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At-Home Face Peels: Do They Work? Are They Worth It?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I know you’ve recommended the Philosophy Microdelivery Peel a zillion times. However, after browsing on the Sephora site, I keep eyeing the Appleseed Resurfacing Kit by Fresh (no longer avaible). But for $150? Holy Apples Batman!

Have you ever used any Fresh brand products, and are they worth the insane prices?
To give you some perspective, I’m 28 with very oily skin, large pores, and over the past year have gotten kind of a lumpy, mottled complexion (it’s not acne, but it’s just junky). I almost never wear makeup to the office, so want skin that can shine on its own. I had a facial once at an Elizabeth Arden spa and noticed absolutely no difference afterwards. Regular use of the Olay Regenerist serum does help keep my pores minimized, but doesn’t seem to be doing anything for my overall complexion.

Thanks for your help,
De in D.C.

While I certainly noticed a huge change in my complexion when I left the drugstore aisles behind and dipped my toes into the higher-end brands, I do have my limits. And any single product or kit that costs over $100 is way past that limit. Hell, even the Microdelivery Peel kit would usually be over that limit, except for the fact that I HAVE had mostly positive experiences with the brand and know how my skin handles their ingredients. (AND I had the opportunity to try the Peel ahead of time, thanks to Philosophy’s tendency to include samples in all their products.)
So no. I have no experience with the Fresh peel or really, with the Fresh line. The price point is just too high ($125 face cream and $50 eye gels, for example). If, say, I’d tried Olay and Neutrogena and Clinique and Philosophy and Dr. Brandt and nothing had worked, perhaps I would keep moving on up the price scale and eventually ended up at Fresh or PerriconeMD and perhaps I would consider it worth it, because seriously.

I’m not a teenager anymore, I should NOT have to deal with crappy skin.
But I’m sooo not about spending a ton of money just because, nor do I believe that every price at Sephora is justified, or that something is inherently BETTER because you CAN’T buy it at Target, or that all the “science” and “research” behind some of these brands is any better than the ridiculous pseudo-speak you get from the commercials that go on and on about essential protein complexes in mascara, or whatever the hell.

Basically: if a bar of Dove soap keeps your skin happy, BY ALL MEANS USE THE DOVE SOAP. If your skin is not happy, well, you might want to look into something else, and yeah, you’ll probably spend more money, but still. Baby steps! We’re looking for the highest impact at the lowest price.

That said, let’s look at the Appleseed Peel ingredients. Once you get past all the pretty-sounding stuff (apples! iris extract! pomegranate milk! more apples!) that frankly, probably doesn’t really do much, this is essentially a glycolic acid face treatment. Glycolic acid is a pretty standard option for acne-prone, acne-scarred or aging skin, and you can easily find dozens of other peels and masks and face washes (at Sephora AND Target) with the same active ingredient.

Most acne treatments contain a hydroxy acid — either glycolic or salicylic. The Microdelivery Peel is a salicylic acid-based one. Proactiv uses glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide — another common (but often harsh and drying) acne fighter. When you’re looking for an oily skin or acne treatment, chances are that once you scan past the fruit oils and vitamin boosters and antioxidants the companies like to distract you with, you’ll find one of these three active ingredients. And this is where the product gets the majority of its firepower.

This is NOT to say that the other ingredients are totally worthless — these acids (and especially benzoyl peroxide) can be VERY irritating to your skin. Very drying, or can make oily skin worse by triggering an overcompensating kind of reaction. A lot of us, when faced with zits or icky pores, suddenly start reaching for the tube with the highest percentage of acne-fighting ingredients possible, even though a more measured approach is better. The other “natural” ingredients in the high-end face peels can also help minimize the irritation of the acids. (Sad but true, the drugstore brands generally have more unpronounceable chemical ingredients that send me searching through the Cosmetics Database and Wikipedia, trying to figure out the safety level or just WHAT EXACTLY IN THE WORLD THAT IS.)

Personally, salicylic acid works best for me. I don’t get many pimples — just blackheads and the occasional ultra-clogged pores. My skin is mostly combination; my complexion tends to be uneven and dull. Glycolic acid makes my cheeks dry and my t-zone oiler — it’s just too harsh. So I stick with skincare regimens that include a little salicylic acid, but not too much, and I do like to see other natural ingredients for soothing purposes. I generally believe our skin does a very good job of protecting us and that smearing something on your skin does not mean everything listed on that bottle is going to end up in your bloodstream, so I’m pretty middle-of-the-road about natural vs. not vs. what that email forward you got from your coworker said about this and that and everything else causing cancer. (Parabens aren’t a deal-breaker, for example, but I consider it a plus when a product DOESN’T contain them.) I prefer an ingredient list I can pronounce and decipher on my own.

If you aren’t sure which hydroxy acid works for you, I’d start with a cheaper option than the Fresh kit. Like I said, you can find both salicylic and glycolic acid-based products all over the price scale. (The Olay serum you mentioned has some moisturizing ingredients, but nothing for acne or oily complexions. I’ll be honest — that’s not a great ingredient list there, with a lot of parabens, benzyl alcohol, fragrance and nothing really natural or non-chemical to balance that stuff out.) I’d start with a cheaper option to see how your skin reacts — you may get more dryness with a drugstore treatment, but you SHOULD still see a reduction in oil and blackheads and breakouts with one or both of the acids. Once you figure out which one works for you, THEN you can start thinking about spending more money on something fancier, IF YOU EVEN NEED TO.

I do like the peels over daily serums, creams and treatments, though — they are pricier but the once or twice-a-week application is waaaay better for your skin than harshing it up everyday. (You know how we get. “Oh, this pimple spot treatment really cleared up that zit! I’m gonna start smearing it all over my face twice a day!” And this inevitably leads to an unbalanced oily-dry-red-angry skin disaster.) (Although yes, Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle moisturizer contains some salicylic acid, and I do use that on my t-zone every day, though I keep other moisturizers on hand to swap out at the first sign of dryness.)

Published September 26, 2008. Last updated April 13, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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