How Chemical Exfoliants Can Take Your Skin to the Next Level
Helps reveal the new skin from underneath
First of all, what is an exfoliant?
An exfoliant is a skincare product that exfoliates your skin. Exfoliating helps get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. Dead skin cells don’t fully shed which can cause them to collect together and cause conditions such as whiteheads, blackheads, acne, and clogged pores.
That is why it is important to regularly exfoliate your skin to replace old dead cells with healthier newer cells. This also has the effect of improving skin texture and making your skin glow.
There are two types of exfoliants: physical & chemical. Physical exfoliants contain small particles in the product that mechanically scrub away the dead skin cells. That is why with physical exfoliants, you have to gently massage your face so the dead skin cells can scrub off. Unlike physical exfoliants, chemical exfoliants don’t use grainy material but instead use ingredients with a low pH that help loosen dead skin cells. These acids break down the sugars in the skin which then causes the cells to slough off.
While physical and chemical exfoliants have the same purpose of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, chemical exfoliants tend to be better than physical. Since physical exfoliants use grainy materials to scrub away dead skin cells, this results in micro-tears in the skin. You can’t see micro-tears hence the name and physical exfoliation can be too harsh if not done properly. Since chemical exfoliants don’t involve scrubbing the skin, they are considered to be safer than physical exfoliants.
There are two types of chemical exfoliants: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) & beta-hydroxy acids (BHA). Even though they contain the word “acids”, these are generally safe to use provided that you use them properly. There are several AHA but the most common are glycolic & lactic acids. The most common BHA is salicylic acid.
First I will talk about AHA and then I will shift over and give the spotlight to BHA. Let’s go!
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA)
AHAs are water-soluble acids derived from sugar cane or other plants which is why they are sometimes given the name “fruit acids”. AHAs of course exfoliate the outer layer of the skin by cleaving the retained bonds between dead skin cells.
They mainly work on the surface of the skin instead of penetrating deep into the pores. AHAs are also able to stimulate collagen production by increasing collagen synthesis of fibroblasts which helps reduce the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles. AHAs are generally recommended for hyperpigmentation, fine lines & wrinkles, enlarged pores, etc. The most common acids in this group are glycolic & lactic acids.
Best for: normal, combination, oily skin
Glycolic acid is the most popular AHA used in skincare products. It is also one of the smallest AHA so it easily gets into the skin. Glycolic acid helps to separate the connections between dead skin cells without rough exfoliation techniques.
Because glycolic acid is small, it is able to penetrate deep into the epidermis which helps make this acid anti-aging and is able to hydrate and brighten the skin. Even though salicylic acid (BHA) is best known for being particularly effective in treating acne, glycolic acid is good as well. It un-glues dead skin cells from each other which help prevents whiteheads, blackheads, & clogged pores.
Best for: normal, dry, & sensitive skin
Lactic Acid is an AHA used in skincare products. It is also one of the most popular AHAs though not as popular as glycolic acid. It is considered to be gentler than glycolic acid mainly because it has a larger molecular size compared to glycolic acid.
This large molecular size helps lactic acid to stay on the outer surface of the skin instead of penetrating deeply which is why lactic acid is excellent for people with sensitive skin. Like all AHAs, lactic acid exfoliates the skin by separating the connections between dead skin cells. Lactic acid is known particularly for its ability to improve skin’s moisturization level which helps in smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA)
BHAs are oil-soluble acids unlike AHAs which are water-soluble. This means that BHAs can work both on the skin surface and penetrate deep into the pores to exert its maximum unclogging potential. This also means that BHAs are best for oily skin, acne-prone skin, and skin that is prone to congestion. The most common BHA is salicylic acid.
Best for: Normal, oily, acne-prone, congested, enlarged pores skin
Salicylic acid is a BHA that is considered the holy grail for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble which helps it to penetrate deep into the skin and effectively unclog pores. It helps reduce acne-causing bacteria and reduce signs of redness. While salicylic acid is unclogging pores, it is also exfoliating the skin which helps reveal newer skin from underneath.
One interesting fact is that salicylic acid is related to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Aspirin is a common drug that is used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this relation, salicylic acid is excellent for reducing inflammation which helps reduce redness and acne.
Exfoliating is an important part of any skincare routine. Our body naturally sheds millions of dead skin cells every day and over time, these skin cells start to pile up. Exfoliating on a regular basis can expose newer healthier skin cells from underneath that will help maintain a young, glowing, and bright complexion.
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