Exfoliants – What are they?

Naturally your skin is constantly shedding dead cells. This process’s speed can be altered by sun damage, genetics and skin disorders. When your skin is unable to shed cells at a desired rate, these old cells begin to build up – this leads to clogged pores. These clogs pores can cause blemishes; white bumps; and uneven skin tone. Exfoliation helps speed up the process at which your skin can remove these dead cells off of the surface. The results ares are: unclogged pores – this can prevent a lot of skin related problems (acne, wrinkles, dry skin, etc).

There are two different types of exfoliation:

  • Chemical
  • Physical

Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation is the use of hydroxy acids in order to exfoliate the skin. Hydroxy acids enjoy tremendous interest in cosmetology thanks to their skin anti-ageing and water barrier enhancing activities.One of their actions is to promote the natural shredding process of the skin. It has been confirmed that hydroxy acids can increase the skin shedding process by up to 10.9%. Chemical exfoliation is the preferred method of exfoliation because it’s gentle and effective.

Physical exfoliation is the use of abrasives in order to manually exfoliate the skin. Unfortunately physical exfoliation only deals with the very top, superficial layer of the skin, while most of the unhealthy build up layers of cell are beneath this surface. What is most problematic is that many scrubs contain abrasives that can create tiny lacerations in the skin and cause micro tearing which can damage the skin’s barrier. Scrubs generally cause more harm than good. If you’d like to use a physical exfoliant, you could apply your cleanser to a soft washcloth – this will be as effective as any cosmetic scrub product.

Different Types of Acids

When talking about chemical exfoliation there’s two different types of acids used to exfoliate the skin: beta hydroxy acids and alpha hydroxy acids.

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

The most common BHA used in dermatology & cosmetics is known as Salicylic Acid. Salicylic Acid is an lipid soluble acid, this means it’s capable of penetrating through oil to exfoliate the pores. This is why Salicylic Acid is the favored acid for use on oily skin. It also contains many anti-bacterial properties which makes it a superior acid when dealing with active acne.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

When talking about AHAs there are a few used in skincare, the two most common are:

  • Glycolic (derived from sugar cane)
  • Lactic (derived from milk)

Although there are a few others that are gaining popularity:

  • Mandelic (derived from almonds)
  • Kojic (derived from fungus)
  • Malic (derived from apples)
  • Tartaric (derived from grapes)

AHAs have been recognized as a key asset at dealing with a variety of conditions. These conditions include: photodamage, acne damage, melasma, hyperpigmentation and rosacea. Although their exact mechanism of action is unknown, it has been proven that AHAs improve these disorders by thinning the outermost layer of the skin, loosening the epidermis, dispersing melanin in the innermost layer of the epidermis, and increasing collagen synthesis within the dermis.

Choosing the Correct Acid For Your Skin

Deciding which acid is better for your skin type can be tricky.

  • BHAs are superior at dealing with acne prone and oily skin because they are lipid soluble and can penetrate through oil to properly exfoliate your pores.
  • BHAs are also known for their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties: this makes them ideal for sensitive or reddened skin.
  • AHAs are superior at dealing with sun damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate on the outer layer of the surface of the skin.

If your skin is sun damaged and you also have Acne you should use a BHA. Some people choose to use both, although it’s not really necessary.

How to use a BHA or AHA Exfoliant

Exfoliation should be the second (or third if you use a toner) step of your skincare routine. If you need help with your skincare routine click here.

  • BHAs can be used twice per day
  • AHAs should be used only at night as they make your skin more sensitive to sunlight
  • Apply the BHA or AHA product to dry skin after you’ve cleansed and toned (optional)
  • Allow the exfoliant to completely dry
  • Continue with the rest of your skin care routine