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New to chemical exfoliators? Here is a complete beginner’s guide to different types of chemical exfoliators in skincare. These exfoliators are acids found in many skincare products ranging from serums, creams, toners, cleansers, and peels.
Choosing the right type of chemical exfoliator for your skin type is important but how do you go about it when there are lots of exfoliants on the market? This post will help you get to know what chemical exfoliators are, the types of chemical exfoliators and the best chemical exfoliant based on your skin type.
The most popular chemical exfoliants are glycolic acid, mandelic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acids. I am sure you must have come across “The Ordinary” skincare line. They have a wide range of different types of chemical exfoliators.
Before I go further with chemical exfoliants, I would like you to read my post on exfoliation and how the skin works, this will set the foundation for understanding why we need to exfoliate the skin.
Types of Chemical Exfoliators In Skincare
There are two common types of chemical exfoliators, which are; Alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). You will mostly find the two together or alone. The less common types are polyhydroxy acids (PHA) and Bionic acids.
These exfoliators are derived from fruit acids and are designed to exfoliate the skin. They have been around for more than 40 years used to treat skin disorders. These acids are effective in reversing wrinkles, hydrating, and improving skin elasticity. Now let’s have an in-depth look at AHA, BHA, and PHA chemical exfoliants.
Types Of AHA Acids
AHA, also known as alpha-hydroxy acids, are the most studied out of all the hydroxy acids. You can find them in many food and fruits and they work best within the concentration of 5% to 10% with a PH of 3 to 4. They are also water-soluble which makes them best for dry skin, and sun-damaged skin without breakouts.
This AHA is derived from sugarcane. It is the smallest, simplest, commonest, and strongest chemical exfoliant. And due to its small size, it can penetrate the skin easily and effectively. It could also be irritating to the skin if not used properly. A great example is found in The Ordinary Glycolic 7% Toning Solution.
This is derived from sour milk or tomato. The size of lactic acid is about 3 microns making it the second most common exfoliant used in the beauty industry. It is considered to be gentler on the skin compared to glycolic acid and is most suited for sensitive skin. You can find this in The Ordinary Lactic Acid
Derived from apples and pears. It is typically larger than both glycolic and lactic acid which makes it unable to penetrate the skin layers. You would usually find it in combination with other stronger AHAs in skincare formulation. You can find it in Kate Somerville resurfacing liquid
Derived from grapes/red wines. Tartaric acid is two times larger than the glycolic acid compound. It often helps to stabilize the PH of stronger AHAs. You can find this in Dr. Dennis Gross Radiance Booster Serum
Derived from citrus fruits. It is in the same fashion as tartaric acid, which helps stabilize PH. It is also used as a preservative. You can find this in Skinceuticals Age Defense serum
Derived from bitter almonds. It is the largest AHA and due to this, it penetrates less quickly than glycolic acid. This is one of the reasons why mandelic acid is less irritating and more gentle on the skin. You can find this in The Ordinary Mandelic and Hyaluronic acid solution.
How Does AHA Work On Skin
The most common AHAs in the beauty industry are glycolic acid and Lactic acid. Due to their small size, these acids act on both the epidermal and dermal skin layers. When applied topically on the skin, they chelate calcium ions in the cells. The decrease in calcium ions in the epidermis causes exfoliation to occur by the removal of dull, dead, and rough skin cells.
As a result of this process, new skin cells are regenerated. But care needs to be taken because too much of it might make the skin vulnerable to UV light.
Types Of BHA Acids
BHA; also known as Beta-hydroxy acid, is a type of acid found in willow tree bark, and wintergreen leaves. BHA’s are known to be oil-loving meaning they bypass the oil that clogs pores, dissolves the mix of sebum, and loosens dead skin cells that lead to acne.
BHA has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties which may reduce irritation. In addition to this, they also clear up blackheads and whiteheads. BHA’s main ingredient is Salicylic acid and it works best within the concentration of 1-2% with a PH of 3.
Salicyclic acid is fat-soluble. It works by going deep into the skin pores and dissolve sebum, which in turn, improves skin conditions. It is the commonest and less irritating due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Although salicylic acid is considered the most widely used BHA in skincare, most researchers claim it should not be classified as a true BHA because it does not function therapeutically and physiologically as a BHA. Despite this claim, consumers, FDA, and cosmetic brands classify it as such. You can find this in The Ordinary Salicylic Acid Mask
Types Of PHA Acids
PHA; Poly-hydroxy acid is known as the second generation of AHA. Its molecular structure is larger than AHA and BHA, meaning they can’t penetrate deeply into the skin. Even though it may sound like a drawback, it is great for sensitive skin because it is more gentle on the skin than the other chemical exfoliants.
It works by sloughing off dead skin cells and hydrates the skin at the same time. These properties make it great for all types of sensitive/ or dry skin such as eczema or rosacea. The main PHA ingredient is Gluconolactone
It is the most popular PHA found in skincare products. You may also find gluconic acid, zinc gluconate, or copper gluconate. They basically do the same thing; exfoliate. You can find this in Neostrata Bionic Lotion
Best Types of Chemical Exfoliators For Different Skin Types
Dry or thick skin
You would want to go for products that combine PHA and bionic acids. This combination has been shown to have an unparalleled efficacy in treating dry skin and they return the skin to its normal state.
For example, the combination of lactic acid, glycolic acid, mandelic acid, bionic acid, and gluconolactone in a formulation will successfully treat your dry skin. You can find this formulation in Neostrata’s resurface dry skin cream.
Oily and acne-prone skin
For the treatment of oily or acne, you would want to go for products containing glycolic acid or salicylic acids. They both work effectively in reducing the bacteria causing acne and reducing oil production. You may go for any of the products mentioned earlier in the post
For this skin type, it is best to go for chemical exfoliants that are very gentle on the skin. PHAs are best for this skin type because they are less irritating. Use products that contain gluconolactone.
Using products that contain AHAs such as glycolic and lactic acid will work amazingly well for hyperpigmentation. Studies have shown that the combination of this duo inhibits melanin formation in the skin and therefore, brightens the skin. You can find this in DermaDoctor healthy toner
Wrinkled skin treatment
Although the golden treatment for treating wrinkles is retinol. AHA has also been shown to be very effective in treating wrinkles caused by UV lights. Look for products that contain glycolic and/or Lactic acid. They work well to improve hyaluronic acid levels in the skin thereby reducing the appearance of wrinkles
Now that you know the several types of chemical exfoliators, it is only right to start using them. However, care must be taken so that you don’t over-exfoliate your skin. If you think you have over exfoliated your skin, then read this post to know steps to heal over exfoliated skin. I hope this post has helped you to find the right type of chemical exfoliators for your skin type.