The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

  1. Types of Exfoliation for Every Skin Type
  2. Exfoliation for Dry Skin
  3. Exfoliation for Oily Skin
  4. Exfoliation for Combination Skin
  5. Exfoliation for Sensitive Skin
  6. How to Handle Changing Skin Conditions
  7. Exfoliation Benefits for All
  8. How to Use Chemical Exfoliation — and Why You Should
  9. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
  10. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)
  11. Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)
  12. If you have dry or sensitive skin
  13. If you have oily or acne-prone skin
  14. If you have combination skin
  15. If you have mature skin
  16. If you have hyperpigmentation or scarring
  17. If you have signs of sun damage
  18. If you’re prone to ingrown hairs
  19. How to choose the best chemical exfoliation & more
  20. Chemical Exfoliation vs. Physical Exfoliation:
  21. How to Exfoliate Properly
  22. Are You Using the Right Exfoliator for Your Skin Type?
  23. 11 Chemical Exfoliators That Hold The Secret To Good Skin
  24. What Is A Chemical Exfoliant?
  25. How Do Chemical Exfoliants Work?
  26. How Often Should I Use A Chemical Exfoliant?
  27. AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids)
  28. BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acids)
  29. Glycolic Acid
  30. Lactic Acid
  31. Salicylic Acid
  32. Anthony Purifying Astringent Pads
  33. 111SKIN Exfolactic Cleanser
  34. Alpha H Clear Skin Tonic
  35. The Inkey List PHA Toner
  36. DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel
  37. Malin+Goetz Ingrown Hair Cream
  38. Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
  39. REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum
  40. The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA
  41. Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  42. Votary Blemish Rescue Oil
  43. How To Choose The Best Exfoliator For Your Skin Type
  44. Why Should You Exfoliate?
  45. How Do You Exfoliate Skin?
  46. 1. Physical exfoliation
  47. 2. Chemical exfoliation
  48. Why Exfoliation Can Screw Up Skin (And How To Avoid It)
  49. What’s The Best Exfoliator For Each Skin Type?
  50. What to use:
  51. How often?
  52. What to use?
  53. The Bottom Line

Types of Exfoliation for Every Skin Type

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

Do you know your skin type? Is it considered oily, dry, or a combination of the two? Are you prone to clogged pores and breakouts due to excess oil? Or are flaky patches on the face a challenge for you? As Skin Health Experts, we treat specific skin concerns every day at our Los Angeles clinic. Because skin type affects the ingredients and products we recommend/use on our clients, it’s essential that we start each treatment with a skin type assessment. Then we do a gentle cleansing with the right cleanser skin type, followed by exfoliation that’s also customized to skin type.

Why exfoliation? Because, as our founder Kate often says, it’s the #1 way to transform skin. Exfoliation works as a face scrub to remove the top layer of dry skin and clean out your pores for a brighter complexion.

It also helps to smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while improving the texture of your skin. Regardless of skin type, you want to add exfoliation to your at-home regimen twice a week to achieve smoother, brighter, gorgeous skin.

Below, we’ve identified the best types of exfoliation skin type so you can reap the same benefits of exfoliation regardless of skin type.

Exfoliation for Dry Skin

Dry skin typically has a dull appearance and a rougher texture. A gentle exfoliant with a physical agent silica sloughs away dead skin cells from the surface but still keeps the protective barrier intact.

Also, using a mild cleanser and a slightly abrasive tool such as a washcloth or body brush removes flaky areas for softer skin with a beautiful glow.

Be careful not to rub the skin too abrasively, since this can cause small tears or inflammation.

When relying on chemical exfoliation, look for products that contain glycolic acid, which helps to brighten the skin tone. Whichever method of exfoliation you prefer, aim for twice a week to keep flaky skin away and leave your face feeling smoother and more supple.

Exfoliation for Oily Skin

If a shiny t-zone is your top skin concern, you most ly have oily skin. This happens when the skin produces too much sebum that sticks around and clogs pores. Oily skin is also hyper-prone to breakouts. Typically speaking, chemical exfoliation is a better choice for oily skin since physical techniques may inadvertently wreak havoc on the skin and cause bacteria to spread.

Powerful ingredients salicylic acid break down impurities that live inside of pores and helps to regulate the skin’s oil production. Up your exfoliation to two to three times a week to combat oily skin and concurring breakouts. It will leave your complexion looking and feeling super clean and more radiant.

Exfoliation for Combination Skin

Combination skin means you have the challenges of both oily and dry skin to deal with at the same time. You may have an oily forehead and nose, but dry patches along the cheeks and jawline.

