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You Asked! Expert A's to Your Beauty Q's: Peels and Masks

Our experts unmask the facts about at-home facial treatments and offer product picks.

By Ayren Jackson-Cannady

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Popular at spas and dermatologist offices, peels and masks promise rejuvenation and younger, healthier looking skin. But do their over-the-counter versions offer an easier, more affordable solution? Dermatologists Rachel Herschenfield, MD, and Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, offer fail-proof DIY advice along with their favorite peel and mask product picks.

Q. Are at-home masks and peels really effective? What can they do for my skin? 

Dr. Herschenfeld's top picks:

These at-home treatments can be a great addition to any skin care regimen. 

Peels typically contain the same ingredients as dermatologists' peels but in lower concentrations. They gently remove the outermost layer of your skin, producing a smoother texture and sometimes helping even out pigmentation. They may also help fade fine lines or clean out pores. Masks can provide intensive moisture, absorb excess oil, or deliver antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, or acne-fighting treatments to the skin.

Acne-prone skin can benefit from peels that contain salicylic acid. Sensitive skin may do better with less irritating lactic acid peels or mild physical peels. Many products contain combinations of these active ingredients. 

A good at-home peel for sensitive skin is Olay Regenerist Microdermabrasion & Peel System, made with lactic acid. Another winner: philosophy the microdelivery peel provides a gentle physical exfoliation combined with lactic acid. It works great for either sensitive or dry skin. 

A good hydrating mask is the Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Masque. The mask is infused with cucumber, papaya, and pineapple enzymes to calm and soften skin. For acne-prone skin, Murad Acne Clarifying Mask  contains sulfur to treat acne and clay to absorb excess oil. 

Alexiades-Armenakas' top picks:  

The biggest difference between masks and peels and products such as cleansers is the duration of application. Cleansers are quick-on/quick-off. Masks and peels are left on for a specific length of time, increasing the amount of active ingredients that penetrates the skin. 

With peels, the degree to which the bonds between dead skin cells break apart and disappear is determined in part by how long you allow the acids to work. It’s best to use peels sparingly. The biggest mistake women make is applying peels daily. Daily application over stresses the skin. Peels can contribute to sun sensitivity too. 

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