Exfoliation is a naturally occurring process and is our skin’s way of removing dead cells. As time progresses, age and unprotected sun exposure can cause this shedding to slow or even halt entirely. This results in skin that looks dull or dry, pores that are clogged and uneven skin tone. Exfoliants can help the skin gently remove the build up of dead skin cells.
The most common type of exfoliation is manual exfoliation, typically using drugstore scrubs that have small grains or beads suspended in the product. Recently, trends have been moving away from physical exfoliation to chemical exfoliations that are more effective.
What are chemical exfoliants?
Chemical exfoliants aid in cell turnover, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and help hydrate the skin. Chemical exfoliants are usually either AHA or BHA based and are known to treat acne and create a brightening and smoothing effect!
“I fell sick when I was in my 30s. When I started to get better, I pared back my skincare routine to make it really simple and straightforward. I used Cetaphil and Redwin Sorbelene as cleansers. I would moisturise with Sorbelene again but every night, I would religiously slather on glycolic lotion to my face and body.” – Kiri, AMPERNA® founder
What are the Differences Between an AHA and a BHA?
AHAs (Alpha hydroxy acid) are water soluble acids such as lactic acid or glycolic acid. BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) are oil soluble acids such as salicyclic acid. Both AHAs and BHAs diminish the look of lines and wrinkles, can make skin look and feel firmer, hydrate and increase skin’s smoothness and improve uneven skin tone and rough texture. AHAs are preferred for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, while BHAs are preferred for normal to oily, clog-prone and bump-prone skin. You can experiment with both however, to see which works best for your skin.
What is Glycolic Acid?
Glycolic acid is found naturally in sugar cane. The acid reacts with the top layer of skin and dissolves sebum and other substances that bind cells together. This enables dead skin cells to be removed, revealing newer and younger looking skin. Glycolic is an AHA and it is often considered the Holy Grail for exfoliation for its ability to effectively remove the outermost layer of dead cells from the complexion; revealing brighter, fresher skin. Products that contain Glycolic Acid are used often to treat scarring, skin discolouration and signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles.
Tips for First Time Chemical Exfoliant Users
- Start with products that have a lower acid content to get your skin used to chemical exfoliation. For example, AMPERNA®’s 10% Pro+ Resurfacing Lotion contains 10% glycolic acid, antioxidants and a blend of probiotics. The combination of ingredients plus the relatively low dose of acid makes our product perfect for first time users. Our glycolic lotion was specially formulated for people suffering with sensitive skin and is the first to market in this category.
- Some products can be washed off or left on the face. Start with applying and washing off and slowly transition into leaving it overnight. Always refer to the product’s packaging for best practices.
- For skin with blackheads and spots but no deep, closed comedones, salicylic is the best choice. Burt's Bees Anti Blemish Spot Treatment is mostly salicylic acid-based which won't be as sensitising and is less likely to dry you out.
- Once you are comfortable with the process, you can also go a step further and have a stronger chemical peel at a professional skin clinic which can aid with combating leftover scars and acne.
Like most skincare, it often comes down to personal preference as to whether you choose an AHA or BHA product. There is also plenty of variation within different brands so do plenty of research to find out what works best for you. While the word ‘chemical’ can be intimidating for some people, it really is a much gentler and more effective alternative compared to your usual manual scrubs. Happy exfoliating!
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. If symptoms persist, we recommend that you see your GP or dermatologist.