Just with dry skin types, exfoliation with glycolic acid is a good choice to combat flaky skin while also removing pore buildup.

However, you may benefit from salicylic acid as well to take care of the greasier spots.

Exfoliation for Sensitive Skin

Do you experience rashes, redness, irritation, or burning of your skin? These are symptoms of sensitive skin. You’ll want to be careful not to exfoliate too often or scrub the skin too hard with your exfoliator. A soothing ingredient lactic acid helps to nourish the skin and minimize flare-ups.

Exfoliate once or twice a week, depending on your level of skin sensitivity. If you experience inflammation or prolonged redness, switch to once a week and see if that improves the skin’s condition. It’s possible that over-exfoliation is irritating your skin.

However, if it still continues after a week, consider seeking out professional advice from a dermatologist or esthetician.

By identifying which types of exfoliation and frequency works best for your skin type, you’ll experience healthier, gorgeous, glowing skin. Add this step to your weekly skincare regimen to see and maintain your radiant results.

When you use our Kate Somerville ExfoliKate® Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, you get a clinic inspired treatment from the comfort of home that’s formulated to unclog pores, get rid of dead skin cells and condition and smooth skin texture at the same time.

How to Handle Changing Skin Conditions

Keep in mind that skin may change from time to time lifestyle shifts, including:

● Nutrition deficiency or dehydration● Increased stress● Aging ● Hormonal shifts

● Extreme weather conditions

For example, increased stress can cause your skin to sag or appear dull even if your skin type is oily. Alternatively, excessive sweating in the summertime can cause typically dry skin to be more acne-prone.

The type and frequency of exfoliation that’s best for your skin may change depending on the season or what condition your skin is currently in. Adapt your skincare routine to what it needs in the present moment.

Exfoliation Benefits for All

As Skin Health Experts, we work with our clients to create and customize skincare regimens skin type. To discover healthy, beautiful skin at home, start with the basics and add steps as needed. Many people often get confused about the order of steps in a skincare routine such as whether you exfoliate or cleanse first. But, the easiest plan to follow is our 5 Daily Dos:

  1. Cleanse/Remove Makeup
  2. Exfoliate
  3. Hydrate
  4. Moisturize
  5. Protect With SPF (day use)
    Remember, the key to achieving and maintaining healthy looking skin lies in consistency. Exfoliating twice a week with ExfoliKate® will reveal a noticeable difference – even after just the first use! The surface of your skin will feel softer and smoother than before. After using for several weeks on a regular basis, you’ll see a significant improvement to your skin texture and pores.

Add exfoliation to your skincare regimen and start seeing the results appear on your face. For additional guidance, check out what the experts have to say about this skincare step with these esthetician tips for exfoliation! Once you’ve figured out your skin type and preferred exfoliation method, you are well on your way to clear, more luminous-looking skin.


How to Use Chemical Exfoliation — and Why You Should

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type
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Skin cells typically regenerate every month or so. But things sun exposure and aging can slow this process down.

That’s where exfoliation comes in handy. A quick way of removing dead skin, it can do everything from brightening your complexion to fading acne scars.

Two types of exfoliation exist: physical and chemical. The chemical type, consisting of a range of different acids, has become increasingly popular in recent years.

But there’s still some confusion over what it actually is and which acids are best to use. Here’s what you need to know.

The following acids can be used to treat these common skin concerns across each skin type.

Keep reading our guide to learn how to use them, get product recommendations, and more.

Chemical exfoliants are acids that get rid of dead skin cells. They come in various concentrations.

Weaker formulas can be bought over the counter, while stronger ones are usually applied by a dermatologist in the form of a chemical peel.

They work by breaking the bonds that hold skin cells together, says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Michelle Lee.

“As those bonds are broken, the top layers of the skin cells shed, revealing regenerated skin,” she says.

With regular use, skin feels smoother and looks more even in tone, pores are unclogged, and signs of aging may be less apparent.

While acids chemically remove the outer layers of the skin, physical exfoliants do so manually.

Taking the form of scrubs, brushes, and procedures dermabrasion, physical exfoliation can be too harsh for some.

It also doesn’t penetrate as deeply as the chemical version and therefore may not be as effective.

There are three main types of chemical exfoliant. All are acids, but some are gentler and less penetrative than others.

The main thing to remember is the higher the concentration and lower the pH, the more intense the exfoliative effect.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

AHAs include the s of glycolic, lactic, citric, and malic acid. They tend to come from fruits, but can also be produced synthetically.

