Acid trip

Dropping a little acid into your at-home skincare routine may be the secret to total transformation.

When it comes to skincare, acids tend to have a bad reputation. But the truth is, chemical exfoliators (the opposite of the grainy scrub you don’t think twice about reaching for) are gentle enough to be used on every skin type, plus solve a slew of skincare issues. "Chemical peels loosen the 'glue' that binds dead skin cells to the skin's surface, so they can actually be less abrasive than scrubs," says David Bank, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "Plus, they trick the skin into producing brand new, healthy skin cells to replace those that are wiped away."

Derms have long been using supercharged in-office peels to treat acne, brown spots and even wrinkles, but now almost every MD pushes the DIY option. "The percentages of active ingredients in at-home versions are lower than the pro formulas, so you’re not going to over do it," Dr. Bank explains, but it might take some time to see results. "The benefits of an at-home kit might not be as immediate as an in-office treatment — but they’re great for maintaining the results from a pro version between visits or if you just want to give skin an instant pick-me-up."

Get addicted to great skin: Click through the slideshow above to choose the acid-cocktail that's right for you.

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  • Soften Skin

    Soften Skin

    Dr. Bank swears by his in-office GlycoDerm treatment, a mix of microdermabrasion and glycolic acid that, "instigates exfoliation, and removes the outer layer of dead skin." Colbert M.D. Intensify Facial Discs mimic the effects at home, decreasing brown spots, acne and blackheads. The textured pad manually exfoliates, while bromelain, a papaya enzyme, and lactic acid, sweep away left over dullness. ($64, available at barneys.com)

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  • Fight Fine Lines

    Fight Fine Lines

    RX Skin Therapy Glycolic Acid Peel uses mild glycolic and citric acid to smooth your complexion by speeding up sluggish cell turnover and stimulating collagen production. “This is ideal for those with sensitive skin because it's not as strong as pro versions and only removes the top layers of skin—but you'll probably need to use it a few times to really see results,” says Dr. Bank. ($60, available at rxskintherapy.com)

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  • Reverse Sun Damage

    Reverse Sun Damage

    Over time, ultraviolet exposure can lead to an uneven complexion — especially in sensitive skin, which is most prone to UV damage. Kate Somerville Clinic-To-Go Resurfacing Peel Pads, are individually wrapped buffing pads laced with super gentle lactic acid as well as anti-inflammatory botanicals like sage leaf and myrtle extracts, ideal for sensitive skin and wiping away pigment-saturated cells near the surface. ($48, available at katesomerville.com)

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  • Smooth Wrinkles

    Smooth Wrinkles

    To target deeper lines, look for a laundry list of acids on the label. “A blend is more potent than single ingredient formulations,” Dr. Bank says. Alpha hydroxy products, like Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel, are made with glycolic, lactic, citric, tartaric and malic acids—all of which instigate exfoliation, stimulating more collagen production than simpler concoctions. “Use these kinds of peels sparingly until your skin gets used to it,” Dr. Bank says. ($86, available at sephora.com)

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  • Eliminate Ingrowns

    Eliminate Ingrowns

    Nix ingrown hairs with Cane + Austin Retexturizing Treatment Pads. The pre-moistened pads are soaked in glycolic acid and skin-soothing antioxidants that keep hair follicles free and clear of dead skin cells and debris. “Men should use peels when they’re not planning to shave,” Dr. Bank says, “any type of acidic ingredient can be very irritating on freshly shaven skin and cause a rash or redness.” ($60, available at bloomingdales.com)

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  • Banish Breakouts

    Banish Breakouts

    If acne is a constant battle, bring out the big guns: TriChloroacetic acid (aka TCA). “TriChloroacetic acid penetrates deeply into skin, so it resurfaces faster than more superficial peels,” Dr. Bank says. Most TCA-based peels are pro-only because of their strength, but AKMD Skincare Overnight Skin Resurfacing Treatment with TCA offers a gentler alternative with niacinamide to moisturize and sodium hyaluronate to minimize irritation. ($200, available at akmdskincare.com)

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