It’s important to be gentle with your skin from avoiding harsh ingredients to patting it dry, so when it comes to physical exfoliation – it can sometimes cause more harm than good. As rewarding as it might seem (you know, physically scrubbing off all the dead skin), some exfoliants are just too large and end up causing micro-tears in your skin. This is when chemical exfoliation comes in as a more gentle and effective way to polish your skin.
What is chemical exfoliation and how does it work?
Chemical exfoliation uses acids to get rid of dead skin cells, allowing it to go deeper into the pores than physical exfoliants. By safely removing the build up, softer and smoother skin can shine through – helping with texture, pigmentation, acne and even ageing.
What are chemical exfoliants?
The two main types of chemical exfoliants are AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids). You’ve probably seen these letters everywhere, including on cleansers and toners. AHAs are water-soluble and include glycolic and lactic acid, and BHAs are oil-soluble, meaning they can penetrate deeper, such as salicylic acid.
What should I start with?
For texture and pigmentation, start with a gentle AHA such as lactic acid or mandelic acid as they don’t penetrate your skin as deeply as a BHA. If you’re looking to treat acne, a BHA like salicylic acid can help reduce sebum and oil production, as well as unclog your pores.
Can I use them together?
Yes, you can combine AHA products with BHA products, but it is not recommended for beginners. Without a proper understanding of how the ingredients will react, you are at risk of over-exfoliating and even burning your skin. This is a common mistake when it comes to acids as users aren’t aware they need to factor in the PH levels, percentage of acids, timing and their skin’s sensitivity.
How should I start chemical exfoliation?
Start with a low concentration, once or twice a week – over-exfoliating can cause irritation and breakouts. Apply the exfoliant after you cleanse and tone, preferably at night as acids can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun (make sure you wear sunscreen!).
You can find good introductory products from The Ordinary and The Inkey List.