How can I get my glow back?
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Let me begin by saying two things: firstly, acid peels are undervalued for their glow-inducing power. If you are looking to brighten a dull complexion, these are fantastic. Secondly, the days of the acid peel that could kill a houseplant are long gone.
I began my own acne scar-fighting journey with one such dreaded in-clinic peel, which fizzed and sizzled on my skin. Thankfully, the advent of ablative and non-ablative lasers in the early 2000s mostly swept these harsh peels away, but a new generation of at-home peels have also since emerged that can restore glow brilliantly. They can tackle a multitude of issues – from acne and blemishes to pigmentation and fine lines.
Peels work by dissolving the glue-like bonds of dead skin beneath the surface, thus speeding up cell renewal, and also the production of collagen and elastin. As a general rule they are low-tech, speedy and less expensive than a professional facial.
But first, a breakdown. What is a peel? There are numerous kinds and formulas. Hydroxy-acid peels don’t involve much downtime and won’t flake the skin. There are three main types. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are mostly derived from plant-based sources. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and helps to encourage cell turnover for speedy exfoliation; lactic acid from sour milk is good for smoothing and softening rough skin; mandelic acid from bitter almonds helps to even skin tone; malic acid from apples helps to smooth fine lines and wrinkles; and citric acid has the ability to clear excess oil.
Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid, derived from white-willow bark and leaves, help to purge the pores of oil and calm inflammation. The ancient Sumerians and Egyptians used these acids as remedies for pain and inflammation. AHA and BHA combination peels, in rinse-off formulas, tick off multiple skin concerns in one go. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel (£42) is great for reducing fine lines and crepey texture while also unclogging pores, as is Drunk Elephant’s TLC Sukari Babyfacial (£72, cultbeauty.com). I recommend using potent peels such as these once a week. Start slow, and be sure to give the skin time to recover. (I am not a fan of daily-use peels. As Dr Hauschka once said: “Scrub the bathroom, but never your face.”)
If your skin is sensitive or suffers from breakouts or rosacea, then poly-hydroxy acids – PHAs – may hold the key to retexturing without the irritation. PHAs have anti-ageing properties without causing inflammation. Chantecaille’s Purifying and Exfoliating Phytoactive Solution (£78) gently resurfaces with the swipe of a cotton pad. When I have hard-to-extract whiteheads, this is my failsafe – it dislodges congestion within a few days.
For a holiday-season party glow, overnight peels are a smart choice. La Mer’s The Micro Peel (£225) is a bi-phase formula that sees a marine enzyme ferment work in tune with the skin’s circadian rhythm. It’s my go‑to for special occasions, and after I leave it on overnight my skin looks refreshed and radiant. I suggest going for peel products labelled for daily use such as Elemis Peptide4 Overnight Radiance Peel (£26 for 10ml), but only doing two night treatments a week.
If you are looking for in-clinic treatments, a good place to start is the Obagi Blue Radiance Peel. A series of these peels immensely helped with my own post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (£150 per session at Dr Leah’s clinics; three to six sessions recommended).
Moxi is a gentle “lunch-break laser” – an anti-ageing laser peel that takes less than 12 minutes. It comes with a little downtime; the skin goes through a micro-peeling stage a few days later, but it’s really quite minor. At Mallucci’s clinic in Mayfair, Moxi can also be boosted with BBL, a broadband light laser treatment (£1,350 a session including BBL; three to four sessions recommended four weeks apart).
Before you begin an at-home treatment, I recommend first creating a clean canvas. Omorovicza Copper Peel (£99) smooths the complexion without downtime. Two mini tubes contain the Copper Gluconate paste and the lactic acid activator – mix together and leave on the skin for two minutes or less. The peel foams up and after the two minutes, I usually rub it into the skin using my fingertips before washing off. Equally, what you put on your skin after the peel is as important as the peel itself. Skin will be fragile and particularly vulnerable to sun damage, so apply a non-greasy broad spectrum sunblock such as Evidens de Beauté’s The Total Shield SPF50 PA++++ (£140, harrods.com). Then you really can ramp up that luminous glow.