With the ability to dissolve in water, they work on the surface of the skin to improve its texture, notes dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.

Glycolic and lactic acid are commonly used AHAs in skin care. Opt for a concentration of between 5 and 10 percent for high effectiveness.

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

BHAs are oil-soluble, so they can penetrate your pores, as well as work on the skin’s surface, explains King.

These deeper-working acids not only benefit skin texture, but also unclog pores and remove acne-causing sebum.

Examples of BHAs include salicylic acid and tropic acid.

Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)

PHAs work in a similar way to AHAs. “The difference is that PHA molecules are larger, so they cannot penetrate as deeply,” says King.

This is why they’re viewed as less irritating than other chemical exfoliants, particularly AHAs.

And although they don’t go as deep, PHAs — gluconolactone and lactobionic acid — have additional hydrating and antioxidant benefits.

AHAs are often used to improve skin tone and mild areas of discoloration.

BHAs, on the other hand, are ideal for oily or acne-prone skin due to their pore-unclogging properties.

If you have highly sensitive skin, a less intrusive PHA exfoliant may be the route to go down.

Whichever acid you decide to use, start off slowly. Try applying once a week to see how your skin reacts, increasing to two or three times a week if no irritation occurs.

Still not noticing results after 2 months? Switch to a different chemical.

Certain skin types gain more from AHAs, BHAs, and so on. Figure out your skin concern and you’ll be on your way to finding the right hydroxy acid.

If you have dry or sensitive skin

BHAs can soothe and calm skin, making them ideal for sensitive skin types or people who experience redness.

But PHAs, found in Zelens’ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads, are also an option for sensitive types. Studies have even found that PHAs are suitable for people with eczema and rosacea.

Shop for Zelens’ Bio-Peel Resurfacing Facial Pads online.

If you have dry skin, opt for an AHA. As they only work on the skin’s surface, they’ll help it cling onto moisture. The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid comes highly rated.

Shop for The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid online.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin

BHAs, particularly salicylic acid, are great for clearing pores of all the substances that can lead to breakouts.

Thinner liquid formats are ideal for oily skin — try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Exfoliant.

Shop for Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Exfoliant online.

“A potential downside to using salicylic acid is that it can make the skin feel drier,” notes King.

She recommends combining it with lactic acid, an AHA, to “improve the skin’s natural moisture factor.”

If you have combination skin

Combination skin requires the best of both worlds. Go for a serum containing salicylic acid for an anti-inflammatory exfoliating effect.

Caudalie’s Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum has a lightweight gel texture that won’t clog pores or dry skin out.

Shop for Caudalie’s Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum online.

If you have mature skin

AHAs can help diminish the signs of aging by targeting fine lines and deeper wrinkles. They can also deal with roughness, leaving skin glowing.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Alpha Beta Daily Peel contains a bunch of age-fighting antioxidants along with hydroxy acids.

Shop for Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s Alpha Beta Daily Peel online.

If you have hyperpigmentation or scarring

To reduce the visibility of dark marks and scars, use a BHA salicylic acid that can encourage skin cell turnover or a strong AHA formula.

With a 5 percent glycolic acid content, Alpha-H’s Liquid Gold is designed to help pigmentation and hydrate skin.

Shop for Alpha-H’s Liquid Gold online.

If you have signs of sun damage

AHAs have been proven to be effective in reducing the appearance of sun damage, says King.

She recommends a combination of two acids — glycolic and lactic — adding that, together, they “resurface uneven texture and reduce surface pigmentation while supporting natural cell turnover.”

Omorovicza’s Acid Fix contains both.

Shop for Omorovicza’s Acid Fix online.

If you’re prone to ingrown hairs

Both lactic acid (an AHA) and salicylic acid (a BHA) can help stop those pesky ingrown hairs.

They do so by getting rid of dead skin, softening skin texture, and physically lifting ingrown hairs above the surface.

Try the Malin+Goetz Ingrown Hair Cream for extra calming properties.

Shop for Malin+Goetz Ingrown Hair Cream online.

There are two things you need to remember post-exfoliation: moisturizer and sun protection.

Chemical exfoliants do have the potential to leave skin feeling dry. To combat this, moisturize well immediately afterward.

You’ll also need to apply SPF, as AHAs and BHAs can make skin more sensitive to the sun.

In fact, if you’re planning on spending a day in the sun, it’s best to apply an exfoliating acid at night.

You can, but you probably don’t need to. For the average person, one acid is usually enough to get the job done.

