The 7 Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars in 2020

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As someone who’s had acne scars for most of my life, I know how challenging it is trying to find effective solutions that won’t cost an arm and a leg (looking at you, laser therapy!)

Fortunately, one of the best treatments for mild-to-moderate cases of acne scars is a good old fashioned chemical peel (yup, it’s actually as old as the Ancient Egyptians!). But even if you have more severe or older scars, your skin can still benefit tremendously from a periodic peel.

In short, chemical peels help remove your outermost layer of dead skin cells (called the epidermis) by breaking the bonds that hold these cells together. This process stimulates your body to repair itself and regenerate important materials like collagen in order to create new and healthier skin.

With regular use, you can effectively increase your skin’s natural rate of cell turnover which helps improve problematic areas like scars, rough texture, uneven skin tone, and hyperpigmentation.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best chemical peels for acne scars that you can use at home (and save hundreds of dollars in dermatologist visits!).

ⓘ In this post, I’ll help you find the right chemical peel for your skin concern and budget!

Related: The 12 Best Chemical Peels for Hyperpigmentation

What Are The Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars?

Here are my top 7 picks for the best at home chemical peels for acne scars:

  1. Best Beginner Peel: Planet Eden 30% Glycolic Acid Peel
  2. Best Advanced Peel: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
  3. Best Peel for Active Acne: QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
  4. Best Value for Money: Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL
  5. Best Luxury Peel: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads
  6. Best Peel for Severe Scars: Exuviance Performance Peel AP25
  7. Best Peel for Ice Pick Scars: Perfect Image TCA 15% Skin Peel

Next, let’s take a deeper look at each product to figure out which one is best suited for your situation (because we all have different skin concerns, types of scars, and budgets).

The 7 Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars

Preview
Best Beginner Peel
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic AHA Acid Skin Chemical 1 OZ Bottle Peel Kit with Fan Brush for Dark Spots, Acne Scars, Fine Lines, Wrinkles - Clinical Grade Skin Peel Acid for Age Spots Acne
Best Advanced Peel
The Ordinary Peeling Solution 30ml AHA 30% + BHA 2%
Best for Active Acne
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Alcohol-Free Formula with Tee Tree Oil and Green Tee Extract - Professional Grade Chemical Face Peel for Acne Treatment - Beta Hydroxy Acid - 1 Bottle of 1 fl oz
Best Value for Money
Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme, Supersize, 100 Pads, 4.56 Fluid Ounce
Product Name
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic Acid Peel
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL
Product Size
1.0 oz
1.0 oz
1.0 oz
100 Count
Recommended for Acne Scars?
Key Ingredients
30% Glycolic Acid
30% AHAs, 2% BHA
20% Salicylic Acid
5% Glycolic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
1x Weekly
1x Weekly
3-4x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
-
-
Price
$14.50
$19.98
$19.95
$18.73
Best Beginner Peel
Preview
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic AHA Acid Skin Chemical 1 OZ Bottle Peel Kit with Fan Brush for Dark Spots, Acne Scars, Fine Lines, Wrinkles - Clinical Grade Skin Peel Acid for Age Spots Acne
Product Name
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic Acid Peel
Product Size
1.0 oz
Recommended for Acne Scars?
Key Ingredients
30% Glycolic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
-
Price
$14.50
More Information
Best Advanced Peel
Preview
The Ordinary Peeling Solution 30ml AHA 30% + BHA 2%
Product Name
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
Product Size
1.0 oz
Recommended for Acne Scars?
Key Ingredients
30% AHAs, 2% BHA
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
Price
$19.98
More Information
Best for Active Acne
Preview
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Alcohol-Free Formula with Tee Tree Oil and Green Tee Extract - Professional Grade Chemical Face Peel for Acne Treatment - Beta Hydroxy Acid - 1 Bottle of 1 fl oz
Product Name
QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
Product Size
1.0 oz
Recommended for Acne Scars?
Key Ingredients
20% Salicylic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
-
Price
$19.95
More Information
Best Value for Money
Preview
Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme, Supersize, 100 Pads, 4.56 Fluid Ounce
Product Name
Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL
Product Size
100 Count
Recommended for Acne Scars?
Key Ingredients
5% Glycolic Acid
Usage Frequency
3-4x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
Price
$18.73
More Information

