June 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Sex and the City, a revolutionary show about four independent women talking frankly about sex and their desires in New York. This story was originally published on April 25, 2017.
Sex and the City inspired countless glittery and smoky-eye looks, deftly covered the politics of stashing your beauty essentials in your S.O.’s bathroom, and kept us busy playing catch up with Carrie’s long-to-lob, curly-to-straight, blonde-to-bronde hair changes. But of all the memorable beauty images that the show churned out, one of the most unshakable is that of Samantha Jones post-chemical peel. After getting an impromptu treatment, her skin looks burned to smithereens — or, as Carrie put it, “like beef carpaccio.”
But that was back in 2002, and we've come a long way since then. Sure, in-office peels still use concentrated alpha and beta hydroxy acids, gauged to penetrate the skin at a depth that at-home peels don’t reach in order to eat up dead cells that sit on the surface of the skin, de-gunk and tighten pores, even out skin tone, and stimulate collagen production. But unlike a beloved fictional character’s fictional results, actual outcomes are nothing like the charred faces that many of us have come to fear.
Skin pros have become masters at using a cocktail of acids to resurface the face without the burn. And options abound: Even those with sensitive skin can book an irritation-free peel as part of a HydraFacial, which produces very little tingling, if any, thanks to a wand that delivers the glycolic and salicylic acids to the skin, then lifts the gunk via a vortex-like vacuum that also deposits nutrients like antioxidants and hyaluronic acid at the same time. After an in-office peel done right, skin might be a bit pink, just like with some facials — or show no signs of irritation at all.
The advancements have made the treatment wildly popular as of late. According to a report released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons last year, chemical peels are nearly 20% more common than they were in 2000 and fell just behind Botox and fillers as the most requested minimally-invasive cosmetic procedure performed in 2016, with more than 1.36 million completed.
Dermatologist Annie Chiu, MD, notes that in-office peels administered by a pro who knows how to control intensity will produce the best results (i.e. brighter, more evenly-toned skin). But for those looking to maintain those results, or simply try a starter peel, at-home versions offer an easy way to get a healthy glow, particularly in the summertime. “Oil glands in general are more active in warmer weather, and with increased outdoor activity and sweating, this combination can lead to dull skin or clogged pores,” Dr. Chiu says. "At-home peels are a quick and easy way to give yourself a little glowing pick-me-up.”
Just like with in-office options, at-home peels vary in intensity. Newer formulations range from 25% AHA/BHA overnight masks that can be used up to twice a week (for oily and acne-prone skin) to spray-on liquids that act as a light chemical exfoliating treatment, with zero tingle (a perfect option for sensitive skin). See how to get in on the action at any intensity, ahead. But first, a word to the wise: No matter what option you try, be sure not to slack on sunscreen. Because a post-peel face without SPF is a surefire way to cop Samantha’s beet-red hue.
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These exfoliating pads (from Kiehl's heiress Jami Morse Heidegger's brand) are one of the quickest, most painless ways to get your peel on — particularly for those with sensitive skin. Unlike some daily peel pads, their texture isn’t at all abrasive, and though AHAs are included (via sugar cane, bilberry, lemon, and other extracts), the exfoliating solution doesn’t make skin tingle upon contact.
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This super gentle, mineral water-based peel contains hyaluronic acid and aloe extract, and is like nothing we’ve seen before. Spray it onto skin, then massage: You’ll see dead skin cells ball up and slough away thanks to fruit extracts in the formula — all without tingle, irritation, or having to rinse.
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We love the idea of getting a brightening skin treatment that makes skin glow and makeup glide on before big events, but who has the time... or the money? This three-step system is our new go-to. After applying individual ampules of an exfoliator, gentle peel (which contains a cocktail of glycolic, citric, tartaric, malic, and lactic acids), and tightening serum, our skin looks bright, smooth, and selfie-ready.
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This traditional rinse-off peel includes a whole roster of fruit extracts (including papaya, cherry, and agave) along with witch hazel and lactic acid to brighten and keep oily skin in check.
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Peels and dry skin used to make horrible bedfellows, but as we said, things have evolved. If you're looking for a side of serious hydration with your exfoliation, swipe this swab soaked with lactice, glycolic, and hyaluronic acid, along with lots of fruit extracts, over your entire face, then smooth the sheet mask on top. Remove after 20 minutes, but don't rinse.
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Activated charcoal and volcanic sand tag team to deeply clean skin and slough off rough, dry, dead cells. And you can see its brightening action work: After applying the gel, dead cells ball up before your very eyes.
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Don’t want to pony up for an in-office peel? This three-step at-home system is a riff on the brand’s most popular in-spa treatment. Start by exfoliating skin with the included facial scrub, then apply the lemon facial peel (which contains AHA and BHAs), then finish with a soothing chamomile mask.
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You name an ingredient known for its potent exfoliating power, this treatment has it. Glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids, along with Australian caviar lime extract, make up the gentle peel component, and the Hungarian brand's patented mineral-water healing complex plumps, soothes, and restores balance. Just smooth a couple drops over skin two or three times a week after cleansing before applying moisturizer, and revel in your newly bright, clear complexion.
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Some people hate the scent or texture of a traditional acid peel — and Bel Air-based celebrity facialist Angela Caglia gets that. So she created this glycolic-rich liquid-gel mask, which is naturally colored with purple sweet potato extract and scented with distilled rose petals, to give clients a way to deeply exfoliate and come out smelling like roses.
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This gel-to-peel resurfacer also exfoliates by collecting dead skin cells into balls that are easily brushed away. It boasts stem cells from edelweiss, sea holly, and criste marine, and is excellent for sensitive skin types.
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Diligent with your nighttime beauty routine? Then this overnight peel is for you. The dual-chamber bottle contains two formulas: Phase one, a gentle liquid formula, is designed to be used continually for 14 nights and contains 5% AHAs and phytic acid; phase two, used during the following two weeks, is a stronger solution with 9.5% glycolic acid and salicylic acid to help slough off dead skin and boost cell turnover.
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For those with acne-prone and sensitive skin, daily peel pads can feel too harsh. These pink-tinted pads are gentle enough to be used daily (they contain just 1% salicylic acid and raspberry fruit extract to exfoliate) and are witch hazel-based to help control excess oil.