The 7 Best Chemical Peels for Acne in 2020

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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 drugstore acne spot treatments (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 easily penetrate oily and acne-prone skin thanks to its high lipid-solubility (Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology, 2015).

In other words, it can reach the deepest parts of your pores to remove dead skin cells, unclog keratin plugs (a.k.a. clogged pores), and reduce excess sebum (one of the root causes of acne!),

In terms of concentration, 20-30% salicylic acid is widely considered the “gold standard” by dermatologists for acne treatment (The Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 2018).

This chemical peel is supported by clinical studies for its effectiveness in reducing inflammatory acne, as well as improving mild cases of hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone.

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

Related: The 7 Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars

What Are The Best Chemical Peels for Acne?

Here are my top picks for the best chemical peels for acne:

  1. Best Peel for Mild Acne: Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel
  2. Best Peel for Severe Acne: Planet Eden 30% Salicylic Acid Peel
  3. Best Peel on a Budget: Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads
  4. Best Peel for Body Acne: Dermlogic Body Acne Treatment Pads
  5. Best Peel for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads
  6. Best Value for Money: QRx Labs Glycolic/Salicylic Acid 10%/2% Acne Control Pads
  7. Best Luxury Peel Pads: Bliss That’s Incredi-Peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads

Next, let’s take a deeper look at each product to figure out which one is best suited for your situation.

The 7 Best Chemical Peels for Acne & Blemishes

Preview
Best for Mild Acne
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Enhanced with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract
Best for Severe Acne
30% Salicylic Acid Skin Peel with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract - Great For Acne and Free Fan Brush
Best Budget Peel
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads | Maximum Strength Acne Treatment Pads With 2% Salicylic Acid + 1% Mandelic Acid + Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology (100 Pads)
Best for Body Acne
Dermlogic Acne Treatment Pads-Contains Glycolic, Lactic, Salicylic Acid. Eliminates Oily Skin, Clogged Pores & Cystic Breakouts. Removes Dark Spots, Whitehead & Blackhead Pimples for Face & Body.
Product Name
Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel
Planet Eden 30% Salicylic Acid Peel
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads
Dermlogic Body Acne Treatment Pads
Product Size
1.0 oz
1.0 oz
100 Count
60 Count
Recommended?
Key Ingredients
20% Salicylic Acid
30% Salicylic Acid
2% Salicylic Acid, 1% Mandelic Acid
2% Salicylic Acid, 5% Glycolic Acid, 5% Lactic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
1x Weekly
1x Daily
1x Daily
Customer Rating
-
-
Prime Eligibility
-
-
Price
$19.95
Price not available
$19.95
$25.85
Best for Mild Acne
Preview
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Enhanced with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract
Product Name
Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel
Product Size
1.0 oz
Recommended?
Key Ingredients
20% Salicylic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
Customer Rating
-
Prime Eligibility
-
Price
$19.95
More Information
Best for Severe Acne
Preview
30% Salicylic Acid Skin Peel with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract - Great For Acne and Free Fan Brush
Product Name
Planet Eden 30% Salicylic Acid Peel
Product Size
1.0 oz
Recommended?
Key Ingredients
30% Salicylic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Weekly
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
-
Price
Price not available
More Information
Best Budget Peel
Preview
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads | Maximum Strength Acne Treatment Pads With 2% Salicylic Acid + 1% Mandelic Acid + Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology (100 Pads)
Product Name
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads
Product Size
100 Count
Recommended?
Key Ingredients
2% Salicylic Acid, 1% Mandelic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Daily
Customer Rating
Prime Eligibility
Price
$19.95
More Information
Best for Body Acne
Preview
Dermlogic Acne Treatment Pads-Contains Glycolic, Lactic, Salicylic Acid. Eliminates Oily Skin, Clogged Pores & Cystic Breakouts. Removes Dark Spots, Whitehead & Blackhead Pimples for Face & Body.
Product Name
Dermlogic Body Acne Treatment Pads
Product Size
60 Count
Recommended?
Key Ingredients
2% Salicylic Acid, 5% Glycolic Acid, 5% Lactic Acid
Usage Frequency
1x Daily
Customer Rating
-
Prime Eligibility
Price
$25.85
More Information

Last Updated: 2020-05-30 / Images from Amazon PA API

1. Best Peel for Mild Acne: Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel

SALE
Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Enhanced with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract
  • Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel - Enhanced with Tea Tree Oil & Green Tea Extract (Professional Chemical Peel)

Last Updated: 2020-05-30 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you have mild-to-moderate acne (e.g. microcomedones such as whiteheads & blackheads), or you’re just getting started with chemical peels, I’d recommend trying a 20% salicylic acid peel first. It’s strong enough to deliver blemish-clearing results without excessive skin irritation or side effects.

The Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel is a popular option on Amazon (over 800 ratings) that can help unclog blocked pores, control acne breakouts, and diminish the size & severity of blemishes.

Remember, salicylic acid is highly lipophilic (meaning it dissolves very well in oils) which is why it can penetrate oily skin to address one of the root causes of acne: keratin plugs (a.k.a. clogged pores).

By removing the accumulated dead skin cells, skin oils, and keratin stuck in your pores, salicylic acid helps restore a normal & healthy-looking complexion since P. acnes (the bacteria that causes acne) cannot survive as easily in an aerobic (oxygen-rich, as when pores are open) environment.

Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel

Tea tree oil and green tea extract are also included in Perfect Image’s Salicylic 20% Gel Peel as the former is an excellent anti-bacterial agent (it kills P. acnes) and the latter contains antioxidants that can help fight free radical damage (typically triggered by inflammatory acne).

Customer reviews have been very positive overall, with many claims that this product diminished inflammatory acne, faded signs of hyperpigmentation, and smoothed out uneven skin tone. In terms of negative feedback, some people felt it didn’t work, caused allergic reactions, or was too strong.

My Verdict: For active breakouts and acne-prone skin, using a 20% salicylic acid peel once per week can help unclog blocked pores, control acne breakouts, and clarify your overall complexion. This chemical peel is strongly supported by clinical studies and does not require neutralization.

2. Best Peel for Severe Acne: Planet Eden 30% Salicylic Acid Peel

Last Updated: 2020-05-30 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you have more severe acne (e.g. cystic or nodular acne), or if you’ve already tried milder options, then I’d recommend stepping up to a 30% salicylic acid peel.

This concentration is typically used in dermatologist offices and represents the upper-end limit for a superficial salicylic acid peel (The Journal of Clinical & Aesthetic Dermatology, 2018).

My top choice is Planet Eden’s 30% Salicylic Acid Peel. It’s a brand that I trust (I’ve bought their glycolic acid peels in the past) at a really affordable price 😊. All their chemical peels include a free fan brush, which is nice, but it’s a bit too flimsy so I apply the peel using gauze strips instead.

Now, I should warn you: this product is very strong and can burn your skin! I’ve seen several reviews already that mentioned how strong this acid is – make sure you’re comfortable with chemical peels and have successfully used a beginner peel such as the Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel first.

Planet Eden 30% Salicylic Acid Peel

In addition to the blemish-clearing properties of salicylic acid, Planet Eden also added tea tree oil, green tea extract, bergamot & lavender essential oils, and lactic acid:

  • Tea tree oil helps eliminate the P. acnes bacteria to reduce new breakouts
  • Green tea extract has antioxidant properties that soothes irritated & inflamed skin
  • Bergamot and lavender oils inhibit bacteria growth while promoting normal wound healing
  • Finally, lactic acid further exfoliates the skin to draw out excess sebum and dead skin cells

My Verdict: For more severe acne like cysts and nodules, stepping up to a 30% salicylic acid peel can help open up hardened pores, reduce the size & severity of inflammatory acne, and prevent future breakouts. This chemical peel is widely considered the “gold standard” for acne treatment by dermatologists and supported by strong clinical evidence.

3. Best Peel on a Budget: Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads (100 Count)

SALE
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads | Maximum Strength Acne Treatment Pads With 2% Salicylic Acid + 1% Mandelic Acid + Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology (100 Pads)
1,207 Reviews
Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads | Maximum Strength Acne Treatment Pads With 2% Salicylic Acid + 1% Mandelic Acid + Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology (100 Pads)
  • DUAL TEXTURED ACNE TREATMENT PADS WITH 2% SALICYLIC ACID + 1% MANDELIC ACID + NITROGEN BOOST SKINCARE TECHNOLOGY - Pre-soaked, prescription grade face wipes for acne...
  • REDUCES REDNESS + IRRITATION TO VISIBLY IMPROVE COMPLEXION - Neutralyze is based on multi-patented Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology: The world's first acne...
  • CONTROLS OIL + PREVENTS FUTURE BREAKOUTS - Corrects uneven skin tone, reduces the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles + unclogs pores. Dual textured acne treatment...