This is especially true for people with sensitive skin or who are using retinoids.

But if your skin could benefit from a little extra help, there are a few rules to stick to.

Combining PHAs with AHAs or BHAs is generally OK. But, notes King, “You will lose the benefit of [PHAs] being more gentle.”

It’s also possible to mix AHAs and BHAs, but stick to a gentler AHA, such as lactic acid.

Test the combination on your skin before going full steam ahead. Try it once a week and use gentle cleansers and moisturizers alongside to keep skin hydrated.

If you’re mixing acids, use the thinnest texture first, advises King. However, “You don’t need to wait for one to absorb before applying the next.”

Thankfully, it’s easy to notice when you’re exfoliating too much or not enough.

Signs of under-exfoliation include a rough texture, dull complexion, and a feeling that your skin care products are no longer working due to a buildup of dead skin.

Over-exfoliation commonly takes the form of irritation, such as inflammation and dryness. You may also notice breakouts and peeling.

If you experience any of the above, stop exfoliating until your skin has fully healed.

As long as you listen to your skin, chemical exfoliation is an easy and effective way to get that coveted glow.

Remember to start slowly with a low concentration. If your skin’s happy, increase the frequency and strength until you achieve your desired result.

Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on .


How to choose the best chemical exfoliation & more

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

Exfoliation is a necessity for all skin types, even sensitive, if you want healthy, happy skin. The benefits of exfoliating your skin are plentiful.

Regularly exfoliating can diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and even prevent them from worsening.

It can also help unclog pores, reduce hyperpigmentation, minimize the appearance of dark under eye circles and crows feet, and lessen excess oil production.

The key is to find the right exfoliator for your skin type. There are two main categories of skin exfoliation: chemical exfoliation and physical exfoliation. Within those categories there are a multitude of products formulated specifically for different skin types. Keep reading to see the best chemical exfoliators and physical scrubs for your skin.

Chemical Exfoliation vs. Physical Exfoliation:

Chemical Exfoliation

This form of exfoliating includes products that chemically dissolve the intercellular glue that holds dead (keratinized) skin cells together. This type of skin exfoliation penetrates the upper layers of the skin for a more complete removal of dead surface cells.

The following three chemical exfoliant choices can be used for chemical exfoliation at home or in the treatment room:

THE SKIN PERFECTOR: The unique, breakthrough formula of Skin Editor uses dual-depth glycolic and lactic acid chemical exfoliation to completely transform skin.

This powerful exfoliator works to edit skin imperfections and correct long-term damage without any harsh skin-stripping or surface scraping.

Almost an at home chemical peel, this elegant leave-on formula rewrites your skin's history.

THE LEAVE-ON GEL: The chemical exfoliant Quick Refiner is a leave-on gel exfoliant that visibly smoothes skin with powerful alpha hydroxy acids including glycolic and multi-fruit acids.

Quick Refiner is for most skin types from very dry to very oily, but not for those with easily sensitized skin.

This is a great option if you need a deeper skin exfoliation, or dis the feeling of physical facial scrubs.

THE UNDER EYE EXFOLIANT: If you want to target crows feet or dark circles, use the chemical exfoliant Quick Refiner for Eyes. This fast-acting formula is designed specifically for the skin under the eyes, and is ophthalmologist tested to be gentle and safe.

THE 15-MIN PURGE MASK: The deep purging facial mask Kerafole reveals fresh, radiant skin with the help of citric and malic acids. This mask can be used 1-2 times a week or every day for 7 consecutive days as the fan-favorite “Kerafole Purge” for a complete purge of impurities.

Physical Exfoliation

By definition, physical exfoliation is the “brisk removal of dead surface cells via rubbing and sloughing”. Basically, the dead surface cells are removed by physically sloughing crystals or micro-fine granules against the upper layers of the skin. Most skin types can opt for this form exfoliation – if they choose the right formulas:

THE GENTLE (BUT EFFECTIVE) FACIAL SCRUB: Measured Micrograins + is specifically designed for all skin types, including sensitive and unpredictable skin. Natural, eco-friendly jojoba beads exfoliate physically while the potent Chinese herbs, aloe, oatmeal and allantoin soothe and strengthen the skin. This is the ideal exfoliation choice for sensitive skin.

THE MICRODERMABRASION IN A JAR: Want a spa- experience at home? Exfoliate at home with Pumice Peel. This formula provides a manual microdermabrasion that buffs away dullness, fine lines and problem pores with ultra-fine pumice crystals. This physical scrub is ideal for those who do not have sensitive skin and want stronger physical exfoliation.

