Ever wonder why a baby’s skin is so soft? It’s because babies naturally replace their skin cells every few days. As you grow older, however, the rate of cell turnover slows down dramatically. Dead cells on your skin’s surface hang around much longer, a fact that tends to accentuate those fine lines and can make your complexion look dull and lifeless. By removing these dead skin cells, exfoliating your skin—whether physically with scrubs or chemically using acids or enzymes—helps make up for the gradual slowing down of your natural skin-renewal process, improving the tone and texture of your skin.
There are two ways to exfoliate your skin: chemical exfoliation, which uses acids or enzymes in cosmeceutical product ranges to remove dead skin cells, and physical exfoliation, which utilises a hard substance to manually remove the dead skin cells—think microdermabrasion.
As a general rule of thumb, acne-prone and highly sensitive skin responds very well to chemical exfoliants (cosmeceutical) as they are less likely to cause irritation. But one can certainly use both a physical and chemical exfoliant in conjunction with one another and benefit greatly from both, but it would be absolutely recommended not to use both on the same day to avoid over exfoliation.
In cosmeceutical exfoliants, the most common types are those containing alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA’s) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). Both AHA’s and BHA work by combining with the structural lipids in your stratum corneum (the outermost layer of your skin) and dissolving them so that the dead skin cells break away.
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s)
They are among the most common types of light chemical peels. The AHA family of acids is derived from natural sources, such as fruit, milk or sugar. Two of the most widely used in skin care products today are glycolic acid (made from sugar) and lactic acid (made from milk). AHA-based facial exfoliators are an excellent choice for people with oily skin.
Like the AHA’s, they are a light chemical peel. In general, BHA is a more effective treatment for acne-prone skin. BHA (also called salicylic acid), is a synthetic derivative that comes from the same source as aspirin.
If you have very sensitive skin, it is often recommended to look for facial exfoliants that are enzyme-based. These enzymes come from a natural source, like fruits, and work in the same way as acid-based but in a much slower pace, so it allows for an extremely safe and gentle exfoliating process.