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Peeling 101: The Kinder, Gentler Way to Exfoliate & Get Glowing


Peeling 101: The Kinder, Gentler Way to Exfoliate & Get Glowing
Sheryll Donerson
Sheryll Donerson

Dec 05, 2018

There are tons of Korean beauty products that contain the word “peeling” in their name. But what exactly is peeling? Is it as scary as it sounds? We uncover the truth for you.


When I first moved to Korea, I was a skincare newb. I had terrible skin and had no idea what any of the skincare products were or what they did. To add even more insult to injury, K-beauty products oftentimes have somewhat confusing names. I had no idea what an emulsion or an essence was, and if something said "whitening" on it, PSH, I steered clear those first few months. Same thing with peeling products.


PEELING. I mean. The word does not sound like something I want to do to my skin. I hear “peeling” and I think of zucchini or someone with a sunburn. But in true K-beauty fashion, words are sometimes used a tad bit differently than they are in the West. So let’s talk about peeling products — what they actually are, what they do, and some of my recommendations.



What is "peeling"?


Peeling products in Korea are essentially one of two things:


1. Chemical exfoliation

2. "Peeling" gommage gels


So kind of like how “whitening” products in K-beauty do not mean that you’re bleaching or actually really whitening your skin, peeling products don’t really peel your skin off. They just gently exfoliate!


And don’t confuse peeling products with major chemical peels — they definitely are not the same. Peeling products are typically quite gentle and tend to use ingredients like milk (lactic acid) or very low but effective percentages of AHAs and BHAs. If you’re a newbie to chemical exfoliation, or if you need to take a break from the super high percentages (*cough* me *cough*), peeling products are definitely the way to go.


peeling products


What kind of peeling products are there?


Instead of a typical high-powered liquid like we tend to use in the States, peeling products come in all shapes and sizes — cotton swabs, pads, toners, serums, masks, gels. There is no shortage of peeling products you can have in your arsenal.


Peeling pads


Peelings pads are my go-to’s for quick, on-the-go exfoliation. It’s like, swipe, swipe, BOOM, done. They are typically soaked with a gentle exfoliating liquid with one textured side for a dose of physical exfoliation and a smooth side for a gentle, soothing application. My favorites are the Neogen Wine Peeling Pads, made with fermented wine extract (HELLO ferments!) and the Snou Beauty Toning Pads, which contain both AHAs and BHAs.



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Peeling swabs


Peeling products like cotton swabs are a bit more targeted. I love to use peeling cotton swabs because they’re so small and pointed they can really get into all the nooks and crannies in your skin, like around your nose and hairline. I also love to use the swabs to spot treat those pesky cystic spots during my period. They speed up the healing process by at least 50%!


My favorite swab product is the A’Pieu Aqua Peeling Swab. I literally swore by these while I lived in Thailand. I never got bad breakouts when I lived there, but every once in a while I’d get a nasty little bugger, and these really calmed them down within a few days. The only bad thing is that they are kind of pricey for a one-time use product, but if you’re planning on traveling or you want to keep a stash for your skin care emergency bag, they are awesome!


peeling products


Peeling gels


Another type of peeling product is the peeling gel. Unlike swabs and pads that contain AHAs or BHAs, these gels are considered a gommage-type physical exfoliant. I remember the first time I used a peeling gel — I was so amazed by the little balls of “dead skin” pilling up on my skin and rinsing my face to reveal super soft skin. But that “dead skin” isn’t really the real thing. Peeling gels use different ingredients like cellulose or carbomer to interact with the oil in your skin to create those little balls … so it’s a bit deceptive BUT it is totally satisfying.


The cellulose works to gently physically exfoliate your skin. So instead of harsh granules from that scrub that shall never be named (ST. IVES) or rough sugar granules, you get a very soft, soothing scrub. This also doesn’t mean that peeling gels don’t work. Many contain exfoliating ingredients like fruit enzymes (papaya is a favorite) to provide a very gentle exfoliating experience. One of my favorite peeling gels is, surprise, another A’Pieu product, but this one is the body peeling scrub. Since it’s very gentle, it doesn’t sting freshly shaved legs like some other products can.


Do you use peeling products? Let me know in the comments!




Sheryll Donerson
Sheryll Donerson

Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.



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