Monday, December 6, 2010

Peels: the truth so far

I am always looking for new at-home peels to try in order to address my issues of skin texture, spots of discoloration, black and white heads, and need of general anti-aging benefits. My problem is that my skin is sensitive and sometimes reactive, which limits what I can use.

I recently tried Makeup Artist's Choice (or MUAC) for the first time. They are known for having affordable, potent skin care concoctions, and have been touted as such on the Makeup Alley skin care board which I frequent. They offer sample sizes of virtually everything (which is wonderful), so I got a variety of products. They included a free sample of their Cucumber Toner; which I found to be very soothing and refreshing. For the purpose of this post, however, I'm mainly going to talk about their alpha beta Radiance Peel. They included a helpful instruction card with it. Unfortunately, I didn't think things through very well, and skipped the patch test. This oversight cost me. While the peel seemed gentle enough from its description (mandelic acid and fruit enzymes, both on the gentler side of the peel spectrum), it proved to be just too strong for my skin. I only left the peel on for two minutes, and after I used a cloth to remove it and then used a very mild, acid-free cleanser, my skin was red  and inflamed with raised bumps. I will say this, several hours later, my skin was almost back to normal (with the exception of a decent sized red splotch on my jawline), and felt extremely smooth and soft. At only $14 for a 1/2 ounce size, this would be a great, inexpensive peel for someone, just not those with sensitive skin. I intend to keep trying other MUAC products like serums and cleansers, but I will probably steer clear of their peels. *unrelated product of note: they sell one ounce of 100% pure virgin argan oil for just $10, and it's lovely.

*EDIT: the day I wrote this, the damage this peel had done to my skin had not yet fully emerged. I had dry, inflamed scaly patches all over my face, and a big, broken-skin welt along my jawline. It's now the fifth day after I used the peel, and my skin is finally back to normal. Hallelujah!

I am a huge fan of Paula's Choice products. I like Paula Begoun's skin care philosophy, her no-nonsense approach, and I truly believe that for your money, her products pack the biggest and most effective punch.  She recently released a couple of new AHA products; RESIST Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% Alpha Hydroxy Acid and RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acid. They were designed to be used together but you can use them separately as well. They are available as a package deal on the website for $46 and there are also sample packettes available. I bought the full size of the Daily treatment, and it is wonderful. You can't do better for daily maintenance, and I highly recommend it, even for people with sensitive skin. I have used it (so far) for a week straight with zero irritation or redness. It is a thicker, lotion-like formula, and it is meant to be used right after washing the face before any other products. You can use any anti-oxidant serums or moisturizers afterward. I recommend waiting about 30 minutes after using the Daily AHA treatment before applying any other products, so as not to dilute the effect of the AHA. I got a couple sample packettes of the Weekly Resurfacing treatment which I was also very interested in trying. It has a very thin, toner-like consistency, and can be applied with a cotton pad or with fingers. I had to take pause, because it is meant to be used on the face overnight once a week, and I knew right away that my skin would not tolerate that. The other option is to use it as a mask, leaving it on for 10 minutes, then rinsing and going on with your normal skin care routine. I tried this, and it was effective. There was just a little stinging, which I know shouldn't go on for more than a couple of minutes, so I rinsed it off a few minutes early. The irritation faded quickly, and the results were good. Overall, the Daily 5% AHA treatment is a slam dunk, and used in combination with the Skin Recovery Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum w/ Retinol (one of my favorite products, of which there are three formulations to suit your skin's specific needs), your skin will definitely feel soft and smooth, and over time, the benefits will be incredible.

