Physical and Chemical Exfoliation

Physical and Chemical Exfoliation

Have you ever experienced dullness, clogged pores, blackheads, flakiness, loss of firmness, or wrinkles on your skin? Scratch your face lightly, and millions of unseen skin cells get collected in you fingernail. When these skin cells continue to build up on the surface of your skin, chances are that you may experience some the above conditions.

More importantly, if you’re experiencing any of these conditions, you may also find that your day to day skincare products just don’t seem to react favourably anymore. This is because the skin cells on your face have collaborated in forming a wall to limit the penetration these beneficial ingredients.

But fret not, because all is good if you have an excellent exfoliant. Exfoliating your skin is important, but how do you do it gently?





Physical Exfoliation



Some people prefer to exfoliate their skin physically with scrubs that contain some rough materials like microbeads. However, there has been a recent outcry regarding microbeads in skincare products and pollution. This may seem farfetched, but microbeads in skincare products are inevitably washed down the drain after being used and flow into waterways. From there, they can possibly pollute the ocean and damage marine life as well as the eco system.

As activists push for a ban on microbeads, many cosmetic companies are now replacing microbeads with natural and environmentally-friendly alternatives, such as grains, jojoba and walnut beads. But these types of physical exfoliants can be harsh if their size or texture is not suitable for your skin. So, carefully choosing which texture works best for you is crucial.

Do you like using a soft washcloth or brush (like Clarisonic) while cleansing your face? They are also great physical exfoliants to clean your skin thoroughly (especially if you wear make-up). Still, physical exfoliation can never replace the benefits of including a well-formulated AHA or BHA exfoliant in your skincare routine.



Chemical Exfoliation      



While physical exfoliation targets only the skin’s outermost layer, chemical exfoliation works on the slightly inner, deeper layer of your skin. By doing so, it can fight multiple signs of aging, giving you radiant and younger-looking skin, as well as other wonderful benefits such as minimizing pores, reducing wrinkles, brightening skin tone and alleviating breakouts.

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid - Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic acids) and BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid – Salicylic Acid) are two most common and effective exfoliating ingredients in the formulation of skincare products.

Let’s dive into a little bit of chemistry. In order to know if a chemical exfoliating ingredient is gentle for skin, we can look at its pKa value (logarithm used to describe the strength of an acid). Generally, when the pKa value is lower, the acid is stronger.

BHA has been found in research to have a pKa value of 2.95. It is stronger than AHA, which has a pKa value of 3.83. Hence, you can often see BHA in 1% or 2% concentration, while AHA is normally formulated in a concentration of 5% to 10%, in order to achieve good exfoliating results. Since BHA is a naturally stronger acid than AHA (even if it exists in 1% to 2%), it does an amazing job at exfoliating your skin.



Some tips for choosing between AHA and BHA products:



  • BHA is oil-soluble, so it has the ability to penetrate into pores and dissolve oil. It is excellent in preventing clogged pores, reducing pore size and is best for acne-prone skin.
  • BHA is a relative of aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), and has chemical properties that offer anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory functions. It is ideal for extra sensitive skin and people struggling with constant redness and rosacea.
  • AHA is recommended for people with dry skin or those who are concerned for sun damage. AHA exfoliates the top layer of your skin and stimulate regeneration of collagen and elastin, like skin does when it is youthful.


That being said, sometimes you have to personally try and experiment between AHA and BHA, its % of concentration, and the frequency of using it to find out what works best for your skin type. Some people may even have beautiful results while cleverly combining both AHA and BHA in their skincare routine.

If you are including an expertly-formulated exfoliant in your skincare routine and using sunscreen with at least SPF 30 during the day, we can be pretty sure that your skin looks fantastic, and much smoother and younger compared to your same-age peers.

One concern that some people have regarding AHA or BHA products is that they can make skin sensitive or “thinner”. This is simply not true because, while AHA and BHA take away unwanted dead skin cells on the outer layer of your skin, they are concurrently stimulating the collagen production underneath the skin. Therefore, theoretically, they make your skin “thicker” instead.

With all its given benefits, it is true that a well-formulated exfoliant should be free from all irritating ingredients. So, is intensely frustrating to see that a lot of exfoliants these days use a high concentration of alcohol as a solvent to dissolve exfoliating agents. Some brands even add peppermint extract or menthol to give a cooling sensation, cheating consumers by providing a false sense that the product is working because it feels cool on the skin. The cooling sensation in fact means nothing beneficial except your skin’s way of saying “hey, I am being irritated!”



AHA Exfoliant for Beginners

If you have no experience using an AHA exfoliant before, start with this:-

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA has a light and fast-absorbing formula that exfoliates and hydrates the skin. It also shrinks pore size for a smoother looking skin. This exfoliant can be used on all skin types.





AHA Exfoliant for Intermediate Users

If you have no sensitivity with 5% AHA or lower, been using for 1-2 months, and would love to see more positive results from deeper exfoliation, consider this:-

Minimalist Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid 1% is perfect for all skin types and is formulated to reduce blemishes and bring out the glow in your skin.





AHA Exfoliant for Stubborn Concerns (Advanced Users)

If your skin responds well to 5%~10% strengths of AHAs, and you wish to see better results on deeper wrinkles, sagging skin, consider this:-

Alpha Intensive Renewal Serum with 14% AHA has a light liquid texture. Besides unclogging and shrinking pores, it also reverses signs of photo aging like spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.





BHA Exfoliant for Beginners

First time using a BHA exfoliant to prevent clogged pores, reduce oiliness and get glowing skin? Start with one with 1% strength or lower.

Geek & Gorgeous Calm Down 4% PHA + 0.8% BHA Liquid has a water-like texture but amazingly exfoliates the skin while also providing moisture. It builds a clearer skin by soothing irritated skin and is recommended for sensitive skin.



BHA Exfoliant for Intermediate Users

Time to level up the skin-transforming game if your skin loves mild BHA exfoliant! 2% BHA might seem low, but it’s the maximum strength recommended for use on persistent congested pores, blackheads, whiteheads and acne breakouts. Good BHA formula gives a beautiful glow to skin, overnight if you first use it. Paula’s Choice formula has been a classic for over 25 years.

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid is created for all skin types but is especially suited for normal to oily to combination skin. This is a gentle exfoliator that solves all pore related issues and smoothens wrinkles and skin surface.



Still unsure which one to choose? Drop us a message describing your skin type and skin concerns here, we are ready to help! Just take a minute to share with us your concerns. After you know how to choose the right products, you will be rewarded with life-long beautiful skin.

Real anecdotes of AHA or BHA exfoliants beautifully transforming one’s skin is so common. Hope to hear your personal experience with AHA and BHA exfoliants in the comment section below! :)


Your Sharing: Are you currently using any exfoliating product, or planning to try one? How has exfoliant changed your skin?

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