Chemical exfoliation for a brighter complexion

Chemical exfoliation has significant advantages over mechanical exfoliation.


Recently, exfoliating products with alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) as well as enzymes have become more popular in Western beauty market. AHA is a group of organic compounds such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid and tartaric acid. In cosmetics, AHA is naturally derived from glycolic acid in sugar cane, lactic acid in milk, malic acid in apples, citric acid in citrus fruits like orange or lemon, and tartaric acid in grape wine.

For AHA to be able to exfoliate, molecules must penetrate the dead skin cells while still remaining on the surface. Then, the AHA will work on the links between dead skin cells and new skin cells to push away old cell layers. To do this, the molecular structure must be small enough. In the AHA group, glycolic acid is the smallest molecule. Therefore, exfoliation products with AHA usually have glycolic acid as the main ingredient.


BHA has only one member, salicylic acid. This is a common ingredient in acne creams because it can pass through the oil layer of the pores. In addition, BHA is also antiseptic. Compared to AHA, BHA can go deeper into the skin. It can not only exfoliate, but also clean the pores and treat acne, as well as whiteheads and blackheads.

Because both AHAs and BHAs work well to improve the skin's surface, they are sometimes combined to bring about reciprocal effects at low levels.

At spa or beauty salon, AHA/BHA levels are higher than normal. The masks containing these two hydroxyl groups are often carefully timed by technicians. Beauty products containing these ingredients are used at home in lower concentrations. Therefore, skin burns due to beautifying with AHA/BHA could barely happen.



Enzyme exfoliating products are a quite new product line on the market, created based on the ability of the enzymes to break down proteins. The three most commonly used enzymes are bromelain (extracted from pineapple), papain (extracted from papaya) and pumpkin enzyme.

Compared to exfoliating seeds, enzyme is extremely light on the skin. However, it needs a suitable environment with the right temperature and pH to work. Therefore, enzyme facial scrubs, masks or toners can work very well in temperate countries, but when they reach tropical or polar countries, they may not work as expected.

Some outstanding products:

- Pixi's Glow Tonic with glycolic acid as main ingredient is a gentle exfoliating toner.

- Benton's Aloe BHA Skin Toner is a moisturizing and exfoliating toner suitable for sensitive skin.

- Kate Somerville's ExfoliKate combines lactic acid with three fruit enzymes - papaya, pineapple, and pumpkin to exfoliate effectively.



Without sun protection and moisturizing the skin after exfoliating, you are creating an opportunity for freckles, moles, dark spots or, even worse, skin cancer. Right after exfoliating your skin, applying serum and moisturizing the skin are extremely necessary.

For acne skin or sensitive skin, AHA/BHA exfoliating is the most practical. Depending on the condition of your skin, you can exfoliate 1-3 times per week, but absolutely not every day. In addition, some ingredients such as retinol in anti-aging creams or benzoyl peroxide in acne creams can also exfoliate. So after exfoliating, it's best not to use products that contain these two ingredients immediately. Just moisturize your skin to keep it in balance.




By: Olivia Mendoza

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