We’re really paying attention these days to the types of things we put on our skin, from UV rays to parabens, so the idea of a home chemical body peel can make people nervous. I was until I started reading about what they actually are–because in reality people have been using chemical peels for thousands of years.
The term “chemical peel” is used for any treatment that uses acids or enzymes to exfoliate your skin. Don’t panic–it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. We’re not talking about the kind of acids that old Bond villains seemed to own by the vat for some reason. The world is full of lots of gentle natural acids that we encounter everyday. Enjoy eating apples? Malic acid is what gives your Granny Smith apple its tartness. Old tales of people washing their skin with milk? That worked because the lactic acid in the milk was acting as a chemical peel.
Why use a body peel? We know exfoliation is key to healthy looking skin. Generally all the skin cells you can touch are dead which is normal, but sometimes they build up leaving your skin rough. We’re naturally meant to shed dead skin cells but the little things don’t always get the hint when they’ve overstayed their welcome. Dead skin builds up enough that it can cause a splotchy, uneven tan which is not the best way to start your summer. Exfoliating removes these dead cells and encourages new cell growth. For those of us who shave or wax, exfoliation is critical for avoiding painful ingrown hairs. Plus, it leaves your skin silky smooth and soft. There are two main types of exfoliation that we use on our bodies: physical and chemical.
Physical exfoliation takes the form of scrubs made of natural materials like salt, sugar, coffee grounds, and tiny shards of fruit pits and nuts. I love my salt scrubs, but when you think about it, physical exfoliation is kind of violent to the body. You’re basically sanding down your skin with rough or sharp grit. They can cause micro-tears in your skin which can lead to discoloration, uneven texture, and leave you open to infections. They’re also very uneven and messy. Unless you have a bathtub, they can get everywhere. I’m tub-less at the moment, and I know I’ve been avoiding my body exfoliation routine because it’s hard to manage in my little shower. And I really don’t even want to think about what all those fruit pit and coffee scrubs are doing to my plumbing.
Chemical exfoliation uses gentle acids to break down the bonds that hold the top, dead layer skin cells together so you can get even and complete exfoliation. These acids don’t cause cuts and can actually reduce the appearance of acne scars, those tiny skin bumps we develop on the backs of our upper arms, and other discolored spots. When we love the look of being tanned but hate the idea of that much sun exposure, body peels can give your skin a healthy glow and reverse the aging effects of sun damage. Body peels help shrink pores, prevent acne, and reduce fine lines.
Body and facial peels generally have different concentrations. For the most part the rule is that facial peels can go on your body, but body peels shouldn’t be used on your face unless otherwise stated. This is great guide to the best facial peels from someone I trust.
The two main classes of acids that you find in home body peels are alphya hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA).
Alpha hydroxy acids are naturally derived from foods. From apples we get malic acid, milk gives us lactic acid, citrus fruit provides citric acid, and sugar gives us glycolic acid. Since they are water soluble, AHAs can’t be absorbed deeply into your skin which is good in that you don’t always want to affect the healthy skin underneath the dry stuff, but that also means that they aren’t as good for deep cleansing of oily and acne-prone skin.
Beta hydroxy acids are oil soluble so they can reach deep into pores to clear out dirt, oil, bacteria, and built of skin cells. Most of us are familiar with one main BHA from our acne washes: salicylic acid, which comes from willow and birch trees. It’s also the main active ingredient in aspirin. Since they can absorb into your skin like a lotion, BHAs are great for reducing age spots, acne, wrinkles, and skin unevenness. BHAs can also be found in berries, yogurt, pineapple, papaya, and other fruits.
Which body peel is right for you?
Go with AHA peels if your concerns are: acne scars, discoloration, rough skin, dull skin, and sun damage.
Go with BHA peels if you concerns are: body acne, comedones, oily skin, and wrinkles. BHA peels are also typically better for more sensitive skin.
Lots of body peels make use of both types of acids for more complete, effective results.
What will it feel like?
It depends. Follow the directions on your peel but most are applied and then either left on left to sit for a bit and then washed off. Some people don’t feel anything. Some people feel some mild itching or tingling which is completely normal. Some have temporary flushing. That’s all normal. Always do a spot test before slathering your legs with a new product in case you have a rare, bad reaction to it. It’s not supposed to be painful. Some people have literal peeling after a peel and others don’t. After your peel, your skin is brand new and bound to be a little sensitive so moisturize, avoid sun exposure the day or so after, and be sure to use sunblock.
Let’s go through the best body peels around right now so you can see which one best suits your skin needs.
1. Best Body Peel Wipes: Iceland Nordic Skin Peel by Skyn
This peel is a combination AHA and BHA peel that comes in pre-treated pads for easy applications. It uses lactic acid, salicylic acid, and papaya enzymes to break up and slough off built up dry skin, completely cleanse pores, and prevent future breakouts. The Iceland Nordic Skin Peel contains botanical extracts to help calm and pamper your new skin including thyme, oat, and green tea. Moisturizers like shea butter, jojoba seed oil, arctic cranberry seed oil, and arctic cloudberry seed oil hydrate your fresh skin and witch hazel locks that moisture in.
