antiaging · exfoliaton · skincare

Exfoliation 101 Part 2: Chemical exfoliation

You may think that using chemicals on your face is not a good thing, but don’t fret. I talked about physical exfoliation previously. I’ve recently ventured into chemical exfoliation, and so far I’ve been enjoying using this method!

As I mentioned in my previous post, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) defines exfoliation as the process of removing the topmost layer of skin cells, and chemical exfoliation as the process of applying an acid to dissolve those cells – as opposed to physical or mechanical exfoliation where you use a brush or scrub to physically remove those cells.

Lab Muffin describes chemical exfoliation as a more indirect way to shed skin cells by normalizing cell turnover and/or unsticking the cellular glue holding dead skin cells together. Formulations vary, and products may not work or work too well that they irritate the skin and “cause uneven pigmentation and burns.”

If you have skin sensitivity, or suffer from rosacea or inflammatory acne, please read this guide by AAD before selecting any method of exfoliation. 

Lab Muffin also has a terrific exfoliation guide and series of posts on exfoliation – please check out her website for more in-depth information! 

AHAs and BHAs

Some of the more common chemical exfoliants readily available on the market include leave-on hydroxy acid products containing AHAs or BHAs.

AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acid products, include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and mandelic acid. When using AHAs, sun sensitivity is increased, so you will definitely need to use sun protection. You should be wearing sunscreen everyday anyway, so this should not be an issue! 

BHAs, or beta hydroxy acids, usually referring to salicylic acid, are oil soluble, and are therefore recommended for oily, acne prone skin.

How to use chemical exfoliants

The chemical exfoliants I have tried usually come with very specific directions. Since the products do the work on your skin as soon as you put them on, you would want to be careful not to leave a product on too long or risk irritating or making your skin sensitive.

I’ve been using Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intense Exfoliator for several months now with great results and no side effects. It’s worked pretty well for my robust, normal-oily combination skin. It contains both lactic acid and salicylic acid, so it contains both AHAs and BHA. There is a mild tingling when you apply this product. The directions indicate applying it on your face for about 30 seconds, and washing it off after another two minutes.

I’ve also tried Glamglow’s Supermud Clearing Treatment, which to me seemed like a charcoal clay mask and chemical super exfoliant in one, containing both AHAs and BHAs. You get a tingling sensation as soon as you apply it. I would recommend not leaving this on longer than the recommended window of five to twenty minutes, max. I loved the immediate results with this one – my skin was so radiant and soft!

Dr. Neal Schultz of DermTV explains the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation in the video below. He just does not specify how often one should be exfoliating. Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group recommends exfoliating no more than two or three times a week in this InStyle article.

Do you use chemical exfoliants? Which products did you like or didn’t like? And how often do you exfoliate? Please share below! 🙂


One thought on “Exfoliation 101 Part 2: Chemical exfoliation

  1. This sounds interesting to try 🤔 Loved this entry. I just found your blog today and I’m definitely following to keep up with the rest of your content. Looking forward to your future posts! I would love it you could stop by sometime!
    Mena |


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