How to Exfoliate Properly

When it comes to physical and chemical exfoliation, less is more – so don't overdo it. Aim to exfoliate just 1-3 times a week, depending on the products you use and your sensitivity level. If you're using a physical exfoliator, make sure to scrub lightly with gentle pressure. Too much pressure causes injury to the skin.

Have any more questions about exfoliation? Sign up for our newsletter here or comment below!

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Are You Using the Right Exfoliator for Your Skin Type?

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

Whether you’re an exfoliation junkie or consider double cleansing your form of exfoliation, you could be harming your skin if you’re not using the right type of skin-sloughing agent.

We turned to the pros to give us all of the details on where most of us are going wrong.

Thankfully, Vermén Verallo-Rowell, MD, dermatopathologist and founder of VMV Hypoallergenics, and Rianna Loving, esthetician and founder of Orgo, were more than happy give us a breakdown on the best exfoliators for each skin type.

Michela Buttignol / BYRDIE

If you have oily skin, look for a physical exfoliator, a scrub or a cleansing device. “You can control them by using lighter pressure, finer grains, or lower settings as needed,” Verallo-Rowell says.

It’s easy to go overboard with physical exfoliators, which is why Loving also prefers scrubs that are not too abrasive. She recommends choosing light granules, jojoba beads, to avoid damaging the skin.

No matter what your skin type, make sure you analyze the type of exfoliating beads that are in your product. Certain shapes can cause micro-tears in the skin and cause irritation.

ClarisonicMia 2$169


The OG cleansing brush, this two-speed, deep-cleaning oscillating brush cleans six times better than hands alone. 

“Dry skin types can benefit from exfoliators that remove dead, dull skin but also provide hydration,” Loving says. Try something with the finest grains in a creamy, lotion texture, one that contains moisturizing oils or one that’s honey-based. “Scrubs that contain honey are perfect not only to exfoliate but moisturize as well,” Loving says.

VMV HypoallergenicsMoisture Rich Mild-Mannered Cleansing Scrub$24


In this cleansing scrub, finely milled pumice grains slough away dead skin while real coconut oil nourishes and acts as a lipid barrier on your skin to keep moisture locked in. 

If your combination skin is more on the normal-to-dry side, you also have options. Verallo-Rowell says, “You’re lucky enough to be able to use any exfoliator of your choice.” Since your skin type is less sensitive to exfoliation and you won’t be irritating any acne lesions, Verallo-Rowell recommends bumping up the exfoliating power with a medium-grade scrubbing particle.

FreshSugar Face Polish$25


Good enough to eat, this scrub made with pure brown sugar and real strawberries (vitamin C) buffs and brightens within minutes.

Combination skin that’s normal to oily can stick with a physical exfoliator or try a light chemical exfoliator. If you prefer to a product that will treat the oil, use a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid (or AHA). “Using cleansers with AHA will gently exfoliate, preventing pores from getting clogged with oil and dead skin cells,” Loving says.

PixiGlow Peel Pads$22


These 20% glycolic acid peel pads resurface the skin for a serious glow while rose water helps hydrate and soothe.

“Acne lesions are inflamed, so they need extra care to minimize further irritation,” Verallo-Rowell says. Avoid abrasive physical exfoliators with harsh grains, sugar, or salt, and facial brushes as much as possible.

“If you have breakouts, use a chemical exfoliator to fight oil and acne from a deeper level in the skin,” says Loving. “AHA and BHA acids ( salicylic, lactic, and glycolic) will be most effective.

These will not only fight oil and remove pore-clogging dead skin cells but also improve skin's texture and repair acne scars.”

Mario BadescuGlycolic Foaming Cleanser$16


This acid-based cleanser is designed to dissolve dead skin cells while extracts of chamomile, yarrow, sage, and St.-John's-wort soothe and rejuvenate skin. It can be a bit drying, so only use up to three times a week.

Older skin tends to be sensitive and dry, but Verallo-Rowell says it still should be exfoliated in order to increase cellular renewal and allow active ingredients to penetrate the skin.

Try a physical exfoliator with super-fine particles, a microdermabrasion scrub, and aim to work in chemical exfoliation as well, “Chemical exfoliators can penetrate skin deeper to improve the appearance of fine lines,” Loving says.

Products that pack a combination of AHA and BHA acids will be your best bet.

Derma EMicrodermabrasion Scrub$33


Just add water to this scrub made with Dead Sea salt to reveal fresh skin cells and slough away dullness.

