Exfoliation for the skin can get slightly messy and potentially irritating, but it is a necessary step if you’re looking to achieve a healthy-looking, radiant skin.
Exfoliants on the market today run in two lanes, namely, physical and chemical – technically, they both achieve the same results by sloughing off dead skin but they do so in very different ways.
Why exfoliate? Imagine your skin is a dish sponge and dead skin a thin layer of plastic wrapping around the sponge. Without removing the plastic, water can never be absorbed into the sponge. Similarly, without adequately removing the layer of dead skin on your face, your expensive skincare products can never properly penetrate into your skin and thus, not working as it should be.
Today we will focus on chemical exfoliants – acids because The Ordinary has tons of them. We will dig into how they work, the effects and potential side-effects that may result in using these products.
We should definitely be more cautious when it comes to using acids. Acids when formulated at an effective pH level, will almost always cause inflammation on the skin. However, acids are not necessarily a disaster for our skin because the current technology allows us to still reap the benefits of acid treatments without the possible side effects that you may get from it.
AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)
- Lactic Acid
- Mandelic Acid
- Glycolic Acid
- Azelaic Acid
- Tartaric Acid
- Citric Acid
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) are a group of water-soluble ingredients that work by exfoliating the uppermost layers of the skin. Doing so, it reveals a refined and less textured skin and potentially firmer skin with prolonged use. It is capable of un-gluing the bonds that are tying the dead surface skin cells that make your skin dull, patchy and flaky. It is generally preferred for drier skin types and it is also capable of hydrating the skin too. It is a great treatment for PIH & PIE – Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and Post-inflammatory erythema and anti-aging. As it is photosensitizing, it is preferred to be used at night instead of the day.
Lactic Acid 5% + HA/Lactic Acid 10% + HA
Lactic Acid is a gentler form of AHA. This has a slightly larger molecular size, which means it does not penetrate as quickly and does not cause much irritation to the skin. They have a 10% version but I prefer this as it is gentler for my skin which I can use without worrying that it will sensitize my skin. It works great for mild exfoliation and pigmentation issues. 10% is a stronger formulation and it works exactly the same, only more efficiently and also more sensitizing.
Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Azelaic Acid is known to be a skin brightening type of AHA, it provides less exfoliation as the other AHA. This is often prescribed for acne scars, PIE and skin pigmentation. This formulation is a little too drying and too mattifying for me. This is way more suitable for oilier skin types
Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
This is the only toner in this category and, it is probably my favorite product in this category. This toner includes aloe, ginseng, and other wonderful ingredients. I apply this after cleansing with a cotton pad and swipe it with all over my face. There is a slight tingly effect like many other toners that contain glycolic acid does but it is nothing too uncomfortable. This toner does not smell like anything, unlike certain glycolic acid toners that have a vinegar-like smell. I do not use this toner on a daily basis just like any other acid treatments. Over time, it makes my skin softer and retexturized without any inflammation.
AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
This has a very high concentration of AHA, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. This is only for experienced acid users and it contains a range of acids including, glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic acid. It is meant to be used as a rinse-off mask, to be used right after cleansing and to keep on the skin for 10 minutes only. The color comes from the Tasmanian pepperberry extract. It spreads thinly and it has a vicious enough texture for it to not drip into sensitive areas like the eye area. Definitely, do a patch test and monitor skin closely when using. The tingly sensation is very gradual and it is not too prickly or uncomfortable. I was very pleasantly surprised by this product as it did not sensitize or irritate my skin. There were slight peeling on the next day but it was gone by the second day, resurfacing baby like smooth skin.
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acids)
- Salicylic Acid
- Citric Acid (some formulation only)
These are lipid/oil soluble and they have the ability to penetrate through clogged pores and de-gunk them.
They work really well for oily and acne-prone skin types as BHA can be potentially be drying on the skin. They are also anti-inflammatory and is great for any age to use to clean out the pores.
Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
This is meant for spot treatment, hence explains the smaller bottle. This can be used alongside another AHA treatment, and I will recommend using this first as it is capable of penetrating deeper into the skin. I use this on my T-zone where I generally have the most congestion. It has helped in reducing whiteheads and blackheads over time. It could be pretty irritating on active acne so I will not recommend using it on areas with active acne.
My personal picks from this list would be the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, AHA 20% + BHA 2% and the Salicylic Acid 2% Solution. The Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution works similarly to my favorite AHA product of all time, the Krave Beauty Kale-Lalu-yAHA and it is more affordable as compared to it. Of course, the Krave Beauty version has a more sophisticated formulation, but this product is a good start for people who wish to give Glycolic Acid a try! The AHA 20% + BHA 2% mask just reminds me of the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial. Amazingly, this is less irritating to my skin than the Drunk Elephant version. While both products work great on my skin, I cannot deny that the Drunk Elephant worked better. This will be a great alternative if you are an experienced acid user and looking for an affordable option. I have to mention the only BHA in the list, Salicylic Acid 2% Solution due to my acne-prone skin. This is a much better solution to the harsher benzoyl peroxide and I have completely stopped using benzoyl peroxide a few years ago when I have found all these wonderful, less skin-damaging acne treatment. It is affordable and it is effective, what more can I ask for when the bottle is only 11 bucks?!
I hope you find this helpful in helping you to narrow down choices and clear some questions regarding acid treatments!