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

1. Best Beginner Peel: Planet Eden 30% Glycolic Acid Peel

SALE
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic AHA Acid Skin Chemical 1 OZ Bottle Peel Kit with Fan Brush for Dark Spots, Acne Scars, Fine Lines, Wrinkles - Clinical Grade Skin Peel Acid for Age Spots Acne
258 Reviews
Planet Eden 30% Glycolic AHA Acid Skin Chemical 1 OZ Bottle Peel Kit with Fan Brush for Dark Spots, Acne Scars, Fine Lines, Wrinkles - Clinical Grade Skin Peel Acid for Age Spots Acne
  • Glycolic acid peels will fade dark spots, hyperpigmentaion & sun damage, acne scars, shrinks enlarged pores, helps with mild acne, fades wrinkles and fine lines,...
  • This is unbuffered glycolic acid with a PH of 0.5 - it will penetrate deeper and work faster than buffered acids. Works deep below the skin surface to stimulate...
  • 1 bottle yields about 15-20 peels - This is considered a "light" peel and individuals will vary on the extent of peeling (little to none can occur).

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

For beginners to chemical peels, 30% glycolic acid is generally considered the best starting point (for more sensitive skin, try using a milder peel like 10% mandelic acid or 10% lactic acid).

Decades of clinical research have repeatedly shown that “the most popular and time-tested superficial peeling agent is glycolic acid, an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) derived from sugar cane.” (The Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 2018)

A concentration of 30-50% glycolic acid is usually sufficient for improving mild-to-moderate cases of acne scarring, dark spots, uneven skin tone, and even new breakouts. Glycolic acid helps smooth out your skin texture to soften the appearance of scars, as well as wrinkles and fine lines.

Planet Eden 30% Glycolic Acid Peel

There are currently dozens of brands on Amazon that offer some version of a glycolic acid peel. From my (countless hours of) research, I’ve found that the following 3 brands have the widest selection of chemical peels and offer the highest quality:

  1. Perfect Image: 1,000’s of reviews, peels cost between $25-$30 a bottle
  2. QRx Labs: 100’s of reviews, peels cost around $20 a bottle
  3. Planet Eden: 100’s of reviews, peels start at $15.50 a bottle and include a free fan brush

Perfect Image has the most number of ratings for its Glycolic 30% Gel Peel but it’s also the most expensive of the bunch (usually $29.95). I really like that they’ve labelled their products using a categorization system of Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. This system defines which peels are most suitable for you based on your experience level with chemical peels (Level 1 = Beginner Peel).

QRx Labs offer good value for money as well as free Prime shipping. Their Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel is (as the name indicates) a gel, rather than a liquid, which makes the peel a bit easier to work with as it won’t drip down your face or get into your eyes or mouth. It also contains green tea and chamomile extracts to reduce skin irritation during the peeling process.

Planet Eden is another great choice (as well as the cheapest) and even includes a free fan brush. However, the shipping may take a bit longer as it’s not fulfilled by Amazon (I know it’s a small thing but no one like to wait these days!). I also highly recommend their chemical peel starter kits which include an additional glycolic cleanser and antioxidant recovery cream.

My Verdict: 30% glycolic acid is the best starting point for beginners and has been shown to be clinically effective for mild-to-moderate cases of acne scarring. Perfect Image, QRx Labs, and Planet Eden all offer excellent versions of this popular peel for a fraction of the professional cost.

⚠️ Important Note: You should always neutralize glycolic acid peels to prevent excess peeling! Try this simple baking soda solution or pick up a chemical peel neutralizer on Amazon.

