Japanese Peeling Gels: What Are They And How Do They Work? | CoolJapan

If you’re into Asian skincare, then you’ve probably already heard of Japanese peeling gels. Also known as gentle physical exfoliators, skincare products under this umbrella are known for their ‘instant peeling effect’. They deliver fast-action exfoliation and skin surface dirt removal without the harshness often attributed to facial scrubs or potent chemical exfoliators. This is why it has earned its place in the routines of many skincare enthusiasts, both in Japan and overseas.

Despite its popularity, however, there are many questions and misconceptions about its usage and efficacy. So today, we’re here to answer two main themes: what exactly is the real deal about Japanese peeling gels and do they really work?

We had a chat with dermatologist and Luminisce Holistic Skin Innovations CEO Dr. Kristina Reyes-Bacani, as well as long-time peeling gel users and skincare enthusiasts Ryan Sim and Vinna Er to give us their perspective on this Japanese skincare product.

Fact-check: peeling gels don’t exactly ‘peel off’ your skin 

The term ‘peeling gel’ is definitely scary, making one ask if it truly is gentler compared to other exfoliators. However, Dr. Reyes-Bacani confirmed that “peeling gels do not actually peel the skin,” but rather “gently exfoliate by removing the dirt or oil and some dead skin cells” through the use of “carbomers (acrylates) and cellulose." These two components absorb “both oil and water [in the skin] and form a fibre that attracts the sebaceous glands’ oil, along with some top layer dead skin cells”, leaving the skin feeling softer and cleaner upon usage without being stripped of moisture. These substances, when combined, produce the white substance you see pilling on the surface of your skin when you start rubbing the peeling gel.

“Some pros of gentle physical exfoliators are that they're okay to be used almost every day and are okay for sensitive skin a.k.a. for those with atopic dermatitis, sunburnt skin, and even patients applying strong products like tretinoin and AHA and BHA,” explained Dr. Reyes-Bacani. However, she highlighted that given its lesser ‘strength’ compared to chemical exfoliators, Japanese peeling gels are still “not as strong as chemical exfoliants in removing dead skin cells.”

She also said that while she recommends usage “once to twice weekly for those with sensitive skin, thrice a week for those with combination and dry skin, and four times a week for those oily skin,” proper precautions and moderation depending on your experience should still be noted. This is “because not all peeling gels are created equal” with “some still containing chemical exfoliants like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that might irritate sensitive skin.”

Japanese peeling gels are great for dealing with skin purities even for those with sensitive skin.

Japanese peeling gels are great for dealing with skin purities even for those with sensitive skin.

That wonderful peel-ing 

“I believe it was about 10 years ago when I first heard of peeling gels,” shared Ryan. “I remembered clear as day the amazement I had when the ‘exfoliator’ in the gel began rubbing off the skin, congealed into little greyish balls.”

Beyond its novelty, Ryan highlighted that its efficacy, based on personal experience, drew him to try it continuously since then.

“I would say try it. Especially if they have it in sample size or travel size,” he recommended. However, he did note that “everyone's result can differ” but if he “had to choose between a face scrub and a peeling gel,” he would definitely go for the latter because of his acne-prone skin. “With acne, you really do not want to treat your skin harshly,” he explained.

Japanese peeling gels also caught Vinna's attention roughly the same time they did Ryan's. She explained that it piqued her curiosity because it’s “different from regular scrub beads” that are more popular for exfoliation at the time. 

“I saw ‘peeling’ in a different light after using peeling gels,” she said. “I love how they don't have to be formulated with harsh beads to help exfoliate the skin.”

She also appreciated how one bottle can go a long way considering that you don’t need to use it as often as your typical face foam or cleanser. The only downside she can think of is you have to make sure your skin and your hands are completely dry before using the product as they lose the initial ‘grip’ when applied with wet hands or on a wet skin surface.

Japanese peeling gels don't need harsh beads to work.

No harsh beads here!

Peeling picks

With more knowledge about peeling gels, are you ready to give them try? Here are some choices you may want to add to cart:

The global favourite: Cure Natural Aqua Gel

Both cited by Ryan and Vinna as one of the first Japanese peeling gels they’ve tried that's worth recommending, Cure Natural Aqua Gel earned the Best Mask And Exfoliator title from @cosme (Japan’s largest customer website and beauty category awarding body) in 2005 and again in 2010. After the brand's global expansion in 2008, it snagged the Best Selling Exfoliator award from Watsons HWB Awards consistently from 2015 to 2018, launching its cult-favourite status. Some of its active ingredients include activated Hydrogen water that has antioxidant properties, aloe leaf extract for moisture retention, Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract for dealing with blemishes, and rosemary leaf extract for has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The one that packs a ‘fruit’ punch: Detclear Bright & Peel

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, Detclear’s Bright & Peel Fruits Peeling Jelly is the one to check out. This Japanese peeling gel promises to deal with blackheads, dark spots and excess sebum with the use of fruit-derived AHA and BHA. For fans of variety, another advantage of this product is that it comes in four versions: Unscented (blue), Mixed Fruits (yellow), Rose Jasmine (red) and a Mixed Berries (pink).

The one that fights off acne: Skinvill White Peeling Gel

Looking for a peeling gel specifically formulated to deal with your acne-prone skin? Grab Skinvill’s White Peeling Gel. This pick claims to be “formulated with 96 per cent beauty ingredients” that are specifically chosen to deal with problematic skin. Aside from its acne-fighting claims, it also brightens dull skin, giving you a refreshed and renewed complexion after use.

The one that takes gentleness to a whole new level: Atorrege AD+ EX Soft Peeling gel 

If you’re looking for one that takes your sensitive skin seriously Atorrege AD+ EX Soft Peeling gel might be the one to try. This peeling gel, which claims to be so gentle even babies can use it, boasts not just gentle exfoliating ingredients but also ones with moisturising, anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a well-rounded pick to match most of your skincare needs.

Aside from exfoliation, make sure your skin is extra nourished with these tinted moisturisers you can under your masks.