The 10 Best Salicylic Acid Peels (2020 Update)

|

Today, I’m going to discuss the best salicylic acid peels available on the market (spoiler: my top pick is QRxLabs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel).

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is oil-soluble and penetrates deep into oily skin to clear out excess oils and dead skin cells, thereby unclogging blocked pores.

It’s an excellent ingredient for fighting acne as it provides gentle exfoliation while reducing blemishes.

ⓘ Let’s help you find the right salicylic acid peel for your skin concern and budget!

RELATED:

What Are The Best Salicylic Acid Peels?

Here are my top picks for the best salicylic acid peels:

  1. Best Overall Peel: QRxLabs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
  2. Best Runner-Up Peel: Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel
  3. Best Starter Kit: Platinum Skin Care Salicylic Acid 3-15-25
  4. Best Budget Peel: Sephora Collection Brightening Peel Pads
  5. Best for Acne: Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal 10-2 Pads
  6. Best for Popped Pimples: Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots
  7. Best for Clogged Pores: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  8. Best for Detoxifying: First Aid Beauty AHA Intensive Peel
  9. Best for Bacne: CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin
  10. Best for Adult Acne: Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra Clarifying Face Oil
Best Salicylic Acid Peel - Pinterest
  • Save

1. Best Overall Peel: QRxLabs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel

Summary: QRxLabs is my #1 pick for an effective and affordable salicylic acid peel to fight acne.

Best For: Blackheads, Whiteheads, Inflammatory Acne, Blemishes

Key Ingredients:
20% Salicylic Acid
Tea Tree Oil
Green Tea Extract
Chamomile Extract

Get It @ QRxLabs

QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel
  • Save

QRxLabs is my top pick for an effective and affordable salicylic acid peel at only $19.95 for 1.0 oz.

This professional grade chemical peel uses 20% Salicylic Acid which is considered a light peel and is particularly useful for fighting acne, like blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, and clogged pores.

That’s because salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that easily penetrates oily skin, thanks to its lipophilic properties (oil-soluble), low pKa (acid dissociation constant), and small molecular size (source: A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels, 2018).

QRx Labs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel Ad
  • Save

This powerful BHA helps clear up your breakouts by:

  • Opening up clogged pores by dissolving the keratin plugs that are blocking them (a keratin plug forms when excess sebum sticks to dead skin cells and keratin, causing clogged pores)
  • Promoting faster cell turnover (i.e. exfoliation) to remove problematic or damaged skin
  • Reducing oiliness by allowing excess sebum to flow out of your pores

In other words, salicylic acid is going to be your new best friend when it comes to acne treatment.

In addition, this chemical peel includes Tea Tree Oil for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory power to eliminate the bacterium that causes acne (Cutibacterium Acnes, formerly P. Acnes).

RELATED:

Finally, calming Green Tea Extract and soothing Chamomile Extract round out the formula to help reduce inflammation, redness, and skin sensitivity during the peel.

QRxLabs also put together a “Clear Skin System” with some of their other products:

QRx Labs Skin Clearing Routine
  • Save

Make sure to read the product instructions carefully before performing a peel and use a neutralizer or rinse with cold water afterwards. I also recommend using a recovery cream or lotion.

Personally, I like to use a Korean sheet mask right after (it’s very soothing and reduces redness) and follow up with a recovery cream like La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5.

My Verdict: QRxLabs Salicylic Acid 20% Gel Peel is my top pick for an effective salicylic acid peel to help unclog blocked pores, eliminate blackheads and whiteheads, and clear up your complexion.

Special Coupon: Save more when you shop more at QRxLabs. Use promo code COMBO3 to save 10% on purchases of 3 products and promo code COMBO4 to save 15% on 4 products. 🤑

2. Best Runner-Up Peel: Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel

Summary: Perfect Image offers an excellent salicylic acid peel with skin soothing ingredients. 🙌

Best For: Blackheads, Whiteheads, Inflammatory Acne, Blemishes

Key Ingredients:
20% Salicylic Acid

Get It @ Perfect Image

Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel
  • Save

Perfect Image is my (very close) second pick for an effective salicylic acid peel at $29.95 for 1.0 oz.

