Top 3 Chemical Exfoliants + How They Work

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However, something relatively new to my skin care regime has been the chemical exfoliant, and with much trepidation at first! I’ve chosen my Top 3 Chemical Exfoliants to help break down (ho-ho) the details.

“It was an impulse purchase!” // Source Image

If you’re around my age, or love the Sex and the City seasons, you may be familiar with the episode where Samantha gets a chemical peel at her clinic on a whim. She spends the rest of the episode in pain with a red raw face to boot. It was this episode alone that warned me off chemical exfoliants. Of course, I was severely misinformed. When they use words like ‘acid’ and ‘peel’ – can you really blame me?

Firstly, what are chemical exfoliants? There are two types of chemicals that are in chemical exfoliants: AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHA (beta-hyrdoxy acids). You may already be familiar with using AHAs and BHAs without even knowing! A common AHA is glycolic acid, and salicylic acid, which works great against pimples, is a BHA.

AHAs penetrate the upper layer of your skin to help dissolve dead skin cells, in the same way that you would remove them physically with a scrub. As you can probably imagine, dissolving something doesn’t harm the existing healthy skin cells, so it leaves skin soft and undamaged. BHAs can penetrate into the pore itself, but as these levels of BHAs are so slight, they won’t do much in the way of changing your skin overnight. It’s a gradual process.

While some of the salon grade chemical peels can result in a similar redness and sensitivity, the at-home chemical exfoliants are no way near as harsh. Brands simply aren’t allowed to provide us with a chemical exfoliant that isn’t safe enough to be not used by a trained professional. Most consumer chemical exfoliants have between 5% and 10% glycolic acid, whereas a peel is done by a skincare or healthcare professional and uses concentrations between 20% and 70%. However, always check the percentage of concentration on the product, so you know what level of chemical you will be dealing with!

Firstly, Alpha-H Liquid Gold with Glycolic Acid* (RRP $54.36) has been a long time favourite of mine. This exfoliant contains 5% glycolic acid, along with silk proteins and licorice extract. Simply moisten a cotton pad with the Liquid Gold, swipe onto cleansed skin, wait until dry, and follow with a serum or moisturiser. As the percentage is quite low, this one can be used consistently up to 3 times per week without irritating your skin.

The John Plunklett Glyco Peel (RRP $29.95) contains 25% glycolic acid, making it one of the strongest chemical exfoliants available outside of a salon. Due to it’s high concentration, it’s worth mentioning that this product is recommended to be used every day for one week, and then give your skin’s a week break in between. This will ensure your skin doesn’t become overly sensitive. If you’re looking for fast results but don’t want to shell out for salon treatments, this product is for you!

Lastly, one that is newer in my routine is the Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel (RRP $), which has won a slew of international awards since 2007. It contains extracts of papaya (to exfoliate), pineapple (to brighten) and milk proteins (to nourish), and has a glycolic percentage of around 10%. While the Alpha-H Liquid Gold and John Plunkett Glyco Peel are overnight ‘peels’, the Elemis Peel is to be left on the skin for 10-15 minutes, before washing off and continuing your skin routine.

What are your favourite chemical exfoliants?

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