The key to embracing peels (and you should embrace peels), is simply to forget the word peel ever existed in your vocabulary. The sheer concept of a peel—that there's a chemical you would apply willingly to your face with the intention of then removing bits of that face—is terrifying. There are plenty of friendlier, more productive words to use. Words like slough, refresh, renew...No, I'm not doing a peel; I'm giving myself a glow massage. Pick your poison.
But the benefits of peeling should not be discounted. By chemically exfoliating, you can help increase cell turnover, addressing acne, wrinkles, and general dullness. In the spirit of the new year and getting over fears, we've compiled a few peels for beginners—wimps, if you will. There's a cast of characters you should watch for if you, too, are a wimp. They are, namely, alpha hydroxy (AHA), glycolic, lactic, and various enzymes like pumpkin and papaya. (More on their more serious cousin, BHAs, soon.) So, without further ado...
The One You Already Love
Kate Somerville gets it—nowhere on the very cute tube of ExfoliKate (with that adorable winky face on the cap) does it mention anything of peel, or skin removal, or face burning technology. That's because it doesn't burn at all—first time users might notice a little tingle. It's a good exfoliator for sure (more on that here), but its true strength lies in minimizing pores. Massage on for three minutes to get the full potential out of the scrubby granules, wash off, then hold your face really close to the mirror and watch it get perfect.
The Overnight Option
Resurface by Shani Darden Retinol Reform will help you shed unnecessary skin cells slowly but surely. Unlike many retinol formulas that require a bit of preparation (never go into using a retinol without the advice of a professional, we say), the light, gel-like formula can supplement any night cream when skin could use a bit of a refresher. Best results if used several times a week.
Hydrating (But Also Peeling)
Everyone loves a two-in-one, so by the transitive property, everyone also loves Caudalie's Glycolic Peel. Formulated with glycolic acid and papaya enzymes, you'll get a slight chemical exfoliation in 10 minutes—but thanks to squalane, glycerin, and a whole bunch of other things, no post-burn red face after the fact. The perfect pre-work peel.
For Jam Lovers
Arcona's Raspberry Resurfacing Peel isn't terrifying because you'll want to eat it on toast. Seriously—it smells so good. This is because, in addition to lactic and salicylic acids, it's got mango, raspberry, cranberry, and grape extracts in there. Leave on for a very short time (five minutes max if you're new to this; it's surprisingly powerful), rub off with water, then hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Once You're Ready For Tougher Stuff
The Skin Inc Pure Revival Peel is totally cool for wimps (several self-defined wimps in Glossier HQ will attest to this— it's constantly sold out on Sephora), but might best serve you only when you're prepared for a surprising experience. The light friction of rubbing the gel on starts an immediate exfoliation process—you won't believe the crap you can get off your skin. But there's no lag time here. Rub on and immediately wash off for best results.
Photographed by Tom Newton.
More product recommendations for the thin-skinned among us: Read about the best toners for sensitive skin.