This bestselling chemical peel features a similar formulation to QRxLabs with 20% Salicylic Acid to clear up blocked pores and reduce oiliness while Tea Tree Oil eliminates acne-causing bacteria.

With regular use (~1x a week), this salicylic acid peel can help calm inflammatory acne, prevent future breakouts, cut down greasiness and excess oils, and reduce uneven skin tone.

Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel Ad
  • Save

In addition, Perfect Image included skin soothing ingredients to improve post-peel recovery:

Finally, like before, make sure you read the product instructions carefully before applying this peel.

Exclusive Discount: Perfect Image is offering my readers a 15% discount on all orders with the coupon code DERM15 and shipping is free on orders over $20. 🤑

My Verdict: Perfect Image Salicylic 20% Gel Peel is another fantastic peel for fighting acne. This one costs $10 more than QRxLabs but offers additional skin soothing ingredients.

3. Best Starter Kit: Platinum Skin Care Salicylic Acid 3-15-25

Summary: Platinum Skin Care has put everything you need for a salicylic acid peel in this starter kit.

Best For: Beginners, Convenience (also makes a great gift idea 🎁)

Each Set Contains:
-Your Choice of Salicylic Acid
(3%, 15% or 25%)
-Peel Prep Solution
-Post-Peel Neutralizer
-Fan Brush or Gauze Pads

Get It @ Platinum Skin Care

Platinum Skin Care Salicylic Acid Boxed Kit
  • Save

If you’re looking for a starter kit, Platinum Skin Care has you covered with their Salicylic Acid Kit.

This convenient set includes everything you need to get started:

  • 2.0 oz Salicylic Acid Peel (3%, 15%, 25%) – this is double the usual bottle size (1.0 oz) and includes Menthol for “cooling action” to minimize any burning sensations. The 3% is considered a mini-peel and suitable for teens as a daily or weekly treatment and for adults as a daily toner. The 15% is the best starting point as a weekly peel to clear blemishes while the 25% is a much stronger version that works well as a spot treatment.
  • 2.0 oz Peel Prep Solution – an alcohol-based toner to prepare your skin for a chemical peel. This helps remove any surface oils and debris to allow the salicylic acid to work effectively.
  • 4.5 oz Post-Peel Neutralizer – a baking soda solution with Panthenol and Tea Tree Oil. Use the neutralizer after 2-5 minutes to stop the chemical peel from penetrating too deeply.
  • Your choice of Fan Brush or Gauze Pads – my personal preference is gauze pads as I find it’s hard to get an even application using a fan brush.

This salicylic acid kit is perfect for beginners and should last you about 4-6 months. The only thing that’s missing is a post-peel recovery cream, and for that, I’d recommend two products:

In this video, Jen from Platinum Skin Care explains how salicylic acid works (it’s an oil-soluble BHA), which acid concentration you should use (3% – mini, 15% – beginners, 25% – advanced), and what you can expect in terms of results and side effects (e.g. flaking, dryness, redness).

With regular use, the 15% salicylic acid peel can help clear up inflammatory acne, flatten pimples, prevent breakouts, and also reduce the appearance of post-acne marks and pigmentation.

My Verdict: For the ultimate convenience, Platinum Skin Care’s Salicylic Acid Kit has everything you need to start peeling at home for healthier, smoother, and clearer-looking skin. 👍

4. Best Budget Peel: Sephora Collection Brightening Peel Pads

Summary: Sephora Collection has created these ultra affordable salicylic acid peel pads for the everyday fight against acne.

Best For: Saving You Money!
(While Banishing Blemishes)

Key Ingredients:
1% Salicylic Acid
2% Glycolic Acid
0.5% Niacinamide

Get It @ Sephora

Sephora Collection Brightening Peel Pads
  • Save

Did you know that Sephora has a private label brand called Sephora Collection? That’s right – this collection includes everything from face masks to face wipes to cosmetics to fragrances.

