Best Chemical Peels for Acne – The Complete, Safety-First Guide

Acne affects us all at some point or stage in our lives. If you have been a consistent victim of acne you know that its after effects include acne scars. What pops up your mind when you think of eliminating those acne scars?

There are plenty of solutions for acne: medications, over-the-counter products, and acne supplements. But very few when it comes to treating acne scars. Well, chemical peels can be a solution. This post serves as a complete guide to chemical peels and includes the reviews of the 10 best chemical peels for acne.

Medium and superficial chemical peels are effective in treating acne and they are also known to reduce acne scars. However, dermatologists and skin experts hold a consensus that chemical peels work best when they are used alongside other treatments.

Let’s check what chemical peels actually are and how they help improve acne scars.

Chemical Peels for Acne – Are they Effective or Dangerous?

Chemical peels are solutions which comprise alphahydroxy (AHA) and betahydroxy (BHA) acids and are typically applied on the face, neck or hands.

They exfoliate the skin and peel off revealing a smoother skin. This exfoliation triggers skin regeneration that prevents clogged pores eventually resulting in improved skin texture.

Classification of Chemical Peels

The most commonly used chemical peels are:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Polyhydroxy acid
  • Amino fruit acid
  • Pyruvic acid
  • Trichloracetic acid (TCA)

Furthermore, chemical peels can be classified on the basis of their concentration and the type of acid they include. There are three main types of peels: Superficial, medium and deep.

Superficial Peels

These chemical peels only penetrate the upper surface layer of the skin i.e. the epidermis. This way they scrape off dead skin cells from the surface, soothe inflammation and temporarily reduce oil production. They are comparatively lower strength chemical peels and commonly use 30% Glycolic and Salicylic Acid concentrations.

Medium Peels

Medium peels treat acne and light scarring as they penetrate deeper into skin than superficial peels. They boost collagen elastin production that helps your skin in maintaining its elasticity. Medium peels usually include Trichloracetic acid (TCA) in 35-50% concentration.

Deep Peels

Deep peels are specifically designed for acne scars. They use strong concentration of acid that works by breaking down proteins and stimulates collagen production. Deep peels normally use 88% phenol that is often combined with croton oil.

Efficacy and Side Effects of Chemical Peels for Acne

InflammationSince different types of chemical peels have different acid compositions and they target different skin layers each of them have its own benefits and side effects.  Below is a brief account on each based on scientific research.

Superficial Peels

Superficial peels are effective for mild to moderate acne but have little effect on severe acne. Studies suggest that salicylic acid peels reduce acne by 47 to 75% and glycolic acid by 50 to 95% which shows that comparatively glycolic acid is more effective.

An article published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology & Venereology states, “when used in mild to moderate facial acne, superficial peels reduce acne lesions with an effect that becomes more apparent with increasing numbers of treatments. Improvements in both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions have been reported, but the effect on nodulocystic acne is minimal.”

On the contrary, these peels can cause redness, dry skin and burning sensations. Some of these common side effects appear during the initial use as the skin is not used to such solution. Apart from this, as the skin gets rid of its upper most layers due to peeling, your skin gets sensitive to sunlight. So, for this you must wear sunscreen when outside.

Moderate Peels

Moderate peels are considerably more effective in treating comedones i.e. blackheads and whiteheads rather than inflammatory lesions. This is because of the presence of TCA in medium peels.

According to a study published in PubMed comparing TCA and salicylic acid, “25% TCA is superior in treating comedonal lesions, whereas the 30% salicylic acid peel is superior in treating inflammatory lesions.”

While it penetrates deeper layers of skin to cure acne scarring, it might cause permanent darkening of the skin in patients with dark skin. Therefore, TCA peel is not recommended for people who have dark skins.

Besides, other side effects include reddening and swelling of the skin which usually fades away within one week of treatment. And likewise other peels, it is advised to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.

Deep Peels

Since, deep peels penetrate most in the skin it always improves your skin texture by removing acne scars. According to a study, published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment proved 100% improvement in acne scarring patients and the scar severity was improved by an overall 75.12%.

As deep peels completely remove the top layer of the skin, it has serious side effects. These include swelling, crusting, bleeding and skin discoloration. The side effects can last long and can take up to 6 months to go away.

Key Takeaway From This Contrast

Although, chemical peels are effective in eliminating acne and acne scars, they have their side effects. Superficial peels don’t require any doctor administration but medium and deep peels do, so as long as you are you are using superficial peels you need not to worry.

