Chemical Exfoliants - It’s Not All Bad

Chemical Exfoliants - It’s Not All Bad
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

One of the essential step in our daily skincare routine is to exfoliate because we need to clean up the dead skin cells. By neglecting to keep the skin clear, results in dirt and oil build up leading to clogged pores which would then results in dull skin and breakouts.

Most of us use physical exfoliants which are facial scrubs, but not many have heard or use chemical exfoliants, because they fear them.

Physical Exfoliation vs Chemical Exfoliants

Physical Exfoliants make use of micro-beads or small grains to physically scrub your skin clean; removing debris and dead skin cells. Scrubbing leaves you with satisfactory results - refreshed, glowy and smooth skin.

Different scrubs cater to different skin types. However, you might want to avoid using force when scrubbing as it leads to skin irritation, redness and micro-tear (little tears in the skin).

On the other hand, chemical exfoliants are made of various low-percentage chemicals to remove dead skin cells and break the bonds of skin cells for new cells to turn over. Chemical exfoliants exist in different forms such as cleansers, serums, toners, peels and in some cases moisturisers. These are better options for sensitive skin as there’s no scrubbing involved.

Find out how our members enjoy using physical exfoliants on our webpage for Winter Organics Cacao Facial Scrub and Himalaya’s Clear Complexion Whitening Face Scrub.

Chemical Exfoliants: Difference between AHA and BHA

Chemical exfoliants are classified into two different acid groups: AHA (Alpha-Hydroxy Acid)  and BHA (Beta-Hydroxy Acid).

AHA is water-soluble acids which derive from sugary fruits. Its purpose is to help peel the surface layer of the skin so that new cells can generate and turnover the old ones. Whilst BHA is oil-soluble and it can reach deep into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum from the skin.

Should I use AHA?

AHAs are made from sugar, milk, nuts and fruits. Most common ones you have are; Citric Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid and Mandelic Acid. They are effective in exfoliating skin (breaks down bonds that hold skin cells together), boosting collagen production, hydrates skin and reduces fine lines.

If you apply it during the day, do apply sunscreen afterwards as AHAs increases the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. AHAs are best suited for dry, sun-damaged (glycolic acid) and sensitive skin (lactic acid only).

Unsure which AHA to start out with? We would recommend Dr. Hsieh 10% Mandelic Acid Home-Peeling Liquid! Find out what our members are saying about this product by clicking on the link.

Should I use BHA?

The only BHA widely used is Salicylic Acid which derives from willow bark tree.  The properties differ from AHA because BHA penetrates pores (unclogging them from within), is anti-inflammatory and reduces the appearance of fine lines and dark spots.

When BHA is used in lower-concentration (1% or 2%), it is effective enough and less likely to cause skin irritations. However, it can still irritate the skin when used too often. Likewise with AHA, apply sunscreen at the last step. As BHAs are oil-soluble, it can penetrate and unclog pores which makes them better for oily and acne-prone skin.

Avoid mixing with...

Retinol (Vitamin A)
with AHAs and BHAs. Both properties are at the top of the game in exfoliating. Too much of both could lead to skin redness, irritation, sensitivity and dryness.

Vitamin C with Acidic ingredients such as glycolic or salicylic acid. Vitamin C’s pH level is 3 and mixing it with other acids could alter its pH level, thus not being as effective as compared to being used  on its own.

Niacinamide with Acidic ingredients. When used together, they chemically ‘cook’ and turns Niacinamide into Niacin which causes skin redness and flushing.

Combining AHA and BHA

Once BHA or AHA is applied, allow 30 minutes in between before applying the other chemical exfoliant as you need to wait for the skin’s pH level to neutralise back. Consider alternating by applying one in the morning and the other at night, or alternating days - AHA once or twice daily on Monday followed by BHA once or twice daily on Tuesdays and so on.

If you have combination skin - oily T-zone with dry cheeks, you can try applying BHA product on the T-zone and AHA product on the dry areas. Benefitting both properties at one go.


It’s the year 2018 and  we’ve long progressed beyond the needs for facial scrubs with a better technology: Chemical exfoliants. You don’t see your peers or others still using a pager do you?