7 Exfoliating Chemical Peels For Acne Scars

A chemical peel is one of the best tools for minimizing the appearance of acne scars for a more even skin tone and texture. While sticking to a consistent acne scar-friendly skincare routine is important (which should include a targeted face wash, moisturizer, and treatment), if you really want to bring out the big guns, you should consider a chemical peel. 

This treatment is formulated with exfoliating acids (like salicylic, lactic, and glycolic acids) that get rid of dead skin cells, oil, and other debris on the surface of the skin and in the pores, helping to reveal the newer, more radiant skin cells underneath. 

An in-office chemical peel performed by a dermatologist is going to be the most effective option, particularly when it comes to minimizing atrophic (indented) acne scars. This is because dermatologists are able to use more potent solutions with higher concentrations of acids. That said, at-home solutions may still help improve the appearance of milder atrophic acne scars, and are also great solutions for fading post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

If you’re ready to reveal a smoother and more even complexion, I’ve created a comprehensive guide to the best chemical peels for acne scars. 

How I Reviewed Each Chemical Peel

All of the products you’ll find recommended below have either been reviewed personally by me or another member of the GoodGlow team. I also looked into product reviews from consumers to get an idea of what was working for people with acne scars (and what wasn’t).

When choosing each specific product, I considered which chemical exfoliants and supporting ingredients are best for different skin types and concerns. No matter your skin type, budget, or specific needs, you’ll find at least one product that will work for you.

The Best Chemical Peels for Acne Scars Summary

BestChemical Peel
OverallDr. Dennis – Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
BudgetThe Ordinary – AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
For Oily SkinPaula’s Choice – Skin Perfecting 25% AHA 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel
For Dry SkinDrunk Elephant – T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial
For Dark Skin TonesCellbone – Mandelic Acid 25% Peel
VeganSanitas – Skincare Brightening Peel Pads
Anti-AgingLancer Skincare – Caviar Lime Acid Peel

Best Overall:
Dr. Dennis Gross – Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

This two-step system from Dr. Dennis Gross is created to gently exfoliate the skin on a daily basis to improve texture and tone, fight signs of aging, boost radiance, and decongest pores. 

GoodGlow Score

4.6 /5 5/5 Product Rating
Clinically Proven

Safe for Daily Use

Unique two-step system was made to be potent yet safe enough for daily use


Hydrates and Soothes

Glycerin and anti-inflammatory chamomile and green tea extract calm and hydrate the skin to counteract irritation


Fades Pigmentation and Scars

Blend of five chemical exfoliants work to improve the appearance of acne scars and pigmentation

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types

Step 1:
Water, Alcohol Denat. (SD Alcohol 40-B), Glycolic Acid, Potassium Hydroxide, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Salicylic Acid*, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Soy Isoflavones, Glycerin, Copper PCA, Zinc PCA, Lecithin, Alcohol, Polysorbate 80, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol, Benzoic Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate. *Exfoliant.

Step 2:
Water, Sodium Bicarbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Retinol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Resveratrol, Ubiquinone, Adenosine, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Soy Isoflavones, Phospholipids, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Copper PCA, Sodium PCA, Zinc PCA, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Octoxynol-9, Tetrasodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.

The Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is often touted as one of the all-time best chemical peels, and is personally one of my go-tos. It’s a bit different from more traditional peels, as it’s not meant to be washed off. It is also gentle enough to be used on a daily basis if desired (although this may vary depending on skin type), but still packs a powerful punch. 

The unique two-step system starts with the Step 1 pad, which is soaked in a solution featuring glycolic acid, salicylic acid, citric acid, lactic acid, and malic acid. These chemical exfoliants are joined by a range of soothing and hydrating ingredients, such as witch hazel and chamomile. This exfoliating solution exfoliates away dead skin cells and debris while unclogging pores and softening the skin. 