Because it does contain several oils, skin that is extremely sensitive to oils and often has to stick to oil-free cleansers might not be the best match for this one. It’s gentle enough to use everyday, but people with very sensitive skin should scale back to a few times a week. The pads are great to prevent mess and they work best for people who are doing small sections of their body and not a full body peel. Skyn products are vegan, cruelty-free, and don’t contain parabens, phthalates, dyes, petroleum, or mineral oil.
- AHA and BHA combination
- Calming botanicals
- Vegan and cruelty-free
- Not for people very sensitive to oils
- Pre-treated pads best for small areas
2. Best Body Peel for Bacne: TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel by Stacked Skincare
This is a five acid peel which is a combination of AHA and BHA. It’s formulated to not only soften and brighten skin, but to calm other skin issues like acne and eczema. It’s a very thin formula that comes with its own fan brush and shallow dish for even application. You brush the peel gently over your body once to twice a week and that’s it. No rinsing needed. The only thing is you shouldn’t use lotion after applying this peel for around nine hours. This is a very targeted peel with no extra ingredients thrown in. This contains the five acids, water, and alcohol as a carrier and that’s it. The TCA Multi-Acid Body Peel is meant as a body peel only and isn’t recommended for use on your face. Stacked Skincare does make a facial peel when the results on your body are so great you want to try your face as well.
- AHA and BHA combination
- Rated five out of five stars by users on Amazon
- Includes easy application fan brush and shallow bowl
- Formulated to improve skin health
- Great for bacne
- Not for use on your face
3. Best Fruity Body Peel: Papaya Enzyme Peel by ELEMIS
This is a BHA peel using natural acids and enzymes found in papaya and pineapple to break down dead skin and deeply cleanse your pores. It includes light moisturizers like sunflower seed oil which make this one a great fit for people who want to avoid heavy oils on their skin. The formula is a thick, easy to apply cream that you leave on for around 15 minutes and then rinse off. It contains botanicals to help improve skin including bladderwrack, algae, mint, and safflower. Do expect a tingling feeling with this one and other enzymatic peels. I’m personally abnormally sensitive to pineapple so I would sadly skip this peel. If you can’t eat pineapple because of how painful it is to your mouth, think about skipping this one too. Everyone else, enjoy the incredibly soft skin. (And the delicious pineapple.)
- BHA and natural enzymes
- Smells fantastically fruity
- Easy to apply cream
- Nourishing botanicals
- You need to let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes
- Some people react to pineapple enzymes more than others
4. Best Non-GMO Body Peel: Green Apple Peel Full Strength by Juice Beauty
I’m excited about this peel. It’s organic, non-GMO, and doesn’t contain parabens, phthalates, petroleum, silicone, sulfates, or artificial dyes or fragrances. It’s a combination AHA and BHA peel that’s heavy on the AHA. The Green Apple Peel uses malic acid from apples, citric acid from lemons, lactic acid, and glycolic acid to remove dead skin cells and brighten your complexion. It’s a very thin formula so you might want to apply this one with a fan brush or other wide makeup brush. A little goes a long way and a brush will make your life a heck of a lot easier and extend your product. You let this peel sit for 10 minutes and then rinse off.
This is another peel with high rates of tingling and often some redness after use so I wouldn’t use this one in the morning right before leaving the house. It does contain salicylic acid from the willow bark extract which may be the cause of that. If you have sensitive skin or would rather avoid BHAs altogether, Juice Beauty makes a Green Apple Peel Sensitive which omits the salicylic acid. To calm and nurture your skin, this peel includes aloe vera and vitamins E, C, and A.
Price: $45.60 (5 percent off MSRP)
- AHA and BHA combination
- Choice of regular or AHA-only sensitive formula
- Main ingredients derived from organic fruit
- Non-GMO, sulfate, and paraben free
- Tingling and temporary redness are common
- Thin formula can be hard to use
5. Best Body Peel for Inflamed Skin: Super Acids X-Treme Acid Rush Peel by Rodial
The unique player here is azelaic acid which we haven’t talked about because you don’t often see it in over the counter products. Azelaic acid is often used in rosacea treatments because of its ability to reduce inflammation, redness, and kill bacteria. Beyond that, the Super Acids X-Treme Acid Rush Peel contains glycolic acid, lactic acid, and BHA from pineapple. It also contains the enzyme protease which encourages cell generation. As we age, our cellular generation rate slows down, leading to those dead skin cells sticking around longer. Protease picks up the pace of skin cell turnover so your skin is always soft and fresh. The formula is intended to brighten skin tone, reduce wrinkles, erase discolored spots, and fight acne.
