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Skin exfoliation is the process of encouraging the outer layer of skin to shed, to stimulate cellular renewal. . Without proper exfoliation, pores can become clogged, leading to skin concerns like breakouts and blemishes. Aside from this, exfoliating the skin will prompt newer and healthier skin cells to remerge, leading to visibly younger and healthier-looking skin. Chemical exfoliants can stimulate exfoliation effectively and carefully without being too abrasive, allowing various types of existing exfoliants to be incorporated into a skincare routine with ease. Read on to develop an understanding on how chemical exfoliants work within the skin and the different types available. 

What are the types of chemical exfoliants?

The two main categories of chemical exfoliants used in skincare are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA) and are considered active ingredients. The main difference between alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids is that AHAs are water-soluble, while BHAs are lipid-soluble. Both types of hydroxy acids work by targeting the ionic bond between skin cells. When these bonds are dissolved the dead skin cells are gently sloughed away to make way for newer cells. This encourages a faster skin cell turnover rate, to promote the formation of visibly healthier-looking skin. Chemical exfoliants are often used in facial exfoliators, scrubs, cleansers, masks and chemical peels, as their ability to target dry or damaged skin cells makes them effective skincare ingredients.

The benefits of chemical exfoliants  

As chemical exfoliants encourage a gentle shedding of the uppermost epidermal cells, they cause new skin cells to emerge. This can bring several skincare benefits, including the management of skin prone to mild acne, pigmentation, dryness & visible signs of aging. By increasing the cell turnover rate, chemical exfoliants can target a variety of concerns where the skin’s natural functions have slowed. Incorporating effective chemical exfoliants into a skincare routine can restore a visibly balanced complexion to uneven skin.

Key skincare benefits of chemical exfoliants:
• AHAs and BHAs target skin prone to mild acne through pore decongestion,
• Cell renewal can visibly reduce signs of hyperpigmentation and dark spots as well as mild scarring post acne,
• It can also benefit dry or aging skin by encouraging the proliferation of new skin cells.

All hydroxy acids quicken the skin cell turnover rate, however, each unique AHA or BHA will deliver individual results. For example, salicylic acid is a common beta-hydroxy acid that is originally found in the bark of willow trees. This chemical ingredient is ideal for use on oily skin prone to mild acne, as it is effective in decongesting pores and visibly clearing the skin. All hydroxy acids have skincare benefits and can help improve the appearance of your skin’s complexion.

Chemical exfoliants vs physical exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants are non-abrasive solutions that target dead skin cells, whilst physical exfoliants use grainy textured ingredients to buff away the skin. The coarse nature of physical exfoliants can sometimes disrupt the skin’s protective barrier and irritate sensitive skin. Chemical exfoliants are more gentle on the skin and only target dead skin cells. The skin’s protective barrier is important for shielding the skin against harmful aggressors by ensuring moisture is sealed and irritants are avoided. 

Chemical exfoliants on different skin types

The gentle nature of chemical exfoliants make them suitable for use on most skin types, as there are a variety of different chemical exfoliants to suit your individual skincare needs. As beta-hydroxy acids are lipid (oil) soluble, those with oily skin types should opt for BHA’s, which also have a lower skin irritancy effect and are ideal for those with sensitive skin. On the other hand, AHA’s are more suited towards those with dry skin types. When choosing skin products that are formulated with both alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids, be aware of the increased potency and take note of the skin’s reaction. By incorporating chemical exfoliants into a skincare routine, you can visibly improve your skin’s health for a more vibrant and balanced complexion. 

Incorporating chemical exfoliants into skincare

When choosing a chemical exfoliant for your individual skin needs, find one that utilises the benefits of AHAs or BHAs to see strong results. Chemical facial exfoliators are used after cleansing, but before the application of serums and moisturisers. When applying chemical exfoliants into your skincare regime,  be mindful of the tendency to of AHAs and BHAs to make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so always use SPF protection during the day while using these ingredients in your skincare. To begin the exfoliation process, see our recommended products below. 

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser

The CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser works to remove impurities and build-ups for a fresher looking complexion, and is suitable for rough and bumpy skin. Formulated with salicylic acid (BHA), gentle exfoliation is provided during the cleansing action.

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cream

Targeting dry rough patches on the skin, this CeraVe SA Smoothing Cream uses both AHAs and BHAs to exfoliate and moisturise the skin. Developed with lactic acid (AHA) and salicylic acid (BHA) for optimal results, this cream works to remove dead skin cells for smoother skin. 

CeraVe Renewing SA Foot Cream

The CeraVe Renewing SA Foot Cream uses salicylic acid (BHA) to improve the skin texture on your feet, by incorporating chemical exfoliants to remove dry skin patches.

When choosing to incorporate a chemical exfoliant into your skincare regime, consider the benefits of each and how they can work without disrupting the skin’s protective barrier. Whether it’s alpha-hydroxy acids, beta-hydroxy acids, or both – chemical exfoliants can remove dead skin build-ups effectively. Read more about different skincare ingredients, and tips and tricks on the CeraVe blog to understand how to improve your overall skincare regime.

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