My last peel product will be the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel. Now, I will say up front that there is some criticism of this product for its inclusion of alcohol, but I have not found it to be a problem for my skin. Alcohol in small amounts will not really do any harm to your skin, but some people won't use it at all, so I wanted to mention that first. The other issue is with packaging. There are two options: a two step pre-soaked towelette packette system, which is what I prefer, because the beneficial skin ingredients will not be compromised like they can be with the jar packaging system. Bacteria, light and oxygen can mess with the good stuff. But, moving on, the first step is the peel and the second step neutralizes it. I like the simplicity and ease of use with this peel. I also like how my skin is not irritated at all when I use it, and this is the only peel where I get an amazing glow right after I use it. Exactly what is in the peel you ask? Well, I don't really know. Dr. Gross is not up front on the label as for what concentration of AHA/BHA is in the peel, but he does say that there are 40 ingredients in all (many of which I think are in the neutralizing step, such as a small amount of retinol), and he makes general claims about the anti-aging properties of the peel, and that it delivers results instantly. This is the first time I have ever said this: these general, lofty claims he makes? They are correct. Yep, he's not messing around, there are instant results indeed.  I've seen the Alpha Beta Peel infomercial on TV, he's on QVC, it's big, and I can completely see why. It's as close to a miracle product as I've found, and with a product this good, comes the high price tag. It's $80 for 30 individual treatment packettes, or $28 for 10 packettes. Here's the bright spot: you don't actually need to use them every day. In fact, I use one generally every three days, and continue to have great results. So, potentially, you can spend $80 and have three months worth of product. That's not too bad. If you have stubborn skin issues, you may want to consider the Extra Strength Peel, which is slightly higher in concentration and price.

I listed these products in order of efficacy from least to most efficacious, and the best is the most costly of course (unless you portion it out over two or three months like I do). I initially set out to find a replacement for the Dr. Dennis Gross product because of the cost, but it seems that the more peels I try, the more I want my Dr. Dennis Gross peel back. 

**Here is a tip from me to you: throwing cost to the wind, if you should get a bad irritation from a reaction to a product, nothing helps soothe and actually heal my skin like Creme de La Mer. Earlier in the year I had a horrible reaction to Bremenn's Emergency Zit Stick, a Benzoyl Peroxide treatment (I hadn't used any since I was a teenager), and La Mer nursed my skin back to health in record time. I know that lots of people think La Mer is overpriced and ineffective, but I beg to differ. I could devote an entire post to La Mer, but I won't (for now). This is just a piece of advice that maybe you'll need one day, but I hope you don't.**


  1. I was thinking about the Paula's Choice products last night. I have always wanted to try them and after reading your review I think I'll give them a shot!

  2. I love Paula's Choice too. And their office is pet friendly :)
    I haven't used OTC peels, just the "dermabrasion" products. I really like Lancome's.
    I'm obsessed with radiant skin. I've been using Mario Badescu Vitamin C Serum about 4 times a week and love what it does for my skin. It smells awful, but it actually makes my skin brighter.

  3. My skin is back to normal! When I wrote this blog, the damage the MUAC peel hadn't fully set in, I had scaly patches all over my face for 4 days. It was horrible! I learned my lesson, and I'm back to the Dr. Dennis Gross peels. Forever. When you have sensitive skin, you have to find what works for you and stick with it. *duh*

    Yes, Paula's Choice is great, do you ever listen to her radio show? It can be informative, but sometimes she's too goofy and gets sidetracked easily. If you ever want to try a nice chemical exfoliant, her 10% Weekly treatment I reviewed here is fabulous for the money (as is the case with all of her products).

  4. I'm always a bit nervous about peels - but your post has made me think that I should try some. The only thing I have like this is a very basic clay mask that I got from our local health shop. I was toying with the idea of a Clarisonic a month or so ago. Haven't got round to buying one yet though.

  5. Oh I remember now, that was one of my first interatctions with you, when you were trying to decide on the Clarisonic and I chimed in. I think any given person's skin either does better with physical or chemical exfoliation, and more than half fall into the latter category. You know what, if you want to DM me your mailing info on Twitter, I will mail you one of the Dr. Dennis Gross packettes if you're interested, so you can try what a well-formulated, non-harsh peel is like (Yes, I know you're in the UK). You can also email me at