How a Facial Peel Works (No, It Doesn’t Have to Sting)

If you’re just delving into the world of skincare (or are simply trying to fine tune your routine), there are certain skincare products that are typically welcomed with open arms: A cleanser to wash your face, a daily SPF to protect skin from the sun (among other things), a spot treatment to zap away pimples...  

Facial peels, traditionally, don’t fall into that category. Even if the word doesn’t immediately conjure up an image of a bright red, scaly complexion, rumors that they’re uncomfortable, expensive, and not for the faint of heart will surely cause anyone to take a pause before diving into one. Whether we blame that infamous Sex and the City episode for our preconceptions or not, the truth is that facial peels can be gentle, are effective, and, most importantly (especially now more than ever) can be done from your very own home. It’s because of these reasons that we created our cult-favorite Overnight Facial Peel and just launched a brand new one: Doctor’s Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask.


Here to help us understand a bit more about facial peels is estheticians Renee Rouleau and Kerry Benjamin, founder of StackedSkincare.

What Is a Facial Peel?

A facial peel (also referred to as a chemical peel) is a solution that is applied to the skin to remove the damaged or dead layers that sit on top of the skin.”, Benjamin explains. There are tons of different kinds of facial peels featuring all sorts of ingredients, but the most important aspect to pay attention to is strength:
  • Light Peel: Removes skin cells from the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin)
  • Medium Peel: Removes skin cells from the epidermis and top of the dermis (the middle layer of the skin)
  • Deep Peel: Removes skin cells from the epidermis and the top, mid, and lower layer of the dermis. This would be an in-office treatment.

The strength of a peel depends on its pH level. Quick science lesson: The pH of our skin is around 4.5 to 5.5. “The most important thing to know is the lower the pH, the more acidic the peel, and thus, the deeper the peel will penetrate”, Benjamin says. At-home peels are usually considered “light” or “medium” and typically hover around a 3.5 pH; anything lower (such as the “deep peel” variety) must be administered in-office by a medical professional. 

The Shortcut is considered a mild facial peel, while Doctor’s Visit is a bit more intensive. Both of our facial peels are safe and gentle enough to be done from home, but if you’re sensitive, perform a patch test with Doctor’s Visit or stick to The Shortcut for now.

How Does It Work?

When you apply a facial peel, the solution gets to work dissolving the damaged layers of the skin to reveal fresh, new skin cells underneath. “The new, regenerated skin is usually smoother and less wrinkled than the old skin. It is also instrumental in the stimulation of fibroblasts and creating new collagen", Rouleau adds. 


While a facial peel does exfoliate, it’s different from physical exfoliators because it's non abrasive; the “peeling” happens at the cellular level and doesn’t rely on any specific texture to slough away dead skin cells. That’s why, contrary to popular belief, most facial peels don’t actually involve any noticeable peeling, especially the more gentle ones that can be done from home. Skin may look slightly pink afterwards, but don’t freak out—that’s normal and should subside quickly.

Just like any exfoliation, you want to make sure you’re applying a facial peel to clean, product-free skin. Follow up with soothing products, like hyaluronic acid, to help restore skin’s hydration levels and avoid using retinol or other acid-based products for 24 hours before or after applying. And always wear SPF the next day to avoid damaging those fresh, new skin cells. 


What’s Actually IN a Facial Peel?

Ingredients can vary from product to product, but key players typically include exfoliating acids, like AHAs and BHAs, that are naturally sourced from things like fruit, sugarcane, and willow bark. Doctor’s Visit features a blend of both AHAs and BHAs (like skin-brightening glycolic acid, texture-smoothing lactic acid, and breakout-clearing salicylic acid), as well as enzymes derived from pineapples and papayas which, bonus, are packed with the skin-brightening all-star vitamin C.

What Are the Benefits of Using Facial Peels?

Facial peels are more intensive than your typical skincare treatments, so you can expect serious results with consistent use. If hyperpigmentation, aging skin, dullness, and uneven skin texture are on your skincare wishlist, facial peels are a must-try. And because the powerful ingredients get to work right away, results are nearly immediate. Our Instant Resurfacing Mask reveals a brighter, more renewed complexion in just two minutes. According to Benjamin, facial peels are effective at treating: 
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Dark spots 
  • Acne and acne scars 
  • Sun-damaged skin 
  • Uneven skin tone and texture

If you’re ready for serious results, shop our facial peels below.