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Many companies say that their over-the-counter (OTC) chemical peels treat acne scarring. Different products may suit different skin types, and how well the peel works may depend on the depth of the scarring.
- Best for oily skin: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2%
- Best vegan: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel
- Best for all skin types: Bliss That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Acid Pads
- Best non-irritating: GloSkin GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Peel
- Best for dark spots: Makeup Artist’s Choice 5 Acid Body Peel
- Best for skin tightening: Glytone Rejuvenating Mini Peel Gel
- Best anti-aging: SkinCeuticals Retexturing Activator
- Best for enlarged pores: Exuviance Daily Resurfacing Peel
- Best for daily use: ISDIN Night Peel
This article looks at what chemical peels are, describes some OTC options, and answers some frequently asked questions.
A chemical peel is a type of skin treatment that can help address different skin conditions. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), these include:
Chemical peels can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and smooth the skin’s texture.
A peel for acne typically contains glycolic, lactic, or amino fruit acids. A healthcare professional can apply the chemical solution to a person’s skin once every 2–3 weeks. The acid only stays on the skin for a few minutes.
A person might opt for chemical peel products that are available without a prescription. A person can use these regularly, but OTC peels may be slower to work than professional ones. They may also not treat acne scarring as effectively, or at all.
When looking for a nonprescription chemical pee, a person should consider:
- Skin type: The product’s label or description online should list which skin types it is suitable for. Checking this is especially important for people with sensitive skin.
- Price: Chemical peels are available in a range of prices.
- Company background: A person can check the manufacturer’s testing and sourcing to see whether it adheres to ethical, sustainable, and cruelty-free standards.
- Ingredients: Chemical peels can contain a wide range of ingredients. As
research from 2013reports, consistently using peels that contain glycolic acid may help reduce the appearance of acne scars and cystic lesions. Lactic acid and mandelic acid are also common ingredients in acne products. Like glycolic acid, they cause the top layer of skin to peel away, which may help treat pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads.
Below, we look at some of the best chemical peels for acne scars.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information is purely research-based and was correct at the time of publication.
Best for oily skin
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, and hyaluronic acid|
This peeling solution is water-based and may suit people with clogged pores.
It is free from:
The Ordinary recommends using this product in the evenings, and not more often than twice a week. Make sure the skin is dry, leave the product on the skin for up to 10 minutes, then rinse it off with lukewarm water.
Some customer reviews suggest that this peel may benefit people with large pores and oily skin, and that it helps reduce oil production.
|Price||around $17 for a box of 5 packets|
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid, lactic acid, chamomile, retinol, and green tea extract|
This chemical peel may help freshen the skin’s appearance as it exfoliates the outer layer. The company says it also reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and provides hydration. It adds that the hyaluronic acid calms the skin and acts as an antioxidant.
A person can apply this product in the morning or evening. The company recommends massaging the product into dry skin until the pad is dry and letting it sit for 2 minutes before rinsing.
According to reviews, this peel can reduce acne scars and improve the appearance of blackheads and rosacea. Dr. Dennis Gross’ products are vegan, cruelty-free, and free from parabens and phthalates.
Best for all skin types
|Price||starting from around $10|
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid, licorice root extract, calendula flower extract, witch hazel, and glycerin|
Bliss advertises that this product suits any skin type, helps smooth the skin, and protects against environmental damage.
The company recommends wiping the pads gently over dry skin, taking care to avoid the eye area.
Reviewers report that these pads can also make acne scarring less noticeable, and some customers saw immediate results.
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid, retinol, and niacinamide|
This at-home peel kit includes gauze pads, a headband, a peel neutralizer, and retinol drops.
The company says that the ingredients help calm, exfoliate, and retexture the skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines.
It recommends that people avoid exercising for 24–48 hours after using this product and avoid waxing or using other hair removal products for 7 days after the treatment.
Some customers aged 50 years or older reported a reduction in acne scars and signs of aging after the first use of this product. Others also wrote that it did not irritate their skin.
Best for dark spots
|Main ingredients||lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, and licorice root extract|
Makeup Artist’s Choice says that this product can exfoliate the skin, clean pores, and fade acne scars.
A person can apply the serum to their legs, arms, torso, chest, neck, back, and hands. Leave the product on the skin for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and moisturize.
Some reviewers report that it lightened dark scarring and reduced the appearance of wrinkles.
Best for skin tightening
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid|
Glytone says that this product is suitable for all skin types and helps exfoliate the skin and improve its texture.
A person should read the instructions before applying the gel. The company recommends using it on the face and neck after cleansing, 2–3 times a week.
According to reviews, this product reduces blackheads, tightens the skin, and is non-irritating and gentle.
|Main ingredients||kombucha and hyaluronic acid|
This oil-free serum is a hydrating exfoliant that balances moisture levels, reduces the appearance of lines, and helps restore the skin’s external barrier, its makers say, adding that it is suitable for all skin types.
A person can apply 4–6 drops to their face, neck, and chest twice a day.
The many positive reviews report that it reduces acne scars, redness, and signs of aging.
Best for enlarged pores
|Main ingredients||citric acid|
The citric acid in this product exfoliates the skin. The company says that anyone can use it, but it may especially suit people with oily skin, enlarged pores, and breakouts.
Clean the face, then wipe a pad over the area once a day, taking care to avoid the lips and eyes.
Best for daily use
|Main ingredients||glycolic acid|
ISDIN says that this product is safe for nightly use, and it can help reduce dark spots and wrinkles, soften the skin, and provide hydration.
A person can apply the serum to their face, neck, and neckline but should avoid the eye area.
According to reviews, the product can also help with acne, irritation, and redness.
The AAD recommends treating acne early to reduce scarring, improve the effects of treatment, and prevent other possible complications of having acne, such as low self-esteem.
A healthcare professional can say whether a person is likely to benefit from a chemical peel, taking their skin type and other health factors into consideration.
Below, we answer some common questions about chemical peels.
Can a chemical peel remove acne scars?
The AAD describes how dermatologists use resurfacing procedures to reduce the appearance of acne scarring.
Chemical peels, dermabrasion, and microdermabrasion are all resurfacing procedures. They remove layers of skin to encourage the body to produce new skin cells.
The chemicals that a professional applies in a chemical peel have a high acid content that may suit people with minor or deep scarring.
OTC products may not be right for everyone and may not have the desired effect, due to their low acid concentration and gentle exfoliation.
How much do chemical peels cost?
At-home chemical peel products have a wide range of prices.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that in 2020, the average cost of a professional chemical peel was $519. This may cover an anesthetic, medications, and facility expenses.
Various OTC chemical peels claim to reduce acne scars, and a person can buy these online or in stores such as pharmacies.
However, these products contain weaker versions of the chemicals that a professional uses, so they may be ineffective, depending on the depth of the scarring.
Anyone interested in purchasing an OTC chemical peel should consider their skin type and check the products’ ingredients carefully. A medical professional can provide guidance and describe whether an OTC product is likely to work.