Next, you move onto the Step 2 pad, which is all about calming and providing anti-aging benefits. It features retinol, which is often considered to be the gold standard for fighting visible signs of aging, as well as soothing and antioxidant packed resveratrol, ubiquinone, and green tea leaf extract. Glycerin also works to hydrate the skin. 

The benefits from these daily peel pads range greatly. They not only help with scars and pigmentation, but can also boost radiance, decongest pores, soften lines and wrinkles, increase elasticity, and provide antioxidant protection. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Pros:

  • Targets a variety of skin concerns by blending five different exfoliants. 
  • Fights signs of aging using the power of both retinol and chemical exfoliants. 
  • Hydrates and calms the skin to counteract drying effects and acids. 

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel Cons:

  • Expensive.

Best Budget:
The Ordinary – AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Affordable skincare brand The Ordinary has created a peeling solution that fights dullness, congestion, and uneven texture and tone for a clear and radiant complexion.

GoodGlow Score

4.5 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating

Decongests Pores

Salicylic acid unclogs pores to treat and prevent breakouts

Protecting Skin

Diminishes Scars and Pigmentation

Four alpha hydroxy acids work to improve overall texture and tone



Formula is 100% vegan and cruelty-free

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for most skin types, besides those with sensitive skin

Glycolic Acid, Aqua (Water), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Sodium Hydroxide, Daucus Carota Sativa Extract, Propanediol, Cocamidopropyl Dimethylamine, Salicylic Acid, Potassium Citrate, Lactic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Xanthan gum, Polysorbate 20, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution is your best bet. This potent peel uses both alpha and beta hydroxy acids, as well as a range of hydrating and calming ingredients. 

Compared to the Dr. Dennis Gross daily peel pads, this solution is more similar to traditional chemical peels you may be familiar with. It is much more potent, and should not be used on a daily basis. At most, you can apply it up to two times per week, but many will find that once weekly (or less often) is best. You’ll also want to wash it off after no more than 10 minutes. 

This formula features a 30% concentration of a blend of four AHAs: glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid, and citric acid. These exfoliants work on the surface of the skin to fade acne scars and pigmentation and improve general tone and texture, while also softening fine lines and wrinkles. It also features a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, an oil-soluble exfoliant that works deep in the pores to unclog and reduce blemishes. 

Additionally, this The Ordinary peel features a blend of soothing and hydrating ingredients. This includes aloe leaf water, panthenol, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, and tasmannia lanceolata extract. 

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution Pros:

  • Uses both AHAs and BHA to target pores, scars, tone, and texture. 
  • Includes anti-inflammatory and hydrating ingredients to counteract irritation.  
  • Vegan and cruelty-free, and made without fragrances, oils, parabens, or sulfates. 

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution Cons:

  • Might be too drying for drier skin types.

Best for Oily Skin:
Paula’s Choice – Skin Perfecting 25% AHA 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel

This peel from Paula’s Choice contains salicylic acid, which is excellent for oily skin, as well as AHAs to target acne scars, signs of aging, and other skin concerns.

GoodGlow Score

4.5 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating
Clinically Proven


Allantoin, butterfly pea flower, chamomile, and other ingredients minimize the risk of irritation


Powerful Exfoliants

AHAs work with BHA to address congested pores, uneven tone and texture, and signs of aging



Formula is fully vegan and cruelty-free

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types, but those with sensitive skin should be cautious

Water (Aqua), Aminomethyl Propanol, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Isoamyl Laurate, Tartaric Acid, Propanediol, Salicylic Acid, Malic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Clitoria Ternatea (Butterfly Pea) Flower Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycyrrhetinic Acid, Glycerin, Tocopherol, Bisabolol, Allantoin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Polyglyceryl-4 Laurate, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Titanium Dioxide (Cl 77891), Mica (CI 77019), Phenoxyethanol.

The Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel is marked as being a suitable option for all skin types, but is particularly great for those with oily skin, thanks to the oil-free formula and the use of salicylic acid. The salicylic acid unclogs pores and gets rid of excess sebum and debris, helping to refine the appearance of pores and target breakouts.

The blend of alpha hydroxy acids used in this formula include glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, and tartaric acid. These address a range of signs of aging (including sun damage, fine lines, and wrinkles), and can also help minimize acne scars and hyperpigmentation

Some excellent supporting ingredients added to this formula include butterfly pea flower (which is responsible for the lilac color of the peel), bisabolol, allantoin, and chamomile. All of these ingredients provide calming benefits to minimize irritation and redness. 

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel Pros:

  • Uses both AHAs and BHA to address a range of skin concerns. 
  • Made with calming ingredients to counteract irritation. 
  • Vegan and cruelty-free, and made without fragrances or oil. 

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel Cons:

  • On the pricier side. 

Best for Dry Skin:
Drunk Elephant – T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial

This Drunk Elephant peel features a potent concentration of AHAs and BHA, as well as additional ingredients that brighten, soothe, and hydrate the skin.

GoodGlow Score

4.6 /5 5/5 Product Rating


Sodium hyaluronate, passionfruit seed oil, and virgin marula oil counteract dryness.

Potent Exfoliating Power

25% AHAs and 2% BHA work together to target a wide range of concerns.



Formula is vegan and cruelty-free.

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types, but those with sensitive skin should be cautious.

Water, Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Silybum Marianum Seed Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Powder, Cicer Arietinum Seed Powder, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Sodium PCA, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Dextrin, Polydextrose, Sorbitan Isostearate, Amylopectin, Niacinamide, Phytosphingosine, Lactic Acid, Propanediol, Citric Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Polysorbate 60, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol.

The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial is comparable to the Paula’s Choice peel, as it also has a 25% concentration of AHAs and 2% concentration of BHA. However, what makes it a particularly great choice for those with drier skin is the addition of moisturizing ingredients. 

This peel features glycolic, tartaric, lactic, citric, and salicylic acids, which work together to smooth texture, refine pores, decongest, soften fine lines and wrinkles, and lessen the appearance of acne scars. It’s also formulated with chickpea flour, which brightens the complexion, as well as antioxidant-rich ingredients like green tea leaf, milk thistle, and pomegranate extract. Cactus extract also soothes redness and irritation. 

To keep the skin comfortably hydrated when exposed to these intense exfoliants, this peel features two non-clogging oils: passionfruit seed oil and virgin marula oil. Sodium hyaluronate also locks in moisture to further improve hydration levels. 

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial Pros:

  • Uses both AHAs and BHA for maximum range of benefits. 
  • Provides hydrating and antioxidant benefits. 
  • Vegan and cruelty-free, and made without fragrances, silicones, or dyes. 

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial Cons:

  • Expensive. 

Best For Dark Skin Tones:
Cellbone – Mandelic Acid 25% Peel

This Cellbone chemical peel is formulated with just one less aggressive exfoliant, and is a gentler alternative that is safe for darker skin tones.

GoodGlow Score

4.1 /5 4.5/5 Product Rating


Formula uses mandelic acid, a less aggressive type of AHA


Hydrating and Soothing

Glycerin, cucumber flower extract, and witch hazel calm and hydrate

Protecting Skin

Improves Tone and Texture

Mandelic acid targets signs of aging, uneven skin tone and texture, and scars and pigmentation

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types

Water, Madelic Acid (25%), Dimethyl Isosorbide, Butyleneglycol, SD Alcohol 39C, Witch Hazel, Cucumber Flower Extract, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Menthol

People with darker skin tones have to practice a bit more caution with chemical peels, as they’re more prone to negative side effects, with discoloration being one of the top concerns. With this in mind, peels using lower concentrations and/or gentler exfoliants are typically safer for those with darker skin. For that reason, the Cellbone Mandelic Acid 25% Peel is an excellent choice.

