Scared of Chemical Exfoliants? Here's Everything You Need To Know


The words "chemical exfoliant" can be a little daunting to people, and often downright scary. After all, the thought of our skin peeling off resembles a scene from a horror movie more than it does the beauty influencers on our Instagram. The fact of the matter is that everyone's skin reaches maximum capacity at some point and starts to collect dead cells on the surface, leading to blemishes and majorly clogged pores. Getting rid of this top layer can be achieved through regular exfoliating methods, but sometimes, we need extra assistance to get the job done.

What are the benefits of chemical exfoliants?

There's a reason people love them: the longer you use, the more beneficial it becomes for your skin. You'll start to see more skin softness and smoothness, a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles (as well as prevention), and an overall more youthful appearance. Some users have even reported clearer skin, as it aids in the removal of clogged pores.

What sets chemical exfoliants apart from regular exfoliants?

Physical exfoliants can really only do as much as your hands allow, whereas chemical exfoliants are working independently behind the scenes. It helps to penetrate a deeper layer of skin further than what you can do with a simple scrub, allowing for even more fresh skin to shine.

What are the main risks and side effects of chemical exfoliants?

Chemical exfoliants are super strong. If you over-exfoliate, it can cause premature aging and damage to your natural skin barrier that protects you from environments. In conjunction, your skin can try to overcorrect and wind up causing more irritation, dryness, and even acne (yikes!). To avoid these risks, most chemical exfoliants should be used no more than twice per week. Only use them in conjunction with non-exfoliating products - which means no scrubs, cleaning brushes or layering up on lactic, salicylic, glycolic, etc. Better to under-do it than overdo it with these powerhouses. 

Who should, and who should NOT get chemical exfoliants?

Almost anyone can benefit from chemical exfoliants! However, if you have any specific skin care concerns or disorders, such as psoriasis, extreme dryness, or acne, talk to a skincare professional (you can speak to one of our beauty professionals here).

How do I know which chemical exfoliant is right for me?

There are a few different types of chemical exfoliant ingredients that suit different skin types and needs:

  • AHA (Alpha hydroxy acid): Some of the more popular AHA chemical exfoliants are those with Lactic, Glycolic and Malic Acids, which are more organic acids sources from plant and animal byproducts. They're considered more hydrating, and therefore better for dry, aged, or normal skin types. These are a little less irritating to the skin since they are water soluble, and really only work on the surface of the skin (so they are great as toners and cleansers). 
  • BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid): A BHA exfoliants are also hydrating, but they are oil soluble - which makes them better for oily or normal skin types. These are really great decongestant acids, meaning they break apart clogged pores and blemishes.
  • Enzymes: These are by far the most gentle out of all your options. They really only work on eating dead skin cells rather than breaking through several layers. If there isn't anything to eat, they aren't very active. We recommend these for adding immediate texture refinement and brightening rather than deep exfoliation. 

How do I use a chemical exfoliant?

A traditional exfoliant happens after the second cleanse. Ideally, a skin routine would look something like this :
1. Cleanse a first time to remove any makeup, dirt, or other topical layers accumulated from the day.
2. Cleanse a second time to purify your pores more thoroughly.
3. Exfoliate (that's where these bad boys come in).
4. If you want to do a face mask, this would be the time.
5. Apply your toner.
6. Add serums for nighttime, or SPFs for daytime.
7. Finally, moisturize!
If your chemical exfoliant of choice is a cleanser, make the following adjustments:
1. Cleanse a first time with your normal cleanser.
2. Cleanse with your chemical exfoliant.
3. Skip the exfoliation step (in other words, don't double up).
4. If you want to do a face mask, this would be the time.
5. Apply your toner.
6. Add serums for nighttime, or SPFs for daytime.
7. Finally, moisturize!

Okay, so now that I know which type is best for me, which product do I use?

Here are our top recommendations based on your particular needs:

Need an exfoliant for dry, aging, acneic, or normal skin?
Need an exfoliant for oily-to-normal skin?

Need something super gentle?
We recommend the Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant - it's the gentlest of the bunch, and can be used up to 2-3 times per week!
how do i use a chemical exfoliant

Posted by Sadie Upwall

Project Manager and Editor for the best little beauty business in SLC.



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