Dr. Dendy Engelman, an NYC dermatologist and director of dermatologic surgery at New York Medical College says, “I’ve seen some DIY disasters from patients who have ordered peels off of the internet and really ruined their skin. I would say go for a trusted brand from trusted source. When doubt, go for a lower concentration of active ingredients.”

All you should do is to check if it’s meant for your skin type and be extra careful if you have sensitive skin. In addition to this, avoid sun exposure as much as you can and use a suitable sunscreen when going outside. Any side effects will persist for a week only and vanish once you get used to the product.

Outdoor Chemical Peels

Outdoor chemical peels are offered at Spas and dermatologist’s clinics. They usually comprise moderate and deep peels. The reason is that their application needs to be carefully administered by skilled and trained dermatologists and skin experts.

Outdoor peels work to provide an overall radiant and younger skin. Hence, it cures blotchy sun burnt skin, vanishes fine lines and wrinkles, eliminates acne and acne scars and removes any age spots that are present.

The therapist first cleanses and analyses your skin after which they apply the chemical peel. It is left for around 10 minutes and then removed by the expert. During this procedure you might experience a ‘tingling’ feeling that occurs due to acid burning the upper layer of your skin. This is why, the experts sometimes use anesthetics.

Moreover, the therapist checks your skin at regular intervals during the treatment to ensure that you are not having any adverse reaction to the chemical peel applied. Anyhow, if you feel any burning sensation you must inform the practitioner so that proper measures are taken.

Chemical Peels for Acne at Home

Chemical peels that consist of AHA and BHA acids are the ones that are the most suitable for use at home. As these acids provide gentle exfoliation, there is a little chance of needing any expert assistance. We have enumerated the reviews of 10 best chemical peel regimens for acne and acne scars.

Have a look!

#1 - Perfect Image Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
Suitable For: Oily skin.
  • Cleanses your pores that are filled with impurities.
  • Improves acne especially the comedonal one including blackheads, whiteheads and pimples.
  • Shrinks enlarged pores and reduces sebaceous blockage.
5.0 stars out of 5
#2 - Olay Regenerist Microdermabrasion & Peel System
Suitable For: Combination to oily skins.
  • The Microdermabrasion Treatment thoroughly exfoliates the skin and removes dry and dull skin.
  • The Peel Activator Serum helps in regeneration of skin surface which improves your skin texture and complexion.
  • Provide coarse texture to your skin and gently remove all the dead cells.
4.5 stars out of 5
#3 - Mild Strength Chemical Peel by Retin Glow
Suitable For: Combination to oily skins.
  • Stimulates the cell turnover process in your skin and you lose all the dead skin cells.
  • Unclogs your pores byremoving all the dead cells and oil plugs.
  • Help in diminishing acne scars and acne spots giving you a glowing complexion.
4.0 stars out of 5

1. Perfect Image Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel

This transparent gel chemical peel is formulated with Salicylic Acidto provide you relief from acne and any scarring that it brings about. Besides, it is brewed with natural extracts to enrich your skin with anti-oxidants giving an overall boost.

Suitable For: Oily skin.


  • Formulated with salicylic acid (beta hydroxyl acid) which is gentler than AHAs and cleanses your pores that are filled with impurities.
  • Improves acne especially the comedonal one including blackheads, whiteheads and pimples.
  • Shrinks enlarged pores and reduces sebaceous blockage.
  • Fused with tea tree oil which is the main component in treating acne. It is known for its anti-microbial properties that kill Propioniumbacterium acnes.
  • Green tea extract provides anti-oxidant catechins that fight away free radicals.
  • Comfrey extracts present contain Allantoin that accelerates skin healing and calms any inflammation present.
  • Effective for other skin conditions such as Rosacea, Melasma, Hyperpigmentation, Eczema and Keratosis.
  • It does not contain parabens and added fragrance.


  • Might cause irritation and burning to sensitive skin as it contains denatured alcohol.
  • It does not work for extremely oily skin as they require higher acid concentration &it contains 20% salicylic acid which is a bit low.
  • It is a pricey product.

2. Olay Regenerist Microdermabrasion & Peel System

This Olay Treatment Kit is a two way formula that includes Microdermabrasion Treatment and Peel Activator Treatment. Together they exfoliate and resurface your skin revealing a more youthful skin.

Suitable For: Combination to oily skins.


  • The Microdermabrasion Treatment thoroughly exfoliates the skin and removes dry and dull skin.
  • The Peel Activator Serum helps in regeneration of skin surface which improves your skin texture and complexion.
  • The microdermabrasion gel contains derma-crystals that provide coarse texture to your skin and gently remove all the dead cells.
  • Cuts off excess oil and reduces the sebum production preventing clogged pores.
  • Contains Ascorbic Acid that gives astringent qualities and also boosts the skin collagen.
  • Fused with Vitamin B3, Vitamin C and Vitamin E that helps reduce wrinkles and uneven tone. It also helps in healing acne and hyperpigmentation.
  • It is free from alcohol and parabens which makes it suitable for sensitive skins.
  • It is a quick working formula that provides instant results.


