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Skin peels used to be available only at the dermatologist's office or salon. But today, many skincare companies are making at-home peels that give similar results as pro peels for less money and hassle. Here, what you need to know about at-home peels to perform them safely and effectively:
What a peel does: An in-office and at-home peel have the same basic effect: They both exfoliate the skin, dissolving dead, dull cells on the surface, and bringing to light newer, healthier skin cells. This, in turn, gives skin a healthy, rosy look, and, depending on the strength of the active ingredients, minimizes fine lines and pigmentation spots.
How a peel works: Most peels available over the counter are formulated with alpha- and/or beta-hydroxy acids. These may include glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and lactic acid. Unlike traditional skin creams that use similar ingredients, however, peels include these ingredients at higher concentrations, making them more effective at dissolving dead skin cells. Typically, you apply the peel to clean, dry skin (some peels include a brush with which to apply, others use ingredient-saturated pads, and the newest versions use gentle abrading tools). You leave the peel on your skin for the product's recommended time -- you may feel some tingling, mild stinging, or itching for the duration. Then, you apply a neutralizing solution, which makes the ingredients that are actively exfoliating inactive, so you don't exfoliate too much (which could result in a chemical burn). Peel frequency depends on the manufacturer and concentration of active ingredients.
What to do after you peel: Many peel kits come with a moisturizer to apply after the peel, which can soothe any irritation and cool the skin. After peeling, it's crucial to use a sunscreen every time you are in the sun. That's because peeling away the top layer of skin makes you more prone to burning and sun damage. Finally, it's a good idea to avoid using any products with AHAs or BHAs for several days after peeling, as your skin may still be sensitive.
Who should use an at-home peel: Because these products are sold over the counter, they don't generally contain enough active ingredients to do damage to skin -- that means they're safe for most people with normal, combination, slightly dry, or oily skin. If you have blemishes or a skin condition like rosacea, ask your dermatologist if an at-home peel will be safe for you.