Understanding the science behind physical and chemical exfoliation and decoding what is best for your skin!
When Kylie Jenner introduced her new skincare range, one product, in particular, drew criticism from skincare professionals and enthusiasts. This was the $22 walnut scrub described as gentle, with an active ingredient of walnut shell powder for exfoliation.
Why was it such a controversial product, as it is just a physical exfoliant that polishes skin with small granules!
A leading Board Certified Dermatologist mentioned that physical exfoliants could be unreasonably harsh and rough on the skin causing dryness and irritation. With time, they can cause microtears and damage the skin, leaving it prone to irritability.
A good alternative for those who are interested in a physical exfoliant is the one with a fine powder (as opposed to granules) for gentle exfoliation. It not only makes the skin feeling smooth and polished but also contains moisturising ingredients to leave the skin feeling soft.
Excluding exfoliation entirely is not proposed. Exfoliation removes dead skin and buildup, which allows your skincare products to penetrate appropriately and encourages skin renewal for smoother and brighter skin.
The best substitute to a physical exfoliant, you should consider switching to a chemical exfoliant. Skincare experts recommend the over-the-counter (chemical exfoliants) which are often gentle enough with minimal side effects, for example dryness and irritation.
It is suitable for reduction in acne and discolouration along with a brighter complexion. Chemical exfoliants like AHAs and BHAs (alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids) dissolve and slough off the top layer of dead skin to reveal more radiant and rejuvenated skin. Hyper-pigmentation, uneven skin tone and diminish the appearance of pores, wrinkles and fine lines, all can be tackled using these exfoliants. Several serums, toners and masks contain these AHAs and BHAs.
Picking the right chemical exfoliant- consider the differences between AHAs and BHAs first.
A well- known esthetician explained that- the water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acids like lactic, glycolic and malic acid exfoliants could be moisturising, skin brightening, address texture and hyperpigmentation. For beginners, lactic and mandelic acids are recommended. They both have some moisturising properties, less irritating and due to a large molecular size than other acids, they don’t enter your skin as deeply. Oil-soluble Beta-hydroxy acid (BHAs) exfoliates the skin surface and inside the pore, reduce the sebum and oil production targeting inflammation, acne, breakouts and congestion.
Dermatologists also suggest a combination of an AHA or BHA effective for treating acne and breakouts, while hyperpigmentation and uneven tone at the same time. They further explain that chemical exfoliation should be done post-cleansing 3x a week or less, keeping in mind the product instructions and one’s skin sensitivity.
Undoubtedly, exfoliation is necessary, but over-exfoliating can have a reverse effect on the skin, causing irritation, dryness and breakouts. Follow-up with a moisturiser or heavier creams and oils for nighttime use, or a moisturiser and sunscreen for the day. If you are new to adding acids in your skincare regime, they can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.