The one and only exfoliant used in this peel is mandelic acid, which is an alpha hydroxy acid. It offers the same benefits as other AHAs, including an ability to diminish the appearance of acne scars and improve overall texture and tone. However, mandelic acid has a larger molecule size, which means it doesn’t penetrate as deep as other AHAs, ultimately making it a gentler option. 

While the ingredients list is fairly simple, this Cellbone peel also contains ingredients that soothe and hydrate, including glycerin, witch hazel, and cucumber flower extract. 

Cellbone Mandelic Acid 25% Peel Pros:

  • Provides AHA benefits while still being gentle on the skin.
  • Contains hydrating and soothing ingredients. 

Cellbone Mandelic Acid 25% Peel Cons:

  • Contains menthol, which may be irritating for some. 

Best Vegan:
Sanitas Skincare – Brightening Peel Pads

This peel uses a triple acid blend of both AHAs and BHA to improve the appearance of scars and blemishes and target a range of other skin concerns.

GoodGlow Score

4.6 /5 5/5 Product Rating

Unclogs Pores

Salicylic acid works to decongest and fight blemishes

Protecting Skin

Improves Tone and Texture

Lactic and glycolic acids diminish scars and discoloration, target signs of aging, and improve overall tone and texture



Formula is vegan and cruelty-free

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types, but those with sensitive skin should be cautious

Water/Aqua/Eau, Alcohol, Glycolic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Sodium Pca, Fragrance (Derived From Essential Oils), Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hexylene Glycol.

While we’ve mentioned a few vegan chemical peels on this list, another option worth recommending is the Sanitas Skincare Brightening Peel Pads – especially for those looking for travel-friendly peel pads. They’re similar to the Dr. Dennis Gross peel recommended above, as the solution is meant to be left on the skin after swiping the pad across your face.

These peel pads are soaked in a solution of glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and lactic acid. This AHA and BHA blend is excellent for unclogging pores, fading acne scars, brightening the complexion, and targeting various signs of aging. 

While the solution is fairly simple, it does also contain witch hazel, which soothes, as well as sodium PCA, a humectant that locks moisture into the skin.

Sanitas Skincare Brightening Peel Pads Pros:

  • Contains triple acid blend of both AHAs and BHA.
  • Contains hydrating and soothing ingredients. 
  • Vegan and cruelty-free.

Sanitas Skincare Brightening Peel Pads Cons:

  • Contains fragrance, which may be irritating for some. 

Best Anti-Aging:
Lancer Skincare – Caviar Lime Acid Peel

This peel from Lancer Skincare blends two AHAs with retinol to brighten and improve overall tone and texture while minimizing signs of aging for a radiant, youthful glow.

GoodGlow Score

4.7 /5 5/5 Product Rating


Vitamin and mineral-rich caviar lime extract nourishes the skin


Brightens and Targets Scars and Pigmentation

Phytic and glycolic acids improve unevenness in tone and texture while promoting a more radiant complexion

Protecting Skin


In addition to the AHAs, retinol addresses multiple signs of aging

Skin Type

Skin Type

Suitable for all skin types, but those with sensitive skin should be cautious

Water / Aqua / Eau, Glycolic Acid, Phytic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Galactoarabinan, Dimethyl Isosorbide, Ethoxydiglycol, Neopentyl Glycol Diethylhexanoate, Sodium Hydroxide, Stearyl Alcohol, Propanediol, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Glycerin , Maltodextrin, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Sodium Ascorbate, Retinol, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Microcitrus Australasica Fruit Extract, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Allantoin, Bromelain, Papain, Tocopherol, Dimethicone, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Vanillyl Butyl Ether, Ethylhexylglycerin, HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Benzyl Alcohol, Menthoxypropanediol, Limonene, Linalool, Citral

The Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel is a particularly great choice for someone looking to fight acne scars while also diminishing signs of aging. 

