When you think of an exfoliant, you might think of physical exfoliation like a scrub or a microdermabrasion treatment that physically buffs the skin using gritty ingredients. Non-abrasive chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, exfoliate using acids like AHAs and BHAs to unclog pores and resurface skin. If you’re considering adding a chemical exfoliant into your skin care routine, here’s everything you need to know.
What are chemical exfoliants?
Put simply, chemical exfoliants are certain acids that help you shed dead cells and flaky skin to reveal the smooth skin beneath. They can range from chemical peels to everyday, over-the-counter treatments in gentler concentrations. More than likely, you’ve used chemical exfoliants already in any cleansing or acne product that contains Salicylic Acid, a BHA. You may have used AHAs before, too, in the form of common ingredients like Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid.
How do chemical exfoliants work?
Chemical exfoliants work by breaking the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. In other words, they break down the glue that attaches dead skin to your pores so that the old cells can then fall away. As this happens, the top layer of your skin sheds like a snake to reveal regenerated skin beneath.
Acids can also encourage the production of collagen by stimulating your fibroblasts, the cells that synthesize collagen. Because we lose our collagen stores with stress and time, a chemical exfoliant can help regenerate this protein for plumper, more elastic skin with fewer wrinkles.
Chemical exfoliants work by breaking the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. In other words, they break down the glue that attaches dead skin to your pores so that the old cells can then fall away.
What are the benefits of using chemical exfoliants?
Exfoliation is an essential step in skin care hygiene, but scrubbing too much or too hard can lead to redness and irritation. We’re taught to be gentle to our skin, using cleansers that won’t damage the moisture barrier that protects us from acne-causing bacteria and irritants. But when it comes to exfoliators, you’re talking about a process that’s inherently a little more powerful.
To really unclog skin and keep your face smooth and glowing, you need to slough off dead, flaky cells. But you don’t want a scrub so abrasive that it causes micro-tears in your skin. What’s more, gritty scrubs can reach what’s on the surface of your skin, but what about what’s trapped deep inside your pores?
That’s where chemical exfoliants come in, penetrating the pores to unclog blockages and release dead skin cells. And while certain scrubs can scrape your skin, a soothing AHA and BHA complex can be used multiple days in a row to address skin issues and leave your face soft and fresh.
Chemical exfoliants have many benefits besides just detaching dead skin and unclogging pores to prevent breakouts. They can help brighten dull skin, smoothen rough-textured skin, lessen the depth of wrinkles, minimize the visible signs of sun damage, and improve hydration.
Why should I use a chemical exfoliant?
Our skin naturally sheds dead cells, but cell turnover tends to slow as we age. This natural exfoliation process can also become compromised as the result of sun damage, genetic issues, and other skin concerns. This can show up as dullness or uneven texture in your skin, or acne breakouts.
Chemical exfoliants help you reverse this process and uncover smooth skin. With their ability to go deep and unclog the sebum and dead cells living in pores, these acids can also help keep breakouts at bay for a clearer, fresher face.
If you want to exfoliate your skin without scraping it or damaging the moisture barrier, it’s a good idea to incorporate a chemical exfoliant into your routine as an important step in achieving skin that stays fresh and hydrated.
Our skin naturally sheds dead cells, but cell turnover tends to slow as we age. This natural exfoliation process can also become compromised as the result of sun damage, genetic issues, and other skin concerns.
Types of chemical exfoliants
Incorporating these chemical exfoliants into your daily routine is simple with a formula that contains AHAs, BHAs, PHAs, or a blend.
PHAs, like gluconolactone and lactobionic acid, contain larger molecules, so they can’t penetrate your skin as deeply, but they’re a mild option for highly sensitive skin.
AHAs, like Glycolic, Lactic, and Citric acids, are known as the “fruit acids,” because they tend to come from plant sources. AHAs are often used for normal to dry skin for resurfacing and stimulating collagen production. They’re water soluble, meaning they work at the surface of your skin to polish away debris.
BHAs like Salicylic Acid are oil soluble, meaning they penetrate deep into the pores to get rid of sebum and dead skin that’s trapped there. BHAs are often used to treat normal to oily or acne-prone skin that tends to have bumps and blemishes.
Most people want to target a few or more skin concerns at once, and an AHA/BHA blend is the best way to do that. Acid Potion is a potent 25% AHA + BHA complex that combines Glycolic Acid to break down dead cells and gluey dirt and help stimulate collagen production, Lactic Acid to help encourage cellular turnover, and Salicylic Acid (derived from Willow Bark) to help penetrate and unclog pores. It’s balanced with Niacinamide (B3) and adaptogenic Reishi mushroom, which help to hydrate and restore the barrier while soothing irritation.
Because chemical exfoliation helps your serums and creams penetrate deeper, Acid Potion is a good step to help prime your skin before using other products. At night, start with freshly cleansed skin, and press Acid Potion onto your face. Follow up with Plump Jelly, our hyalauronic acid serum, and Cosmic Cream™, our dewy moisturizer, for dewy, hydrated skin.
A chemical exfoliant can be a powerful, multipurpose step in your nighttime skin care routine, helping to dissolve dead skin bonds while you dissolve the day away.
- US Food and Drug Administration, Alpha Hydroxy Acids https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/alpha-hydroxy-acids
- US Food and Drug Administration, Beta Hydroxy Acids https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetic-ingredients/beta-hydroxy-acids
- National Library of Medicine, An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4277239/