Chemical Exfoliation For Beginners - Apr 1

Many of us grew up using physical exfoliants, so if you're anything like me, hearing everyone raving about chemical exfoliants may stress you out, especially when you hear the word "acid" alongside the names of these products. I'm a sticker for routine and i really don't like change. During the 2020 Covid-19 Lockdown, i ran out of my basic skincare products and there was nowhere to buy from. Bear in mind that I wasn't using anything extravagant, my face wash and face cream were from Simple. Anyway, my fiancé used regular body wash and body lotion on his face and he had really smooth skin, I naively joined in. It's safe to say that was a horrible decision because the picture on the left is what happened a few weeks after and the picture on the right is how chemical exfoliants fixed it. Chemical exfoliants may sound scary but they require minimal effort and provide maximum benefit. I've done all the work for you and broken down everything you need to know.

The first thing you need to know is what exfoliation is and why it's needed. Your skin regenerates roughly every month so you need exfoliation to remove the dead skin. It's as simple as that. Physical exfoliation is a manual method of removing dead skin. It involves using face scrubs with granules/micro-beads that buff away dead skin cells. Some of these granules are usually too harsh and cause micro-tears on your skin. Chemical exfoliation also gets rid of dead skin but it does this by using chemicals to break off the bond between your skin cells, which in return loosens up the dead skin and allows you wipe it off. They are generally more gentle to your skin than physical exfoliants. EVERYONE should be exfoliating their skin.


The next step is knowing which types exist and what they're used for. There are three main types and they are;

  1. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

  2. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

  3. Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)


1. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

AHA's are suitable for dry skin. They are water soluble acids made from sugary fruits but they can also be produced synthetically . They work by peeling off the dead layer of your skin so that your new more evenly-pigmented skin can show. AHA's are primarily used for treating enlarged pores, mild hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tones. They include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, e.t.c. AHA's make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you need to make sure you're wearing sunscreen daily. I've compiled a list of my favourite black girl friendly sunscreens HERE.

I have oily-combination skin so I personally don't use AHA's. However I've compiled a few of the best ones on the market below.

  • SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser Gel. Shop HERE


  • PIXI Glow Tonic. Shop HERE


  • Olay Vitamin c + AHA resurfacing peel. Shop HERE



2. Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)

BHA's are suitable for combination, oily and acne-prone skin. They are oil soluble and are able to get deeper into your pores to remove dead skin and excess sebum. BHA's have natural skin-calming properties suitable for sensitive skin and they don't make your skin as sensitive as AHA's but you should still use sunscreen daily. Common BHA's include salicylic acid, beta hydroxybutanoic acid and tropic acid. I have oily-combination skin so BHA'a are my best friend. My favourite BHA's are below.

  • COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. Shop HERE

  • Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. Shop HERE

  • The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution. Shop HERE


Some products contain both AHA's and BHA's. If you have problems that both AHA's and BHA's aim to solve such as a combination of dry skin, acne, and hyperpigmentation, a combination of both products are you best bet. These are some of the best products on the market.

  • The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Exfoliating Peeling Solution. Shop HERE

  • AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid. Shop HERE.

  • Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser,Triple Action Exfoliating Facial Cleanser. Shop HERE

3. Poly hydroxy acids (PHAs)

These are similar to AHA's in that they break down the glue that holds dead skin cells to your skin. The main difference is that it has larger molecules so it can't penetrate deep into your skin like AHA's. PHA's work solely on your skin's surface without disturbing the inner layers of your skin. This ensures maximum skin work with minimal irritation. If you have very sensitive skin and you find AHA's and BHA's too harsh, PHA's are for you. Some of the best ones include;

  • Lixirskin Night Switch PHA/AHA 10%. Shop HERE

  • ELEMIS Superfood Day Cream. Shop HERE

  • Mandelic Clarifying Cleanser


N.B - Remember to always read the instructions on how to effectively use any product you purchase and check ingredients used in case you have any allergies.

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