  • It contains added fragrance that might cause you allergy, rash or burns.
  • The coarse texture the microdermabrasion treatment provides can be a bit intense for sensitive skins.
  • You might feel a warming sensation when you apply peel activator serum onto the microdermabrasion treatment.

3. Mild Strength Chemical Peel by Retin Glow

Retin Glow Chemical Peel is powered by Glycolic Acid that acts as the main exfoliating agent. This complete-at-home kit includes Glycolic Peel along with an after-peel neutralizer that work together to unveil a smoother skin.

Suitable For: Combination to oily skins.


  • The glycolic acid peel stimulates the cell turnover process in your skin and you lose all the dead skin cells.
  • This peel is essenced with Retinol that unclogs your pores byremoving all the dead cells and oil plugs.
  • The Kojic acid and vitamin c help in diminishing acne scars and acne spots giving you a glowing complexion.
  • Licorice extract provides anti-inflammatory properties and combats hyperpigmentation, sun spots, acne scars and other skin conditions like rosacea and eczema.
  • Mulberry and bearberry extracts act as anti-oxidants and balance the acidity of glycolic acid to provide optimum pH to the skin.
  • The after-peel neutralizer contains Aloe vera and green tea which provide anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties to prevent acne-causing bacteria invasion.
  • Chamomile and cucumber soothes skin which becomes dry and sensitive after peeling.


  • Might cause excessive drying and burning in extreme cases due to its 50% acid concentration.
  • Since it contains many ingredients that soothe your skin, you might notice very little or no change in acne or scarring.
  • It is an expensive peel kit.

4. Professional Grade AHA Chemical Face Peel by QRxLabs

This Chemical Face Peel is designed using 50% glycolic acid and is considered a medium strength peel. Each bottle lasts up to 20 complete facial applications leaving your skin acne and spot free.

Suitable For: All types of skin except sensitive.


  • The presence of alpha hydroxyl acid boosts collagen production which minimizes the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines and hyperpigmentation.
  • Includes green tea extracts that provide anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties that fight acne bacteria and eliminates acne.
  • Consists of Chamomile that holds anti-inflammatory properties and calms down redness and itching caused by pimples and acne scars. Plus controls any potential irritation that might be caused by glycolic acid.
  • Deep cleans pores and minimizes the oil production to reduce pore clogs.
  • It is free from alcohol and added fragrance.
  • Has a reasonable price.


  • Can cause allergy due to the presence of Phenoxyethanol which results in redness, swelling, itching and blisters.

5. Divine Derriere Glycolic Acid Peel

Divine Derriere Chemical peel, formulated using glycolic acid is easy on the pockets and each bottle contains 5-10 full facial peels. Designed for face, neck, back, hands, arms and legs this peel works for all.

Suitable For: All types of skin.


  • The 10% Glycolic acid exfoliates the skin and sheds off all the dead skin cells improving your skin tone and texture.
  • Stimulates collagen production which triggers the cell turnover process and diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Unclogs pores and clears pimples, blackheads and hyperpigmentation.
  • Fades skin discoloration caused by rosacea, melasma or age spots.
  • It is a gentle formula as it comprises only 10% glycolic acid and distilled water.
  • Contains no alcohol, parabens or added fragrance.
  • This is not a facial peel hence it is suitable for use on other body parts.


  • Might cause burning on skin that is sensitive to glycolic acid. Although, it contains a low concentration of glycolic acid there are not any other ingredients to neutralize its effect.
  • It does inhibit the growth of acne bacteria but does nothing to kill it. If you suffer from acne due to bacteria invasion you won’t notice a difference.

6. Vivo Per Lei Facial Peeling Gel

Vivo Per Lei Facial Peeling Gel is prepared with dead sea minerals to give you a refreshing and revitalizing experience. It sucks out impurities and polishes your skin to give you a flawless skin.

Suitable For: All types of skin including sensitive.


  • Deeply cleanse the skin discarding any make up, sebum build up and dead cells present.
  • Has a gentle exfoliation process that does not cause any irritation.
  • It minimizes the appearance of enlarged pores and removes comedonal acne i.e. blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Nut shell powder makes the exfoliation process better by making the gel to penetrate deeper into skin.
  • Sea salt balances the oil production and thwarts the acne-causing bacteria.
  • The presence of glycerin ensures proper hydration of the skin and it eliminates fine lines and wrinkles.
  • It is free from alcohols, parabens and added fragrance.
  • Easy on the pocket.