The two AHAs used in this formula are glycolic acid and phytic acid. The 10% concentration of glycolic acid resurfaces the skin to improve tone and texture and minimize signs of aging, while the 10% concentration of phytic acid brightens. Papaya and pineapple enzymes also work to soften and moisturize the skin, while nutrient-rich caviar lime extract nourishes and further removes buildup.

While the AHAs offer anti-aging benefits on their own, this formula also contains retinol. It boosts elasticity while softening fine lines and wrinkles for a more youthful complexion. 

Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel Pros:

  • Softens and improves tone and texture using AHAs and fruit enzymes.
  • Provides potent anti-aging benefits with retinol.

Lancer Skincare Caviar Lime Acid Peel Cons:

  • Expensive

How to Prepare For a Chemical Peel

In the days leading up to your chemical peel, you can mostly stick to your typical skincare routine. However, at least 72 hours before your at-home chemical peel, you should avoid using products containing chemical exfoliants to minimize the risk of over-exfoliating. You should also avoid trying new skincare products in the week leading up to your peel, as you won’t know how your skin will react. 

Once you’re ready to apply your chemical peel, be sure to wash your face and allow your skin to dry completely. Prior to application, refer to the instructions on the product you’re using for the best and safest results. 

Benefits of a Chemical Peel

Beyond reducing the appearance of acne scars and lightening post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a chemical peel can offer a range of benefits. This can include the following: 

  • Fading other forms of skin discoloration, such as sun spots and melasma
  • Unclogging pores to treat and prevent breakouts
  • Softening the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Boosting radiance
  • Improving softness and texture

Since a chemical peel removes surface-level debris on the skin, it can also provide a better environment for your other skincare products to fully absorb. This means you may see better results from the serums, treatments, and other solutions you already use in your routine. 

Side Effects of a Chemical Peel

While they aren’t as strong as in-office treatments, at-home chemical peels are still potent, so there is a risk of experiencing side effects. Of course, since there is such a wide range of solutions with varying concentrations of exfoliants, side effects will vary based on the product used, as well as your own skin’s tolerance for exfoliation. 

Normal side effects (that you don’t need to worry about) can include mild irritation and some redness. Typically, any redness should subside within two hours. Some skin peeling may occur within a few days, but this isn’t as common with at-home treatments. 

More serious side effects to keep in mind can include longer-term redness and irritation, scarring, and a change in skin color (the latter being most common in those with darker skin). Again, not all at-home peels are created equal, and there’s a lower risk with milder formulas. It’s a good idea to do a patch test, especially if you have more sensitive skin. 

Aftercare Needed For Chemical Peel

After your peel, it’s important to keep your skincare routine simple and gentle. For at least 24 hours, you shouldn’t use products that can irritate the skin. Ingredients to avoid include retinol, AHAs, BHAs, and vitamin C. 

You should, however, continue to wash and moisturize your face, and potentially use hydrating and/or soothing serums. Stick with a gentle cleanser when washing your face, and make sure your moisturizer doesn’t contain any added active ingredients that may irritate your vulnerable skin (like any of the ingredients mentioned above).

Chemical peels can increase photosensitivity, so it’s incredibly important to avoid the sun when possible. When outside, be sure to wear and reapply sunscreen, and wear a hat to keep direct light off of your face. 

Originally Published: October 20, 2022

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi, I’m Sam Wood, the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach at GoodGlow, as well as a best-selling author for one of the top acne books on Amazon. I struggled with acne for over 10 years, and began studying the effects of diet on skin quality while pursuing a degree in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Missouri. After shifting from mainstream skincare trends to in-depth research in medical journals, I experienced significant personal success in managing my acne. This inspired me to start GoodGlow, where I simplify complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand advice. With over 10 years in the field, I’ve helped more than 2,500 people achieve clearer skin through natural, holistic methods, and I’m dedicated to personally assisting those seeking guidance on their acne journey.

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