Sensitive skin types should avoid chemical exfoliation and most physical exfoliators too. Loving says that light powders, rice and oatmeal, are the safest option. Verallo-Rowell also points out that if you have truly sensitive skin due to a medical condition, you should skip the scrubbing all together.

SW BasicsExfoliant$24


This dry mix of gentle oat flour and almond flour works as a soft exfoliant, while a bit of sea salt does the heavy lifting. Mix with water to create a bespoke cleanser. If the salt gets to be too rough, consider grinding up your own oat flour mixture with steel cut oats at home.

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.


11 Chemical Exfoliators That Hold The Secret To Good Skin

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

It’s not hard to remember a time when acids were confined to chemistry class or the weapon of choice for Bond villains. Nasty, dangerous liquids that you wouldn’t want anywhere near you, let alone on your face.

Fast forward a few years, and chemical exfoliants containing just that have gone mainstream, stepping medical clinics and into the formulas of every major skincare product.

The reality is acids are not frightening at all. Harnessed in controlled quantities, they can dissolve dead skin cells, as well as oil, dirt and bacteria, to deliver a level of clean you simply couldn’t get from a face wash or physical exfoliator.

Big pores? Glycolic acid. Dull skin? Mandelic acid. Dry skin? Lactic acid. Oily skin? Salicylic acid. There’s an acid for every skin condition, so get over your fear and dive in for your best skin yet.

What Is A Chemical Exfoliant?

Chemical exfoliants are acids that react with the skin, removing built-up layers of dead cells and excess oil that can cause dull skin and blemishes.

“The results of chemical exfoliation are generally more uniform versus physical,” adds the godfather of acids himself, Dr Dennis Gross. “Though physical exfoliators do remove dead skin, it’s taking sandpaper to a wood surface – if you look closely, you can see scratches.”

How Do Chemical Exfoliants Work?

“Chemical exfoliants safely remove the top layer of dead skin, allowing new, youthful, healthy skin to show through,” says Dr Gross.

However, all acids have a different cellular composition. Those made up of large molecules focus on the outer layers of skin, while some are much finer, able to dive deep within the dermis for a more thorough exfoliation.

How Often Should I Use A Chemical Exfoliant?

“In the past, dermatologists advised against daily exfoliation – forget this,” says Dr Gross. “Today we have advancements in formulations which allow us to exfoliate daily without stripping or irritating the skin.”

Although the good doctor says so, if you are new to acids, it’s wise to start with a chemical exfoliant twice a week and work your way up to daily.

AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acids)

AHAs are a family of acids — including glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic and tartaric — that are water-soluble.

These are the ones you go to if texture, pigmentation, pores or a lacklustre complexion blight you.

“AHAs a great chemical exfoliating agent,” explains Dr Gross, “these improve cell turnover for a brighter, clearer and younger appearance. They can also help lighten brown spots that result from sun damage.”

BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acids)

BHAs — which mainly consist of salicylic acid — are oil-soluble and therefore able to dive deep into pores to dissolve excess sebum that can mix with dirt, dead skin cells and bacteria to cause blemishes. If blackheads, spots and general oiliness are your concern, go for a BHA.

Glycolic Acid

“Glycolic acid is an AHA with the smallest molecular structure, which allows it to penetrate the skin for deeper exfoliation. Glycolic acid is used to improve the skin’s appearance and texture through exfoliation while reducing fine lines, hyperpigmentation, dark spots and uneven skin tone.”

Lactic Acid

“Lactic acid is a naturally-occurring acid that’s more gentle than glycolic acid. Lactic acid helps exfoliate as well as speed up cell renewal and turnover. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a multi-tasker.”

Salicylic Acid

“Salicylic acid is a BHA that exfoliates the skin, reducing the number of pore blockages while building elastin and collagen. It’s also an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory acid which helps to calm and clarify the skin, making it suitable for combination to oily and acne-prone skin.”

Anthony Purifying Astringent Pads

Astringent pads are a great option if you want total ease – a few swipes over the skin and you’re done.

Strong enough to give results, but soothing enough for daily use, Anthony’s blend of witch hazel, azelaic acid and aloe vera will strip the skin of impurities and excess oil without drying your complexion. With 60 vegan-friendly pads in the tub, you get a decent bang for your buck, too.

Buy Now: £25.00

111SKIN Exfolactic Cleanser

Sensitive skin is a frustrating condition to deal with. The trick is to use products less often, so your face has time to calm any inflammation or irritation. Instead of pure chemical exfoliant, opt for a cleanser with exfoliating properties. This one by 111SKIN is designed to stay on the skin for only a short period before being neutralised by water.

