Peeling gels are really popular products in Asian beauty, and they’re getting more popular in the Western beauty world. You rub these gels on your skin and—like magic—little white clumps form under your fingers. Wash off the product and you’re left with smooth, glowing skin. But how do peeling gels do this? And is all that stuff coming off your actual skin? Here, we answer the question that’s undoubtedly on your mind: How do peeling gels work?
You’ll be able to find a peeling gel from almost every Japanese and Korean skincare brand, and Western brands, like The Body Shop, have recently launched some too. The word “peel” makes it sound like peeling gels make your skin suddenly shed, and a lot of companies deceptively encourage you to think that (“it’s so effective – you can SEE it working!”). While some peeling gels do contain chemical and enzyme exfoliant ingredients, peeling gels actually work as physical or manual exfoliants.
How do peeling gels work?
Peeling gels contain ingredients that interact with any oil sitting on your skin, and clump up with some friction. The clumping ingredient is usually either cellulose or carbomer. For example, the Goodal Natural Clear Mild Peeling Gel contains cellulose, while the The Body Shop Drops of Youth Liquid Peel and many Western brands use carbomer. So don’t worry—your skin isn’t falling off, and you won’t end up with a chemical burn and raw peeling skin if you leave a peeling gel on for too long!
So what do they do for your skin?The soft cellulose and carbomer clumps act like the grains in a scrub, but they’re much softer and less scratchy. This means that they’re gentler on your skin, as well as more thorough than your standard scrub. Peeling gels will effectively buff off any dead skin cells that are ready to come off. I find that they give me an exfoliation similar to what I’d achieve with a konjac sponge. I personally prefer peeling gels though, because you don’t have to worry about bacterial growth, and you don’t have to remember to take it out of the shower and dry it out properly in between uses.
Different peeling gels target different issues. For example, the Goodal Natural Clear Mild Peeling Gel uses lemon extract and wintergreen extracts to slough off dead skin cells. It leaves skin extra smooth. The Dr. G Brightening Peeling Gel is infused with cellulose and vitamin E to gently exfoliate skin while leaving behind a nice glow. And the Tony Moly Floria Brightening Peeling Gel contains flower extracts to illuminate skin.