2. Best Advanced Peel: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The Ordinary Peeling Solution 30ml AHA 30% + BHA 2%
2,637 Reviews
The Ordinary Peeling Solution 30ml AHA 30% + BHA 2%
  • This product has NO safety seal
  • Size: 30ml
  • Gender: Unisex

Last Updated: 2020-04-01 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you’re looking for an advanced chemical peel (that’s also super affordable), look no further than The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution. Be careful, though: this product contains a high concentration of free acids and should only be used by more experienced peelers.

According to The Ordinary’s website, the AHAs and BHAs in the formula include:

  • Glycolic Acid (AHA)
  • Lactic Acid (AHA)
  • Tartaric Acid (AHA)
  • Citric Acid (AHA)
  • Salicylic Acid (BHA)
The Ordinary AHA 30% BHA 2% Peeling Solution

The 30% AHAs help increase cell turnover for brighter and smoother skin while 2% salicylic acid penetrates oily & acne-prone skin to open up clogged pores and remove excess oils & debris.

This can help improve the overall appearance of your skin by reducing acne breakouts and brightening signs of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (a.k.a. dark spots).

Panthenol (vitamin B5) and sodium hyaluronate are also present to restore skin hydration while Tasmanian pepperberry reduces skin irritation and sensitivity during the peel process.

The Ordinary has a reputation for well-formulated skincare products and this one is no exception. The pH is 3.6 which matches the pKa of glycolic acid. This ensures an “ideal balance between salt and acidity” to maximize the acid’s effectiveness while minimizing potential side effects.

My Verdict: The AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is an outstanding alternative to expensive professional treatments and has amassed a cult following of peel enthusiasts (as demonstrated by over 2,000 ratings on Amazon and over 70% five star ratings!). Use this advanced peel 1-2x weekly for no longer than 10 minutes to fade acne scars, even out skin tone, and reduce signs of aging.

3. Best Peel for Active Acne: QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel

Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Alcohol-Free Formula with Tee Tree Oil and Green Tee Extract - Professional Grade Chemical Face Peel for Acne Treatment - Beta Hydroxy Acid - 1 Bottle of 1 fl oz
159 Reviews
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Alcohol-Free Formula with Tee Tree Oil and Green Tee Extract - Professional Grade Chemical Face Peel for Acne Treatment - Beta Hydroxy Acid - 1 Bottle of 1 fl oz
  • ALCOHOL-FREE: The ONLY Professional Grade Salicylic Acid Face Peel that does not contain any irritating alcohol. Each bottle contains up to 20 complete facial...
  • TIMED RELEASE: this peel leverages a unique timed release system that only gradually exposes the skin to active Salicylic Acid, allowing for higher Salicylic Acid...
  • GEL PEEL: contrary to many other peels on the market, this product is a light gel and NOT A LIQUID. This helps prevent the product from trickling down your face or...

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you’re struggling to keep breakouts under control, I recommend trying a salicylic acid peel. It’s the same ingredient that we know and love from popular acne treatment gels (such as Clean & Clear’s Acne Spot Treatment, which I’ve personally used for years) but at a higher concentration.

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that can penetrate oily skin thanks to its lipid-solubility (Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology, 2015). In other words, it can reach the deeper areas of your pores to remove dead skin cells, unclog keratin plugs (a.k.a. clogged pores), and reduce excess sebum production (one of the main contributing causes of acne),

30% salicylic acid is widely considered the “gold standard” for treating acne and strongly supported by clinical evidence as being effective for inflammatory acne lesions, as well as, to a lesser extent, sun damage and hyperpigmentation (The Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 2018).

QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel

For at home use, I recommend the QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel which is potent enough to keep your pores clean, reduce blemishes, and prevent new breakouts. Unlike AHAs, salicylic acid is self-neutralized by your skin’s natural oils so there’s no need to use a neutralizing solution.

Tea tree oil and green tea extract are also included to eliminate acne-causing bacteria and provide antioxidant benefits to calm irritated and inflamed skin.

My Verdict: For persistent breakouts and acne-prone skin, try using a 20% salicylic acid peel once per week to unclog blocked pores, reduce excess sebum, and smooth out your overall complexion. This chemical peel is strongly supported by clinical studies and does not require neutralization.

