I still recall my attempts at exfoliating my skin when I was a teenager; I would get the popular apricot scrub of those days and just rub and rub until my skin is raw and begging me to stop! Thankfully those days are long gone but the desire to exfoliate has not abated…luckily …exfoliants have evolved into those gentler acids, enzymes and also scrubs that remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, thus exposing a clearer complexion that looks more even and feels smoother. Exfoliating is crucial for your skin as it solves many immediate problems such as clogged pores, acne discolouration and dryness but what is the best kind for your skin type? Is it an acid, an enzyme or a granulated scrub? We will explore these options in a three-part article and today’s article will discuss exfoliating acids.
What Are Exfoliating Acids?
If you’re an avid follower of CIIN then you’ve probably heard of AHA’s and BHA’s. Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids are the exfoliating acids in question. These acids are used to create a chemical reaction on the skin that lowers pH which in turn will help dissolve the glue that holds the skin cells together.
AHA’s target the outer layer of the skin since they are water soluble so they won’t be able to penetrate the pores deeply, unlike BHA’s. Look for products with lactic, glycolic, malic, mandelic, and tartaric acids, as these are amazingly effective in removing pigmentation resulting from sun exposure or acne.
BHA’s are oil-soluble molecules and these have the capacity to deeply penetrate the skin to exfoliate deep inside the pores. BHA’s are salicylic acid and betaine salicylate and these are excellent for unclogging pores and removing dead cells inside the pore lining that lead to blackheads and breakouts. BHA’s are clearly stronger than AHA’s which means that they’re not recommended for pregnant women.
If you have clogged or large pores, blackheads, blemishes, flakiness and dryness, fine lines and wrinkles, dullness and discolouration you should use acid exfoliants. They’re quite safe even for people with rosacea and are very easy to use.
To do the scrubbing at home using an acid exfoliant make sure that the products used have an acid percentage that falls within the pH range of 3-4, with a concentration of 5%-20%. Read the labels.
Acid in Products?
Acids can be found on their own as exfoliants as well as in other products though they will vary in strength and concentration. The best way to use an acid exfoliant is to use it in the form of a serum because serums have the smallest molecules and these will be the most effective.
Using acids with your cleanser is a good way to jumpstart the exfoliation process albeit in a gentle way as cleansers get washed off. Using a toner with an acid base also provides quick exfoliation but is not as effective as the leave-on formulas. However, it is not recommended to use an acid toner followed by an acid cream or serum as it will be too strong on the skin. For those using retinol, it is recommended that you use an acid toner prior to applying your retinol as this will help the active ingredients better penetrate the skin.
If you’re the type who prefers using exfoliating creams then aim to use creams with AHA’s instead of BHA’s, because again the molecule size plays a role. Creams have large molecules so the BHA’s won’t be able to penetrate pores and won’t be as effective as AHA’s. On the other hand, exfoliating masks are a big hit for that quick fix since the viscosity of masks means that they cling to the skin, they come in stronger formulations, and they need to be kept on for some time. You should also not skimp on body exfoliation and undereye exfoliation albeit aim to use specialised products.