Moreover, Sephora Collection offers bargain basement prices and is the perfect way to try new products before upgrading to a brand name (or maybe you’ll love the cheaper one, who knows!).

For clearing up your skin (on a budget), the Brightening Peel Pads by Sephora Collection are only $12 for a pack of 30 and includes our acne-fighting BHA, 1% Salicylic Acid, along with exfoliating 2% Glycolic Acid and 0.5% Niacinamide (helps treat acne and fade dark spots).

While it’s not a salicylic acid peel, per se, this product works great as a daily cleansing step with active ingredients to remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and leave you skin feeling clearer.

Sephora also commissioned an independent clinical study on 51 men and women:

  • 82% said their skin was less shiny/oily in 1 week
  • 73% said their skin felt smoother in 1 week
  • 69% said their spots/blemishes were reduced in 1 week
  • 71% said their skin appeared brighter in 2 weeks
  • 73% said their skin was less congested in 2 weeks

Overall, these results suggest that this product works within 1-2 weeks for about 70% of people.

Finally, I really like that the ingredient list is short and sweet (only 9 in total! Now that is minimalist).

My Verdict: The Sephora Collection Brightening Peel Pads are an excellent budget-friendly option for clearing up blemishes, preventing breakouts, and achieving smoother skin.

Bonus Tip: Another great deal is Sephora Collection Clarifying Peel Pads at $16 for a pack of 60.

5. Best for Acne: Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal 10-2 Pads

Summary: Replenix Gly/Sal 10-2 is a stronger version of Stridex with 10% glycolic acid and maximum strength 2% salicylic acid.

Best For: Blackheads, Whiteheads, Inflammatory Acne, Dark Spots

Key Ingredients:
10% Glycolic Acid
2% Salicylic Acid
Witch Hazel

Get It @ Amazon

Replenix Acne Solutions Gly Sal 10-2 Pads
  • Save

Are you struggling to get inflammatory acne, such as cysts, nodules, and papules, under control?

I know the feeling. I had painful cystic acne for many years as a teenage and young adult, and tried everything from topical creams to oral antibiotics (stopping just short of going on Accutane).

For more severe acne, I recommend trying out Replenix Acne Solutions Gly/Sal 10-2 Pads.

This product is essentially a stronger version of the popular Stridex Maximum Pads with the same 2% salicylic acid plus 10% glycolic acid for exfoliation, resurfacing, and skin clarifying benefits.

Glycolic acid is the smallest type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and works well for removing surface dead skin cells, increasing cell turnover, improving your skin texture, and evening out skin tone (source: A Practical Approach to Chemical Peels, 2018).

RELATED:

Replenix Acne Solutions Gly Sal 10-2 Pads Ad
  • Save

Glycolic acid pairs nicely with salicylic acid, which is oil-soluble and penetrates deeper into pores to remove trapped oils and debris that have accumulated beneath blocked pores (keratin plugs).

Witch Hazel rounds out the formula and is a wonderful natural astringent for cleansing your face and removing dirt and debris from your pores.

Finally, Replenix Acne Solutions comes in 3 variations (with different glycolic acid %’s):

My Verdict: Replenix Gly/Sal 10-2 Pads is a stronger version of Stridex to fight severe acne and prevent breakouts. This product is also super affordable at about $20 for a pack of 60.

6. Best for Popped Pimples: Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots

Summary: These blemish dots by Skyn Iceland shrink blemishes, heal cysts, and absorb nasty “pus” from popped pimples.

Best For: Popped Pimples, Cysts, Whiteheads and Blackheads

Key Ingredients:
Salicylic Acid
Volcanic Ash
Canadian Willowherb
Icelandic Complex

Get It @ Skyn Iceland, Amazon

Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots with Salicylic Acid
  • Save

Have you been staring at those huge pimples in the mirror and feeling tempted to “pop” them?

Well, I’d advise you not to do that (if you can) because popping pimples can increase the risk of scarring as inflammatory byproducts in the pimple (“pus”) can spread to the surrounding skin.