4. Best Value for Money: Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL (100 Count)

Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme, Supersize, 100 Pads, 4.56 Fluid Ounce
213 Reviews
Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme, Supersize, 100 Pads, 4.56 Fluid Ounce
  • 5% Glycolic Acid: gently exfoliates the skin + helps fade discoloration on the face e.g. acne scarring, pigmentation
  • Salicylic Acid: penetrates into + unclogs pores helping to combat black heads + reduce blemishes
  • Lactic Acid: removes dead cells + toxins from the skin for a smoother + more even toned surface

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

Next up on our list, British beauty brand Nip+Fab has created ultra affordable (yet potent) peel pads featuring 5% glycolic acid for gentle exfoliation along with salicylic acid and lactic acid.

The Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL offers extremely good value (pun intended 😋) with a total of 100 pre-medicated peel pads. That means 100 more days of brighter and smoother skin to look forward to! (although you should use them 3-4 times a week, not everyday)

The main drawback, though, is that these peel pads can dry out if you don’t use them fast enough (alternatively, you can buy the regular version with only 60 peel pads).

Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL

The combination of AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid) in this formula helps unclog blocked pores, remove dead skin cells, and increase your skin’s natural rate of cell turnover.

Salicylic acid, in particular, can penetrate oily skin and open up keratin plugs (a major reason for clogged pores and acne breakouts). Hyaluronic acid rounds out the ingredient list to restore skin hydration and offset the drying effects of chemical exfoliation.

With regular use, this product may help promote a brighter complexion with fewer blemishes and dark spots. Or as one happy reviewer puts it, “waking up with softer and smoother skin.”

My Verdict: Featuring 5% glycolic acid, the Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme XXL are an ultra affordable option for mild cases of acne scars and uneven skin tone (as well as more sensitive skin). Add these gentle peel pads to your regular skincare routine for smoother and clearer-looking skin.

5. Best Luxury Peel: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads (15 Count)

Bliss - That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads | Single-Step Pads for Exfoliating & Brightening | Vegan | 15 ct.
378 Reviews
Bliss - That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads | Single-Step Pads for Exfoliating & Brightening | Vegan | 15 ct.
  • Targets fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and imperfections
  • Retexturizes and soothes
  • Time-release technology makes it gentle enough for all skin types

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

Who says luxury skincare can’t be affordable, too?

Bliss, a spa-powered skin wellness brand, takes their knowledge and experience from the spa to your home with their individually wrapped That’s Incredi-Peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads.

This 10% glycolic acid peel targets acne scars and imperfections by breaking down the cellular glue that holds dead skin cells together and releasing trapped oils and pollutants in your skin.

Over time, it helps improve your skin’s natural cell turnover and repair cycle to reveal smoother, healthier, and more even-looking skin. It may also reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Bliss has also added soothing botanical ingredients to reduce skin irritation and inflammation including witch hazel, licorice root extract, and calendula flower extract. Vitamin E and glycerin help prevent environmental damage and increase skin hydration.

With over 300 ratings on Amazon, many reviewers commented that these peel pads kept their pores clean, lightened sun damage, and improved their overall complexion.

The most common complaints: some experienced skin sensitivity and burning sensations while others did not see any noticeable improvements for their scars or dark spots.

All Bliss products are 100% cruelty-free and free of parabens, phthalates, SLS, and SLES.

My Verdict: Featuring 10% glycolic acid, the That’s Incredi-Peel peel pads by Bliss (try saying that again!) are an affordable way to experience spa-quality chemical peels. Use 2-3 times weekly.

6. Best Peel for Severe Scars: Exuviance Performance Peel AP25

SALE
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25, 12 Count
183 Reviews
Exuviance Performance Peel AP25, 12 Count
  • 100% of users saw improvement in fine lines and wrinkles after one month of twice weekly use of this high performance Alpha Hydroxy Acid peel.
  • A 25% blend of AHAs and PHAs including Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid and Gluconolactone that exfoliates dead, dull surface layers, and enhances exfoliation, to reveal...
  • Clinical studies after one month of twice weekly use when used with an Exuviance PHA regimen indicate:

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

For more stubborn and persistent acne scars, Exuviance’s award-winning Performance Peel AP25 might be just the solution for you (as seen in Harper’s Bazaar: 150 Beauty Must-Have’s).

