Acid Exfoliation

When people think of acids, they often quickly imagine a chemical peel gone wrong, à la Samantha Jones from Sex in the City. Yet, what if I were to tell you that acids are skincare’s best multitaskers, can be used daily, and allow other products to work more effectively?

What are acids? Instead of thinking about your high school chemistry lab, think of it this way: acids are chemical compounds proven to aid in resurfacing your skin, rebalancing the pH of your skin’s outermost layer, fighting blemishes and hyperpigmentation, correcting old sun spots, strengthening your epidermis, softening and preventing wrinkles, helping rid of pesky spots, aiding in the synthesis of collagen and other peptides, brightening, etc. The list is endless.

Many acids can be food derived; for example, lactic acid comes from milk. There are two main types used in skincare: AHA’s (Alpha-hydroxy-acids) and BHA’s (Beta-hydroxy-acids). Alpha-hydroxy-acids, in general, are used to resurface, refine and brighten the skin. Examples include: glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, and citric. Glycolic is one of the best for resurfacing, as it has the smallest particle size and can penetrate your skin most deeply. AHA’s also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it is advised to only use them at night unless you are not leaving the house / wearing and reapplying SPF throughout the day.

Beta-hydroxy-acids, such as salicylic, are used to keep pores clean and do not cause any sun sensitivity. BHA’s are less likely to cause irritation, as AHA’s are water soluble and BHA’s are lipid soluble. You will often see salicylic acid (or willow bark, its natural derivative) in products designed to help clear acne.

Why do I need them? Acids are the best way to exfoliate daily without using overly harsh microbeads, scrubs, grains, etc. Instead of manual exfoliators, acids are known as chemical exfoliators, gently removing the outermost layer of dead skin on the epidermis. Unlike scrubs, acids are often a better choice for sensitive skin (when chosen correctly.) Although some like to think a scrub makes skin feel more clean, they are more likely to exacerbate current issues, creating more damage than was present to begin with.

Most importantly, acids allow your serums and moisturizers to penetrate more deeply. Acids can oftentimes save you money, as you end up using less product than you would normally. Why? Because acids effectively remove dead skin and resurface your epidermis, your skin can better absorb the product being applied. You will begin to notice that not only do your serums penetrate more deeply and readily, they will also work more effectively.

Where do I use acids in my routine? Acids come directly after cleansing, in the toning/exfoliating stage of your routine. If your skin is sensitive, begin with mild acids, always be weary of denatured alcohol at the top of the ingredients list, and notice as your skin builds tolerance. Follow with a hydrating toner, containing aloe vera, algae, floral waters or hyaluronic acid. If your skin is less sensitive, you can begin using acids regularly from the start. As with any new product you begin to implement, pay attention to how your skin gets on—increase or decrease use as you see fit and be careful not to over exfoliate.

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