Buy Now: £45.00

Alpha H Clear Skin Tonic

If your face is no stranger to breakouts, reach for a product containing salicylic acid. The only oil-dissolving acid, it will get deep into blocked pores and clean them out. Clear Skin Tonic by Alpha H is enriched with chamomile, cucumber, arnica and thyme to calm any inflammation and redness.

Buy Now: £8.75

The Inkey List PHA Toner

Relatively new on the skincare scene, PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) offer the most gentle form of chemical exfoliant, sloughing away dead skin while also drawing water into the top layers.

If your skin is dull, dry or congested, this is the chemical exfoliant to go for.

Opt for The Inky List’s PHA Toner, which combines the gentle acid with aloe vera and niacinamide (a form of vitamin B) to have you looking fresh.

Buy Now: £9.99

DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel

For a chemical exfoliant that packs a serious punch, it’s hard to go wrong with DCL’s Multi-Action Penta Peel Pads. Don’t let that frighten you, though. The product doesn’t leave your face tight or red. Instead, the blend of acids (salicylic, hyaluronic, lactic, phytic and mandelic) will conquer all concerns, leaving your face so smooth you won’t be able to stop touching it.

Buy Now: £58.00

Malin+Goetz Ingrown Hair Cream

A psychical scrub is a great way to take care of everyday ingrown hairs. For particularly stubborn ones, or for sensitive skin that loathes too much fuss, however, there’s Malin+Goetz’s chemical exfoliant cream. Glycolic and salicylic acid will get rid of any trapped debris, while vitamin B5 helps heal broken skin. It works on both the body and face for that post-manscaping routine.

Buy Now: £27.00

Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Dr Dennis Gross is the godfather of acids, so it’s no surprise his first at-home peel is a cult-favourite. A blend of five acids (including salicylic to dissolve excess oil), plus antioxidants and vitamins, it comes in two steps: one to exfoliate and one to strengthen skin. This is the chemical exfoliant to splurge on if you want to change the tone and texture of your skin overnight.

Buy Now: £18.00

REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum

Acids aren’t just for your face – prone to collecting dead skin that even the best shower gel can’t wash away, your body needs exfoliating too. Part serum, part moisturiser, part exfoliant, Ren’s AHA-infused body treatment will smooth out any rough bumps, get rid of built-up cells and pep-up dull areas, so you can strip off without shame.

Buy Now: £35.00

The Ordinary Lactic Acid + HA

Lactic acid is as hydrating as it is exfoliating. Combine that with the humectant properties of hyaluronic acid (capable of holding up to 1000 times its weight in water), and you’ve got one serious dry skin destroyer. Ensure water doesn’t escape once it is drawn up to the top of the dermis by sealing it in with a good moisturiser.

Buy Now: £5.50

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Ask any grooming expert how to tackle pesky blackheads, and they will tell you that this is the product for this issue. Created by industry favourite Paula’s Choice, the two per cent salicylic acid formula wastes no time dissolving oil sitting inside the pore. For the full effect, combine it with a charcoal mask to see off the rest of the deep-rooted gunk.

Buy Now: £23.80

Votary Blemish Rescue Oil

If it’s just the occasional spot you suffer from rather than full-blown acne, give this blemish-rescue oil a go. Applying oil to a spot might sound counterintuitive, but that’s not the case.

Spots are almost always dry and damaged around the area they’ve surfaced, breaking the skin and causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

This little warrior negates all of that, dissolving bacteria while nourishing the surrounding area.

Buy Now: £35.00


How To Choose The Best Exfoliator For Your Skin Type

The Right Chemical Exfoliator for Your Skin Type

“I have sensitive skin. Can I exfoliate?”

“Last time I tried an exfoliator, my skin got so red and sore. Should I really give it another go?”

“Exfoliation’s not working for me. I’ve tried every scrub under the sun to get rid of my pimples, but those nasty buggers are still there. What else can I do?”

Don’t give up on exfoliation. No matter your skin type or what woes you’re dealing with, exfoliation IS the key to the brighter, smoother and pimple-free skin you crave.

But then… why does exfoliation often backfire? The problem is not exfoliation itself. It’s what you use to exfoliate.

That’s right. Different skin types have different needs. They need different exfoliators to fulfil them. Question now is, how do the heck do you know which one is right for YOU?

I’ve got your back. Here’s how to choose the best exfoliator for your skin type:

Why Should You Exfoliate?

