Exfoliation 101

Exfoliation 101

December 15th - Exfoliation is necessary to remove the dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This allows the rest of your skincare products to penetrate better and do their work. With all of the exfoliating products on the shelves, it can be very confusing figuring out the difference. Which should you use for your skin?

There are two types of exfoliation. Physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation can be done by using washcloths, scrubs, or brushes such as Clarisonic or Foreo. You manually buff away dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants use acids, alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids to dissolve the bonds that hold the dead skin cells together. Let’s take a closer look.


Alpha hydroxy acids are naturally occurring acids. They come from fruits, sugarcane, and milk. Here are a few that you might hear about or see in products.

  • Lactic acid - from dairy
  • Glycolic acid-from sugarcane
  • Malic acid-from apples
  • Citric acid-from citrus fruits
  • Tartaric acid-from grapes

Lactic and glycolic are the most common. Alpha hydroxy acids dissolve the glue that hold the dead skin cells together. They can improve skin texture, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduce hyperpigmentation, reduce acne, help increase collagen and elastin,reduce visible signs of aging, and reduce sun damage. Which is best? Glycolic or lactic? Glycolic has smaller molecules, so it penetrates better. There’s a greater chance for irritation though. Lactic acid has larger molecules, so its more gentle, especially if you have sensitive skin.


Beta Hydroxy acids can penetrate into the pores in addition to exfoliating the skin. Salicylic is the most common BHA used in skincare. It can penetrate the pores and exfoliate the dead skin cells that build up there, making it a great choice for people with acne. They are a better choice for oily/acne-prone skin. By exfoliating the dead skin cells inside the pore, it prevents them from getting clogged and causing breakouts. Salicylic acid is great for oily or combination skin. If you already have dry skin, salicylic acid can make it dry and irritated. Some other examples are betahydroxybutanoic acid, tropic acid, and trethocanic acid. So now you know about physical and chemical exfoliation and differences between AHA’s and BHA’s. Now, here’s a few tips.

  • If you decide to use chemical exfoliation, its important to start out slow to make sure there’s no irritation.
  • If you decide to use physical exfoliation, make sure the products you use have very fine particles. Anything too large will be too abrasive and might cause micro tears in your skin. Don’t rub too aggressively.
  • Do a patch test. Try your product on a small area of skin first. If no irritation occurs, you can continue use.
  • Always apply sunscreen. AHA’s and BHA’s can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
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