- AHA, BHA, and other specialized acids
- Great for red or inflamed skin
- Stimulates skin cell generation
- Has some active ingredients that aren’t fruit or food derived
- Contains silicones
6. Best Fast Body Peel: Luminous 3 Minute Peel by Real Chemistry
This peel by Real Chemistry is what’s called a protein peel. It doesn’t use AHA or BHA acids and instead employs a gentle chemical that binds to protein. You use this peel much more like a physical exfoliant as you apply it to clean skin and massage it gently into your skin for three minutes and then rinse. Your built up dead skin cells are made of protein so as you massage this peel around your skin, it shakes loose dead skin cells and they attach to the gel of the peel. So while you’re rubbing, you’ll probably start feeling some grit begin to accumulate and that the peel doing it’s job. The gel has to stay wet to work and works best when applying it in the shower as your skin is already softened. Plus you can easily wash away the dead skin it removes without making a mess. It’s gentle enough to be used everyday and is a cruelty-free product.
- Protein binder
- Rated 4.5 out of five stars by users on Amazon
- Only takes three minutes
- Feeling dead skin getting collected might gross some people out
- It doesn’t smell particularly great
7. Best Body Peel Spray: Mineral Peel Body by O.R.G. Skincare
Continuing on with nontraditional peels, the Mineral Peel Body is another product that works to remover dead skin immediately with a massaging motion. It’s much thinner than the Real Chemistry peel and actually comes in a glass spray bottle to make application a snap. You spray it on, wait a few seconds, and then rub into your skin. Right away, you’ll feel beads of dead skin sloughing off revealing fresh, soft skin. This peel uses mugwort extract as a natural chemical exfoliant and protects and nourishes your skin with aloe vera, cucumber, and vitamins A and B1. Because this isn’t really an acid peel, you won’t get all the extra benefits of removing deep hyper-pigmentation, scaring, wrinkles, sun aging, and deep pore cleansing.
Price: $29.10 (16 percent off MSRP)
- Mugwort extract
- Easy to apply spray bottle
- Works fast
- Not an acid peel
- Lacks a lot of the long-term benefits of peels
- Not strong enough for tough areas
8. Best Anti-Aging Body Peel: Glyco Extreme Peel by Natura Blissé
If what you are looking for is an intensely effective glycolic acid peel, the Glyco Extreme Peel by Natura Blissé is where you want to be. A full 50 percent of the formula is dedicated to active exfoliating agents. It contains five different AHAs: glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, and tartaric acid which comes from wine. Along with specialized peptides which stimulate the production of new cells, this combination works together to clear the way for healthier, young skin to come to the surface. It also contains salicylic acid for reaching deep down into your pores. This is highly effective against oily, acne-prone skin, especially caused by hormonal fluctuation. To nourish your skin, the Glyco Extreme Peel has extracts of prickly pear, oat, and indica flower. Your skin is left feeling soft, fresh, and gently tightened.
- AHA and BHA combination
- High concentration for significant, fast results
- High end botanicals
- Great for acne, wrinkles, and other problem skin
- Not for very sensitive skin
- Contains parabens
9. Best Body Peel for Acne: Blemish Clearing Peel by Juice Beauty
Another peel from Juice Beauty, this one is specifically formulated to address acne. This is generally marketed as a facial peel, but let’s be honest–that’s not the only place we get blemishes. When you want to feel confident showing off your back, sometimes you have to break out the targeted treatments. The Blemish Clearing Peel can not only clear up and prevent acne, it can also reduce the appearance of scarring from past acne.
This peel uses malic acid, tartaric acid, citric acid, glycolic acid, and the BHA salicylic acid to gently but throughout clean your pores and eliminate the dirt, excess oils, and dead skin that can clog your pore leading to acne. You’ll want to apply and leave this peel on for 10 minutes before washing off. Flushing and tingling is normal as the natural exfoliants work their magic and there’s aloe vera in there to soothe your skin from any mild irritation. The Blemish Clearing Peel is never tested on animals and doesn’t contain parabens, phthalates, artificial dyes, synthetic fragrances, pesticides, or petroleum.
Price: $37.05 (5 percent off MSRP)
- AHA and BHA combination
- Targets acne-prone skin
- All organic ingredients
- Does cause mild flushing so use at night
- Can cause sun sensitivity right after so make use of sunblock the next day
10. Best Body Peel for Sensitive Skin: Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel by GLYTONE
This is a glycolic acid only peel by GLYTONE. It’s oil-free, fragrance-free, and safe for delicate skin. At the same time, this one won’t disappoint. You smooth it on your skin and let it sit for 10 minutes and then wash off. Your skin immediately feels smoother, your pores are smaller, your skin as a brighter glow, and there’s a tightening feeling that isn’t uncomfortable like you get with some toners where you feel like you can’t move your mouth. The Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel won’t sink deep into your pores like a BHA would, but it will help treat acne, blotchy complexion, wrinkles, and uneven texture. You do want to make sure you don’t go right out into the sun after using this since your skin will be sensitive. Make sure you’re wearing unblock, especially if you’re also using retinol products.
- AHA glycolic acid only
- Good for sensitive skin
- Oil and fragrance-free
- Shrinks visible pores
- No BHA to reach deep into pores
- Could cause sun sensitivity