First thing first: what the heck is the point of exfoliation?

Exfoliation  does wonders for your skin. It removes the dead cells that accumulate on the surface of the skin.

You see, those dead cells have been there for a while. They’ve been attacked by UV rays, pollution, germs and all other sorts of skin enemies. Day after day, they’ve suffered so much damage, they’ve become rough to the touch, developed a darker colour here and there, and lost all their glow.

Get rid of them and you expose the newer skin underneath. These new cells didn’t suffer much damage yet, so they’re softer to the touch, even in colour and have a glow of their own.

Exfoliation doesn’t just make you look younger overnight. Now those dead cells are the way, your skincare products can penetrate skin better and faster.

One more thing: some exfoliators can get inside the pores, unclogging them from within. Bye bye breakouts!

Related: 10 Reasons Why You Should Exfoliate Your Skin

How Do You Exfoliate Skin?

Did you know your skin can exfoliate on its own?

Problem is, as you get older, this natural exfoliation process breaks down. Your skin can’t exfoliate as well as it used to on its own.

You can tell when this is happening. You skin becomes rough. It loses its glow. You may get more pimples than before.

That’s your cue to give your skin a helping hand. You can do this in two ways:

1. Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliation means you’re manually scrubbing dead cells off your skin. You can do this with:

  • Apricot kernels
  • Clarisonic
  • Foreo Luna
  • Microbeads
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Washcloth

Basically, if you’re using a scrub or a “cleansing device” (they’re exfoliators in disguise!), you belong to Team Physical Exfoliation.

Physical exfoliation is the most popular type of exfoliation. Heck, for years, those harsh apricot scrubs were all you could find at the drugstore!

I’m not a fan of physical exfoliation. Let me count the reasons why:

  • Natural particles apricot kernels have rough, jagged edges that scratch and irritate skin
  • Plastic microbeads are polluting
  • Cleansing devices are too harsh to be used everyday as advertised
  • Massage them a little too long and you irritate skin
  • Massage them longer on the cheeks than the forehead and you get uneven exfoliation
  • They’re one-trick ponies that only exfoliate skin

Related: Is The Clarisonic Good Or Bad For Skin?

2. Chemical exfoliation

Don’t let the name scare you. Chemical exfoliation is a gamechanger.

Chemical exfoliation uses acids to dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together, so they can slough off.

I know it sounds painful but it’s not. Not unless you abuse it. Exfoliating too much or too often always leads to irritation. In small doses, chemical exfoliators are way gentler than scrubs, exfoliate skin evenly and go the extra mile.

I’ll go into the benefits of each exfoliant in a minute. For now, all you need to know is that chemical exfoliants belong to two different families:

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids: they’re suitable for dry and sun-damaged skin. The most famous members are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
  • Beta Hydroxy Acids: they’re suitable for oily and acne-prone skin. Its most famous remember is salicylic acid.

Related: Why I Prefer Chemical Exfoliants

Why Exfoliation Can Screw Up Skin (And How To Avoid It)

Exfoliation is magic for your skin. But even good magic can terribly backfire if you do it wrong.

You see, those dead cells are there for a reason. Their job is to protect the living cells underneathIf you remove too many layers of dead cells, you expose the rawer cells that weren’t ready to come to the surface yet.

That’ll turn your face red (and hurt hell). So how do you avoid it? Easy. To find the best exfoliator for you, you need to know two things:

Related: How To Determine Your Skin Type (Plus, Free Test!)

What’s The Best Exfoliator For Each Skin Type?

If you’ve read this far, you know your skin type. So what’s the best exfoliator for it and how often should you use it? Let’s find out:

What to use:

Salicylic acid. This beta hydroxy acid is the best exfoliator for oily skin – bar none. It exfoliates skin in two ways. It removes dead cells from the surface of the skin, and then penetrates inside the pores, getting rid of all the crap that’s clogging them up. Bye bye blackheads & breakouts.

How often?

This is the skin type that better tolerates exfoliation. I recommend you start exfoliating three times a week. But, if your skin can take it, you can gradually increase frequency.

Best picks:


Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot Free Skin

What to use?

Glycolic acid. This alpha hydroxy acid doesn’t just get rid of dead skin cells. It also boosts the production of collagen and hydrates skin. That’s something your skin badly needs!

The Bottom Line

Exfoliation is for everyone. The key is to find the best exfoliator for your skin type and needs so you can get brighter, smoother skin without any side effects.

Do you know what the best exfoliator for your own skin type is? Share your picks in the comments below.