(if you’re dealing with severe cystic acne, I can personally attest to a product that has worked wonders for me during my worst days: Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment with 10% Sulfur 👏)

However, if you really, really, need to pop your pimple, make sure that you apply blemish dots over the popped pimple to help it heal faster, eliminate bacteria, and absorb away all that nasty pus!

The Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots are a perfect choice for this with a pack of 48 individual dots.

Each pimple patch is infused with a unique formula of:

  • Salicylic Acid: unclogs blocked pores to remove dead skin cells and excess oils
  • Volcanic Ash: detoxifies skin by absorbing impurities and excess oils to the surface
  • Canadian Willowherb: has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties that refines pores
  • Icelandic Complex: a natural blend of pure Icelandic glacier water, arctic cloudberry and cranberry seed oils, and pure molecular oxygen (refreshing!)

There’s also a few more ingredients that I didn’t cover here on Skyn Iceland’s website.

Overall, the Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots are awesome for putting over a popped pimple, large cyst, or any other blemishes that are bothering you, and waking up the next day to clearer-looking skin.

My Verdict: With positive reviews and a unique formula, the Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots are great to have in your acne treatment toolkit for those days when you really need to pop a pimple.

7. Best for Clogged Pores: Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Summary: The bestselling 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is Paula’s Choice’s #1 product with 3,000+ reviews! 🏆

Best For: Clogged Pores, Dull Skin

Key Ingredients:
2% Salicylic Acid

Get It @ Paula’s Choice, Amazon

Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  • Save

Has your skin been feeling congested and clogged up lately? It might be because layers of dead skin cells and surface debris (like oils and dirt) have been accumulating on top of your skin.

The solution is simple: quick and easy exfoliation with Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant.

This popular product is literally Paula’s Choice’s #1 worldwide bestseller and helps unclog pores and remove surface build-up for clearer, smoother, and more even skin. 🏆

The ingredient list is very simple: 2% Salicylic Acid is the main powerhouse with Green Tea Extract for skin soothing benefits while the rest are either hydrating or stabilizing agents.

Paula’s Choice recommends using Liquid Exfoliant after cleansing and toning using a cotton pad, so it’s kinda like a second toner that doubles as an exfoliation and acne treatment step.

Oh, and it’s also great for brightening up dull skin tone and smoothing out wrinkles and fine lines.

My Verdict: If you have clogged pores or your skin’s feeling congested, 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is definitely worth your time and money (it’s also great value at $29.50 for a large 4.0 oz bottle).

8. Best for Detoxifying: First Aid Beauty AHA Intensive Peel

Summary: When you need a total skin “reset”, AHA Intensive Peel will make it happen in minutes. ⚡

Best For: Detoxifying, Renewing

Key Ingredients:
Lactic Acid
Salicylic Acid
Mushroom Enzyme
Kaolin & Bentonite Clay
Active Charcoal

Get It @ First Aid Beauty, Sephora

First Aid Beauty AHA Intensive Peel
  • Save

Do you ever wish that your skin had a total “reset” button, like in video games? (I know I do 😂)

Well, the next best thing is First Aid Beauty’s Facial Radiance AHA Intensive Peel which is actually more like a clay mask with Lactic Acid (AHA) and Salicylic Acid (BHA) for dual-wielding exfoliation.

(this product is supposed to be “extra strength” so I’d avoid this if you have sensitive skin)

Now, AHA Intensive Peel packs a pretty powerful punch in terms of ingredients:

  • Lactic & Salicylic Acids: helps exfoliate, brighten skin tone, improve skin texture
  • Mucor Miehei Extract: mushroom enzyme 1-UPs that exfoliate your skin (Super Mario, anyone?)
  • Kaolin & Bentonite Clay: draws out and absorbs impurities to detoxify your skin
  • Active Charcoal: another staple in face masks, helps bring out excess oils and debris

First Aid Beauty also included their signature FAB Antioxidant Boosters, like Licorice Root Extract, Feverfew Extract, and White Tea Extract, which help brighten dark spots and reduce inflammation.