Last Updated: 2020-05-30 / Images from Amazon PA API

While traditional liquid peels are indeed effective, they can be somewhat complicated for beginners, between the multiple steps of pre-peel preparation and post-peel recovery. Fortunately, there are plenty of simpler options like these 1-step acne treatment peel pads by Neutralyze.

These dual-textured exfoliating pads feature 2% salicylic acid (the maximum OTC concentration commonly found in many drugstore acne treatments) along with 1% mandelic acid and nitric oxide.

Salicylic acid helps open up closed pores and regulate overactive sebaceous glands (these are located in your hair follicles and produce sebum, a natural skin oil).

Mandelic acid, a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), is a very gentle chemical peel that removes dead skin cells and fades away discoloration & uneven skin tone.

Neutralyze Exfoliating Pads

Finally, nitric oxide (which Neutralyze calls its patented “Nitrogen Boost Skincare Technology”) is a lesser known ingredient in the skincare world. Studies show that it has an important role in the skin’s regeneration and barrier functions (Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, 2004).

Reviews have been mainly positive, with some impressive before/after photos that showed good improvements in both blemishes and acne scars within a few months. Other comments included smaller pore sizes, clearer complexions, and better healing results.

On the other hand, critics point out that this product contains a high amount of alcohol (it’s listed as the second ingredient after water, yikes!). While not all alcohol is bad for your skin (such as fatty alcohols), the ones that are labelled as “Alcohol”, “Denatured Alcohol”, or “SD Alcohol” may cause skin dryness.

My Verdict: For an affordable everyday peel to fight blemishes and breakouts, these peel pads by Neutralyze are a great choice with thousands of reviews on Amazon. If you have dry skin, however, you’ll want to skip this product as it contains a high amount of alcohol.

4. Best Peel for Body Acne: Dermlogic Body Acne Treatment Pads (60 Count)

Dermlogic Acne Treatment Pads-Contains Glycolic, Lactic, Salicylic Acid. Eliminates Oily Skin, Clogged Pores & Cystic Breakouts. Removes Dark Spots, Whitehead & Blackhead Pimples for Face & Body.
  • Clinically proven body acne treatment. Each pad is specially formulated for immediate exfoliation with a deep cleansing feel. Clears away existing pimples and...
  • Advanced, highly effective ingredients help to fight acne skins for women, men, and teens with a unique botanically infused combination of 2% salicylic acid, and...
  • Use in place of a regular rinse off cleanser at bedtime or whenever you can't get to a sink to treat acne before it emerges.

Last Updated: 2020-04-08 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you’re experiencing active breakouts on your shoulders, upper back, arms, or buttocks, try using a daily peel like this one by Dermlogic to open those clogged pores and relieve inflammatory acne.

Since the skin is thicker (i.e. more layers) on your body, you may need a higher acid concentration compared to what you’d normally use for your face. Here, these peel pads feature 5% glycolic acid and 5% lactic acid along with 2% salicylic acid. For a stronger version, I’d recommend the QRx Labs Glycolic/Salicylic 10%/2% Acne Control Pads (which I’ll discuss later on).

Dermlogic Body Acne Treatment Pads

Unlike the previous product, this one does not contain any alcohol. I’ve reviewed the ingredient list (someone kindly submitted this under the “questions” section of the Amazon product page) and found it satisfactory. Reviews are quite positive as well, although not as many as I’d prefer to see.

Some comments include: it helps clear up pimples on the shoulders, it has no chemical smell but feels very strong when you apply it, it works well on acne without any irritation. Negative reviews claimed that the product caused skin reactions or that the peel pads were dried out.

My Verdict: For stubborn body acne, use a daily peel pad after a warm shower to help exfoliate and clear up clogged pores. This may help reduce inflammatory acne, prevent future breakouts, and smooth out the texture of your skin.

5. Best Peel for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads (28 Count)

SALE
Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Facial Cleansing Pads with Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment, 28 ct
  • 28-count jar of Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads with salicylic acid acne treatment designed to help clear up and prevent breakouts to leave your skin...
  • Pre-moistened facial cleansing pads contain salicylic acid acne treatment to help fight acne and moisture-rich soy extract to improve skin's clarity and help even...
  • Dual-textured pads are smooth on one side to lift away dirt, oil and makeup and textured on the other side to gently exfoliate

Last Updated: 2020-04-08 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you have more sensitive skin, searching for gentle skincare products can feel like finding the proverbial “needle in a haystack”. After researching multiple options, I finally found one that I can wholeheartedly recommend for sensitive skin: the Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads.

