit. You can buy it directly from Amazon.
Chemical Exfoliators for Normal, Dry, and Mature Skin
10. Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Pads
It is oh-so-convenient when a liquid product comes with its own application instrument. These pads are ultra soft, and soaked with a nourishing and exfoliating glycolic acid liquid that will leave your skin smooth, soft, and hydrated.
The formula contains 8% glycolic acid, as well skin moisturizing and revitalizing hyaluronic acid. While appropriate for all skin types, those with mature skin appreciate its skin-smoothing and retexturizing abilities the best. This chemical exfoliator is fairly gentle, for a glycolic acid product, and is best used once every other day. It can be purchased at Amazon.
11. Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
Drunk Elephant is known for making no-fuss, fragrance- and paraben-free products positively loaded with actives. The sheer amount of chemical exfoliants in this formula means that it might be too strong for those with sensitive skin.
This serum includes a whopping 12% glycolic acid, as well as salicylic acid, lactic acid, and tartaric acid. To counteract the massive amount of acids in the formula, a lot of anti-inflammatories like horse chestnut extract and cactus extract have been added.
This is a perfect exfoliating serum if you are looking for something powerful and effective that could work on multiple levels. The diverse collection of chemical exfoliants means it will help with large pores and acne just as well as it’d help with dullness and fine lines. You can buy this serum from Sephora.
Photos via Sephora, Nordstrom, Ulta