Finally, First Aid Beauty cited a 6-week clinical study on 34 women which showed:

  • 92% said their skin was softer after 1 use
  • 92% noticed improved skin texture after 6 uses

My Verdict: If you need a total “reset” button for your skin, First Aid Beauty’s AHA Intensive Peel packs a powerful punch for detoxifying and rejuvenating to get all that baggage out of your pores.

9. Best for Bacne: CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin

Summary: Bacne issues? Use CeraVe SA Body Wash to relieve body bumps and pimples for clearer, smoother skin.

Best For: Body Acne (Bacne)

Key Ingredients:
Salicylic Acid
Niacinamide
3 Essential Ceramides

Get It @ Amazon

CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin
  • Save

If you have bacne on your shoulders, upper or lower back, or even buttocks and thighs, I recommend using a salicylic acid body wash like CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin.

First off, though, you’ll want to make sure that you have body acne, and not something else, like keratosis pilaris (little red bumps and spots) or eczema (dry, red, sometimes scaly, skin).

CeraVe helps exfoliate and remove keratin plugs on your body with Salicylic Acid while smoothing your skin with Niacinamide. This accelerates the cell turnover process to remove dead skin cells (which can be slower on your body as layers of rough skin builds up over time).

CeraVe SA Body Wash for Rough & Bumpy Skin Ad
  • Save

In addition, CeraVe included 3 essential ceramides (Ceramide NP, Ceramide AP, and Ceramide EOP) to counterbalance the exfoliation effect and keep your skin barrier hydrated.

Finally, CeraVe SA Body Wash is non-comedogenic (won’t cause pimples), does not contain microbeads like other exfoliating body washes, and is fragrance free.

My Verdict: For bacne issues, use a body wash like CeraVe SA Body Wash and follow-up with your preferred acne treatment like a high percentage benzoyl peroxide cream.

10. Best for Adult Acne: Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra Clarifying Face Oil

Summary: Sunday Riley’s U.F.O. is an out-of-this-world face oil for adult acne with salicylic acid in a rich base of plant oils. 🛸

Best For: Nightly Acne Treatment

Key Ingredients:
1.5% Salicylic Acid
Tea Tree Oil
Black Cumin Seed Oil
Licorice Root Extract

Get It @ Ulta Beauty, Sephora

Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil
  • Save

Last but not least, if you’re struggling with breakouts and new pimples into your late 20s and 30s (don’t worry, I’m right there with you, too), Sunday Riley U.F.O Ultra Clarifying Oil might be for you.

Unlike most acne products, which are designed for teens and pre-teens with oily skin, this one is better suited for adults (late 20’s and up), when your skin starts to get drier and flakier.

The U.F.O. features 1.5% Salicylic Acid for deep exfoliation and pore cleansing while Tea Tree Oil helps eliminate the C. acnes bacterium. In addition, Sunday Riley included a spaceship full of plant oils:

  • Black Cumin Seed Oil: used in traditional medicine across civilizations and contains antioxidant properties that may be effective against inflammatory conditions and bacterial infections (source: Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2019).
  • Cucumber Seed Oil: contains oleic and linoleic fatty acids, and vitamin E (source: COL)
  • Cranberry Seed Oil: rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants (source: ICSC)
  • Apricot Kernel Oil: a light oil used in massage therapy; also contains fatty acids and vitamin E (source: Journal of Oleo Science, 2019)
Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil Ad
  • Save

Meanwhile, Licorice Root Extract and Hexylresorcinol helps brighten any post-acne dark spots.

Overall, Sunday Riley U.F.O. will have your skin feel like it’s jumping warp speed with no hyperdrive; in other words, your skin will feel less congested over time and with fewer breakouts.

U.F.O. is also an excellent hydrator thanks to its many plant oils (we didn’t even cover half of them!) and therefore well-suited for those with combination and dry skin.

My Verdict: If you have adult acne and want an acne treatment that won’t dry out your skin, the Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra Clarifying Face Oil can help reduce your breakouts while nourishing your skin barrier with a spaceship’s worth of rich plant oils. 🛸

1 Share
Share via
Copy link