  • Since it is enriched with dead sea minerals, it has a thick consistency that might dry out soon.
  • Contains an irritant methylisothiazolinone that might cause burning if you are allergic to it.

7. Lactic Acid 50% Gel Peel by Perfect Image

Perfect Image Gel Peel is the only lactic acid treatment on the list. This is a professional skin resurfacing solution and is not suitable for beginners.

Suitable For: All types of skin.


  • Lactic acid promotes collagen production while accelerating the cell turnover to provide you a luminous skin.
  • Contains Kojic acid, a melanin inhibitor that helps in reducing dark spots, acne scars, stretch marks and How to Get Rid of Hyperpigmentation (red/dark marks) – 3 Step, Simple and Effective Approachhyperpigmentation.
  • Enriched with botanical extracts such as bearberry and licorice that provides skin lightening properties.
  • Green tea and cucumber extracts heal your skin and provide anti-bacterial properties.
  • Chamomile extract soothe your skin and eliminates irritation and itching.
  • Free from alcohol and added fragrance.


  • Since it contains peppermint extract they might cause you tingling or burning sensation especially if you have sensitive skin.
  • It does not have an exfoliation property and does not prevent pore clogging.
  • It is an expensive gel peel.

8. Glyolix Elite 20% Glycolic Acid Cream

Glycolix Elite Facial Peel is a great anti-aging formula that is designed to trigger collagen production and cell turnover to promote a younger and healthy looking skin.

Suitable For: All types of skin including sensitive.


  • Stronger than most glycolic creams and has great exfoliation property that removes oil plugs, dead cells and other impurities.
  • Improves skin texture and tone by treating enlarged pores and dry skin.
  • Rich in anti-oxidants such a Vitamin A, C and E that nourish skin and provide relief from acne scarring.
  • The presence of green tea extracts that combats acne and heals inflammation caused by it.
  • Formulated with squalene which acts as an emollient and keeps your skin hydrated minimizing dry and flaky skin.
  • Addresses other skin conditions than acne such as aging and keratosis pilaris.
  • It is free from alcohol and other skin irritants which makes it safe for sensitive skin.


  • The most expensive peel product on the list.
  • Does not work on extremely oily skins due to its mild acid concentration.

9. EUPHORIE Chemical Peel Treatment

Euphorie platinum infused peel treatment nourishes your skin with the power of multiple minerals and vitamins. This must be used weekly to ensure a firmer and tighter skin.

Suitable For: Combination or normal skin.


  • Brewed with essential oils such as primrose and borage seed oil, this peel provides anti-inflammatory property alongside treating acne.
  • Contains algae extract that detoxifies and hydrates your skin maintaining its softness.
  • Green tea extract helps in eliminating acne, fight aging and moisturizes the skin.
  • Different vitamins including Vitamin A, C and E that promote collagen synthesis to reveal a younger and healthy skin.
  • Shrink pores and reduces oiliness.
  • Aloe vera combats bacterial growth and prevents blemishes.
  • Does not contain alcohol and parabens.


  • Not suitable for sensitive skin as it contain fragrance that might cause adverse reaction.
  • Contains a skin irritant known as Avoid use if you are allergic to it.

10. Salicylic Acid 30% Chemical Peel with BHA

This Salicylic Acid Chemical Peel is a highly effective formula with strong acidic concentration to ensure proper upper layer skin removal.

Suitable For: Oily skin.


  • Offers great exfoliation and removes all the impurities including dead cells, bacteria and blackheads.
  • It does not contain any inactive ingredients so it works best for you if your skin reacts well to salicylic acid.
  • Caters to a wide range of skin problems that include light scars, aging, warts, acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, lip creases and sun damaged skin.
  • Reduces enlarged pores and sebum production preventing whiteheads and blackheads.
  • It does not contain fragrance.


  • It contains denatured alcohol that might cause burning sensation to the sensitive skin.
  • Not good for skins that are sensitive to salicylic acid.
  • This is a strong concentration peel, hence should not be used by beginners.

Here we conclude the reviews of the best chemical peels for acne that can be applied without a dermatologist’s supervision.

However, you must still be careful while using these. And do consult a dermatologist to assist you in selecting the chemical peel which is most suitable for your skin type.

Sheikh has been blogging regularly at CAA for over 5 years. He spends majority of his time studying health and technology or participating in discussions about these niches (online or offline).


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