Unlike the previous chemical peels and peel pads, this product contains a very low concentration of 0.6% salicylic acid to provide mild exfoliation and pore-cleansing effects. In addition, there is no drying alcohol present and soy extract is included to soothe and smooth out uneven skin tone.

Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads

The pads are dual-textured with one side being smooth and the other side ribbed to lift away oils and dead skin cells. Some people opt to use just the smooth side to avoid irritating their skin.

Reviews have been very positive with many people claiming that this product worked well on their acne and most importantly, did not irritate their sensitive skin or cause adverse reactions. The pads are large and well-moistened so it should be enough for your face, neck, and hands in one swipe.

My Verdict: For sensitive skin, the Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Cleansing Pads offer gentle exfoliation with to calm blemishes, reduce excess oils, and smooth out uneven skin tone.

6. Best Value for Money: QRx Labs Glycolic/Salicylic Acid 10%/2% Acne Control Pads (50 Count)

Glycolic/Salicylic Acid 10/2 Acne Control Pads with 10% Ultra Pure Glycolic Acid + 2% Salicylic Acid, Allantoin, Vitamins B5, C & E, Calendula & Green Tea - Most Effective Acne Treatment - Clear Skin
  • ACNE CONTROL PADS – These pads come fully saturated with a solution containing 10% of pure Glycolic Acid and 2% of medical-grade Salicylic Acid. They unclog pores,...
  • BOOSTED WITH VITAMINS B5, C & E – Powerful antioxidants that will leave your skin fully hydrated and that will help repair photo-damage from UV rays.
  • CONTAINS ALLANTOIN AND GREEN TEA & CALENDULA EXTRACTS – Allantoin helps to soothe and protect the skin while Green Tea and Calendula extracts act as...

Last Updated: 2020-04-08 / Images from Amazon PA API

If you’re looking for the perfect balance between effectiveness and affordability (the “Goldilocks” dilemma that’s especially important for products that we use everyday), I’d recommend these Glycolic 10% / Salicylic 2% Acne Control Pads by QRx Labs.

Similar to its bestselling Glycolic Acid 20% Resurfacing Pads, these peel pads are generously saturated with an AHA/BHA solution that helps cleanse, exfoliate, and hydrate your skin.

Salicylic acid is an excellent ingredient for unclogging pores and reducing the size & severity of acne while glycolic acid is great for removing surface dead skin cells and promoting increased cell turnover.

The rest of the ingredient list is designed to prevent irritation and keep your skin hydrated:

  • Allantoin is a moisturizing and skin-soothing agent
  • Vitamins B5, C, and E offer antioxidant and skin-repairing properties
  • Calendula flower and green tea extract provide anti-inflammatory benefits
  • These peel pads are also alcohol-free
QRx Labs Glycolic Salicylic 10 2 Acne Control Pads

In terms of customer feedback, I came across a surprising number of detailed reviews, including one person who struggled with acne into their late 20’s (just like me!) and saw countless dermatologists before trying this product. While many people reported clearer skin, reduced redness, and smoother texture, remember that everyone is different and your mileage may vary.

Among the negative reviews, some felt this product left behind a sticky residue, was overpowering, or caused skin irritation (possibly due to eucalyptus oil, spearmint oil, or menthol).

My Verdict: For an effective and affordable daily peel that fights acne, reduces sebum production, and smoothes texture, the QRx Labs Glycolic/Salicylic 10%/2% Acne Control Pads are a great choice.

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

SALE
Bliss - That’s Incredi-peel Glycolic Resurfacing Pads | Single-Step Pads for Exfoliating & Brightening | Vegan | 15 ct.
438 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: 2020-05-30 / Images from Amazon PA API

My final recommendation is a 10% glycolic acid peel that might make everyday feel like a “spa day”.

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

This 10% glycolic acid peel targets blemishes 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 clearer, smoother, and more even-looking skin. It may also reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.

Bliss 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 also increase skin hydration.

With over 300 ratings on Amazon, many customers found that these peel pads kept their pores clean, lightened sun damage, and improved their overall complexion. The most common complaints were: 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 for acne treatment.

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