The good news about skin lightening is that there’s a wide range of products that can take your skin several shades lighter and brighter. The bad news? Most of them take awhile for you to see visible results.
Enter chemical peels for skin lightening.
Chemical peels are in a unique category of their own because you don’t use them every day – you only want to do a chemical peel once a week at most. And you only leave them on for a maximum of around 5 minutes. Yet, despite their brief period on your skin, they’re able to produce drastic results.
How is this possible, you ask?
Well, most chemical peels are made from alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid or from beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid.
Both AHAs and BHAs are amazing, non-abrasive exfoliators that work by bringing the pH of the skin to a higher acidity level in order to chemically loosen the “glue” that binds the dead and damaged skin cells. This exfoliating action naturally promotes new cell growth leading to clearer skin, increased collagen production, fading spots and scars, and overall more radiant and youthful skin.
Wait, you say, but exfoliation alone doesn’t result in drastic skin lightening! Correct.
That’s why you want to pick a skin lightening peel, which is a chemical peel that also contains melanin inhibiting ingredients so you can get skin lightening benefits and the exfoliation to reveal your results faster.
Ready to find out what the best skin lightening peels are? Here are our top picks – we’ve listed them in order of strength. The first 5 are great for all beginners or all skin types but the last 2 should only be used once you’ve done a few chemical peels and have worked up to them.
Read through the reviews to find one that’s perfect for your needs and skin type!
Doing a chemical peel at home can be scary, which is why it’s always best to go for the safest, gentlest option available when you’re first starting out.
At the same time, if you’re going to do a peel – you want results.
Which is exactly why this is the perfect beginner’s peel. It’s got a great combination of exfoliating ingredients like retinol, glycolic and lactic acid as well as heavy hitting skin lightening ingredients like kojic acid, bearberry, licorice and Vitamin C.
But it’s also mild enough that you won’t have to suffer through a burning, peeling recovery period. It’s so gentle, in fact, that you can actually use this peel several times per month!
The best thing about this peel? You can’t beat the potent combination of AHAs – glycolic and lactic acid – for peeling away dead, rough and uneven layers of old skin. But not only does it lighten and exfoliate, banish blemishes and fade spots, but the Vitamin C that it contains is so powerful that it continues to work in your skin for up to 3 days! Results? Glow that lasts.
This kit also includes a super soothing after-peel neutralizer! Find the full kit here!
Perfect for the sensitive-skinned beauty who’s battling blemishes and spots, Philosophy’s Microdelivery Triple-Acid Brightening Peel is gentle enough for quick, regular use.
Each of the pre-saturated chemical peel pads are soaked in a gentle yet effective triple-acid formula that consists of Mandelic acid, Phytic acid and Azelaic acid.
Mandelic acid is made from bitter almonds, making it an all-natural ingredient. It’s an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) like glycolic and lactic acids, but it’s much less irritating thanks to its larger molecular structure. The bigger size means it takes longer to penetrate the skin’s surface. Result? Less irritation, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin.
Mandelic acid is also a melanin inhibitor, meaning it works to lighten the skin by reducing the amount of melanin your skin makes – you know, the stuff that gives your skin a darker pigment. It’s even proven to be effective in fading melasma without the irritation that typical bleaching treatments like hydroquinone cause. It’s the same thing for Azelaic acid, another effective skin lightener that inhibits melanin and helps matte-ify oily skin.
Both Mandelic and Azelaic acids are great for combating acne as well. As for Phytic acid – it’s one of the gentlest of all the acids and yet another effective skin lightening ingredient that basically works by blocking the entrance of iron and copper in the formation of melanin. The best part? Its antioxidant action helps fight off free radical damage on the skin.
Overall, super effective ingredients formulated to be as gentle as possible. Find it here!
Here’s another very gentle peel that’s safe enough to use a few times a week and will give your skin a radiant glow without the spa prices. It’s a little different from all the other peels on this list in that it consists of a 3-step peel and peptide system.
Here’s how it works: The Step 1 Arctic Berry Enzyme Exfoliant is gently massaged onto your face for around 3 minutes to warm and prep your skin for deeper peeling.
Without removing the Exfoliant, you then apply the Step 2 Arctic Berry Advanced Peel Activator MA10 (multi-acid 10%) peel which goes to work gently removing layers of the skin naturally to reveal clearer, smoother and more luminous skin.
After around 8 minutes, you wipe everything off and apply the Step 3 Arctic Berry Peptide Radiance Cream to nourish and replenish your new skin while you sleep.
This peel system is best for those with sensitive skin who’re looking for an overall glow without any downtime. Find it here!
This is hands down the gentlest peel that still produces results – Korres’ wild rose brightening system uses a 10% concentration of fruit, glycolic and lactic alpha-hydroxy-acids to “unglue” dead skin cells to reveal fresh, clear skin.
Combine that with their Step 2 intensive Brightening & Revealing Peel Mask which contains an additional dose of 10% AHAs and natural pomegranate enzymes for extra resurfacing and lightening action.
We especially love how this 2-step system makes sure to include skin goodies likeVitamin C, Hyaluronic Acid and Aloe Vera to sooth and nourish your skin during the entire process, making it especially good for those with dry, easily irritated skin. Find it here!
A super effective brightening and lightening chemical peel, Refresh Skin Therapy’s Fruit Acid is the perfect peel for those looking to lighten pesky spots and target fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s a potent combination of alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid and glycolic acid combined with pyruvic acid (increases the levels of hyaluronic acid in the skin, to provide a marked plumping effect) and kojic acid.
At 15% concentration, it’s a little stronger than the above peels but still gentle enough for beginners. We’d recommend this one if you’ve had experience with active ingredients before, like Retin A, and you’d like a 2-in-1 solution for both skin lightening and plumping. Find it here!
If you’ve already had experience with active ingredients and/or had a chemical peel before, your skin might be ready for these skin lightening peel pads. And that’s super good news ’cause we don’t like to play favorites but yea, these are our favorites.
Why? Not only are they super convenient – they’re cotton pads pre-soaked with a professional strength skin lightening peel and ready to go! – but they offer a marriage of the perfect ingredients for your skin.
For starters, it uses a great combo of 30% lactic acid and 10% mandelic acid. If that sounds like a strong dose, don’t worry – both lactic acid and mandelic acid are the gentlest options you can find when it comes to chemical peels. But don’t mistake “gentle” for “subtle” – they’re also very effective for fading spots, banishing blemishes, reducing fine lines and overall skin regeneration.
But this peel doesn’t stop there – it also contains some powerful skin whitening ingredients like glutathione and kojic acid. The result? You get potent skin lightening combined with gentle, effective exfoliation. Win win. Find it here!
Once you’ve done a few beginner friendly chemical peels, your skin will be ready for the holy grail of skin lightening peels: Perfect Image’s 50% lactic acid peel.
As mentioned earlier, lactic acid is one of the gentlest chemical peels you can get your
hands face on. It’s the stuff that’s found naturally in milk and yogurt (as well as on human skin) and it’s less irritating than other AHAs and even has a natural moisturizing effect on the skin.
It’s an ideal chemical peel for skin brightening on its own – especially at higher concentrations – and is great for hyperpigmentation and rosacea.
Now combine that with potent melanin inhibitors like kojic acid and bearberry extract and you wind up with a powerful skin lightening chemical peel!
Just keep in mind, we don’t recommend this high concentration peel for beginners. Start with one of the above and work your way up to this one! Find it here!