Once again, these are individually wrapped peel pads but this time, they’re infused with a powerful blend of 25% glycolic acid, mandelic acid, and gluconolactone (a gentle type of acid known as a polyhydroxy acid or PHA).

Given the strong concentration of this product, Exuviance recommends using them twice a week. Make sure to do a patch test first to ensure no irritation or discomfort occurs within 24 hours (this is included in the 13 treatments per box, so that’s 12 remaining sets for a total of 6 weeks supply).

In terms of results, Exuviance cites the following statistics from their 30-day clinical study:

  • 100% of users noticed improvements in fine lines and wrinkles
  • 94% of users noticed more even skin tone

Moreover, Performance Peel AP25 has received outstanding reviews on Amazon and Ulta Beauty where there’s currently over 800 total reviews with an impressive number of 5-star ratings on both platforms (anything north of 50-60% is already impressive; this product has >70% 5-star ratings 👌).

Many happy customers reported less noticeable acne scars, reduced pore sizes, diminished wrinkles and fine lines, smoother skin texture, and more even skin tone. But definitely don’t take my word for it: have a look at some of the customer reviews for yourself.

The most common reason for negative reviews was when the user received an unauthentic product from third-party Amazon sellers. While most people received genuine products, you could always buy from Ulta Beauty or Exuviance directly, but it’s ~50% more expensive there vs. Amazon.

My Verdict: For more stubborn acne scars and post-acne marks, Exuviance Performance Peel AP25 offers a powerful blend of 25% AHA/PHA with strong clinical results and excellent customer reviews.

7. Best Peel for Ice Pick Scars: Perfect Image TCA 15% Skin Peel

TCA 15% Skin Peel - Salicylic Acid 5% Enhanced with Botanical Extracts
525 Reviews
TCA 15% Skin Peel - Salicylic Acid 5% Enhanced with Botanical Extracts
  • A Professionally formulated Chemical Peel. Each bottle contains approx. 15-20 full facial Peels. Actual Product color: white
  • TCA is a powerful exfoliator used to remove dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and decrease the appearance of Scars, Wrinkles, and Fine Lines associated with...
  • Salicylic Acid, a beta hydroxy acid and deep cleanser used to minimize acne breakouts by working deep into the pores where oil, dirt, and other impurities build up...

Last Updated: 2020-04-02 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you have deep & indented scars that look like tiny “ice pick” punctures, you should try a TCA peel to help get rid of them. These scars are formed when inflammatory acne has severely damaged the dermis, or deepest part of your skin, including important components like collagen and elastin.

For a more in-depth explanation of ice pick scars, read my ultimate guide on acne scars here.

TCA, or trichloroacetic acid, is commonly used by dermatologists to burn away the damaged skin at the base of an ice pick scar in order to promote natural wound healing and cell regeneration (including collagen formation) to fill in the gap and replace the damaged skin.

With multiple sessions, this procedure (known as TCA CROSS) can greatly improve the appearance of your ice pick scars. A wooden toothpick is used to actually apply the TCA peel into the scar.

For at home TCA use, take a look at this awesome tutorial by Platinum Skin Care:

In terms of TCA concentration, 30-50% is generally recommended for a medium-depth peel. In the video above, they are using a 30% TCA peel (which you can find here).

I would actually suggest starting with a lower concentration first like the Perfect Image 15% TCA Peel or Planet Eden 25% TCA Peel to get a feel for it as TCA is stronger and penetrates much deeper than your typical superficial peels like glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid.

My Verdict: For ice pick scars (deep & narrow indentations), the gold standard is to use TCA CROSS. There are many TCA peel options available on Amazon and elsewhere that can help you get rid of these pesky scars (now, to find some toothpicks!).

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