Are peels good for acne?


From time to time I will get an email, call or message asking “Are peels good for acne?” Well, it depends, that would be my answer. The most important is to find a skin specialist that understands acne, acids and will proceed slowly without aggression.

When you have Acne your skin can be very inflamed and easily irritated. The last thing needed is to make the condition worse. All too often I see clients coming in convinced that harsh washes, scrubs and strong acids will eliminate their acne. When the truth is that all these things will cause greater inflammation and make the condition worse.

Having said that certain peels can be fantastic for acne! They can get your condition under control, alongside the correct home care. You mustn’t forget that homecare is 80% of the work on keeping your acne under control. This is down to your daily diligence with your home routine, food, alcohol intake and lifestyle choices.

So which Are peels good for acne?


Enzymes are the gentlest of peels. They can be used on a daily basis within your home routine. A more actively within a salon treatment. Can you remember the game packman? Well, this is what enzymes do they gently munch the dead skin cells off the surface of the skin. They don’t break down the precious barrier we have on the surface of the skin like some stronger peels do, so won’t cause the skin to become further inflamed.

Glycolic Acid

I have to say this isn’t one of my favourite acids. It does tend however to be the most well known and the most common. I would say this acid is better for ageing rather than acne as it can be a little irritating on the skin. It’s in the group of acids called Alpha Hydroxy acids, it loosens the glue-like bonds that holds the skin together, causing the top layer of skin to shed.

Now for the Glycolic Acid science bit…..

It comes in different % strengths (like all acids) and I would be careful doing a home peel. Everyone looks at the % strength of an acid, but it’s also the PH of the acid that’s going to affect the skin. If the PH is very low it will have very fast delivery into the skin causing a great amount of irritation. Whereas a higher PH nearing neutral may not cause as much skin irritation but won’t really have much effect on the skin. So you could have an acid both at 40%, but one has a PH 3 and one with a ph of 5. The best and most effective acid would be the one with the ph of 3. As the lower PH will allow the solution to work more effectively on the skin. Hopefully, this makes sense! I’ll stop boring you will science now…

Salicylic Acid

A great acid for acne, it’s a beta hydroxy acid. It has incredible anti-bacterial properties and unclogs pores. As it breaks down the outer surface of the skin, helping other active ingredients penetrate more easily. As this acid is derived from aspirin anyone with an allergy to aspirin shouldn’t use this product. Again showing the importance of going to a skin specialist to get your acne treated and not going with the advice from the internet or friends as you could end up with a nasty reaction.

Mandelic Acid

Like glycolic acid, this acid is in the Alpha Hydroxy Acid group. It has powerful antimicrobial properties, this helps to kill the bacteria called p- acnes that are associated with the cause of acne. Unlike Glycolic acid, this acid is a lot less irritating to the skin and can be a great addition to your home skin routine. Like with any acid you still need to be careful and not overdo it too quickly. My favourite topical home treatment with this in is pHformula AC recovery, it’s a serum designed for acne. It also has Salicylic acid so is a great acne treatment using a range of ingredients that work synergistically. This acid is one to watch if you have an allergy to almonds as this it’s where it’s derived from.

Pyruvic Acid

In the group of Alpha Keto Acids and penetrates the skin slowly, it helps treat whiteheads, moderate acne scars and oily skin.  It is a lesser-known acid but is often used in salon peel solutions for acne.

Are peels good for acne? YES! Which is the best?

A peel that has a combination of effective acids for acne that work synergistically together, if you notice each acid works in a different way on treating the acne. So it stands to reason that if you have a combination of acids working together you’re going to get a greater result. That is not me saying go out and buy different acid solutions and put them on your skin!! You might not have a face left if you do.


In the clinic, I chose pHformula simply because of its scientific approach to skincare. pHformula uses the term resurfacing rather than peel, as it doesn’t break down your delicate barrier function. This does not mean it doesn’t penetrate or isn’t effective, quite the opposite. It has a superior delivery complex within it, that allows it to penetrate the skin without damage, it incredibly doesn’t need to be neutralized, unlike any other peel. This means that it carries on working on the skin as long as is required making it more effective.

To find out more on how to effectively treat acne click here