We get asked a lot - “chemical or physical exfoliants?” Typically, we will recommend chemical exfoliants in order to avoid abrasive facial scrubs. Chemical exfoliants are acids that essentially slough away dead skin cells, congestion and debris from your epidermis. These byproducts would otherwise congest the skin, clogging and irritating the pores. Congested skin then leads to a bunch of different problems — such as surface dryness, texture, inflammation and/or unordinary sebum production. When exfoliating, it allows ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin to work their magic and help keep our skin (and it’s microbiome) at a happy state. There are multiple types of chemical exfoliant groups that serve similar purposes, but use different actives to achieve different results. Between AHAs, BHAs, and Azelaic Acid, there are many means to exfoliate your skin. Let’s dive into a fun little breakdown of our chemical exfoliants to gain a better insight on which ones to pull from at different points in time.
CLASSIFICATIONS: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs), Azelaic Acid, & Ferulic Acid
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
TARGETS: Hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone & surface dryness
AVOID: If your skin barrier is damaged; in combination with retinoids; in combination with Vitamin C
MOST COMMON TYPE OF ACID(s): Glycolic and Lactic Acid
GLYCOLIC ACID - Think glow; colorless acid that is derived from sugar cane. Molecularly the smallest AHA, so it seeps deeper than lactic and other acids, but not as deep as BHAs.
LACTIC ACID - Think texture and tone; derived from milk or fermented alternatives. This acid helps hyperpigmentation and age spots, which can consequently reduce the appearance of large pores.
Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)
TARGETS: Acne, sun damage & scarring
AVOID: If your skin barrier is damaged; in combination with retinoids; in combination with benzoyl peroxide
MOST COMMON TYPES OF ACID(s): Salicylic Acid
SALICYLIC ACID - Think acne treatment; derived from willow tree bark through chemical isolation. It also soothes redness and inflammation, which makes this for me, 10 times better than benzoyl peroxide.
TARGETS: Acne, rosacea, pigmentation and surface dryness
AVOID: Safe to use in conjunction with most ingredients
WORKS WELL WITH: AHAs, BHAs, and Retinol
RECOMMENDED: For all skin types, especially acne and rosacea-prone skin
OUR PICK: Azelaic 10
We heart chemical exfoliants, because they help decongest our skin and help product penetration. So, yes: skip the St. Ives Apricot Face Scrub and opt out for a chemical exfoliant!
RecommendationsAziMD Skincare Azelaic 10; The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%