Beauty 101

Chemical Exfoliating 101

Reyanna Ng Beauty Expert
Chemical Exfoliating 101

How to start chemical exfoliating? Answering common questions regarding chemical exfoliating

Chemical exfoliating used to be something that not many included in their skincare routine, even for many skincare connoisseurs. However, now, chemical exfoliating has become so apparent and became a staple step in countless skincare regimes.

There are countless benefits that comes with chemical exfoliating and it speaks true for all skin types, from the most sensitive to the most compromised. It helps to loosen the “glue” between dead skin cells, allowing them to shed off and revealing smoother, brighter skin. Certain acids can help to lessen breakouts by reducing congestion, while others can actually strengthen the skin barrier.

However, many are still reluctant to add chemical exfoliants to their routine, afraid that it might cause the skin to break out even more, cause irritation/inflammation, sensitive reaction and more. And with so many types of chemical exfoliating products and ingredients out there, it’s bound to be confused and scared.

Here, we’re gonna have a quick Chemical Exfoliating 101. So, read more to find out!


What type of acid should I use?

We get asked a lot whether one should use an AHA or BHA? And now with PHA in the mix, it’s even harder to choose. Here’s, a simple breakdown of pairing your skin type with a particular acid.

AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)

Types Glycolic, Lactic, Mandelic, Malic, Tartaric, Citric acid
Skin type Dry skin, Sun damaged skin, Mature skin, Normal skin
  • Removes the “glue” between dead skin cells and the skin’s surface.
  • More suitable for anti-aging and targeting hyperpigmentation. 
  • Brightens skin complexion and improves skin's moisture levels.
  • Not very suitable for sensitive skin, prone to cause allergic reaction/inflammation.  

 BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acids)

Types  Salicylic Acid
Skin type
Oily skin, Combination skin, Congested skin, Sensitive skin, Acne-prone, Rosacea
  • Oil soluble, making them suitable to get rid of buildup in pores.
  • Reduces enlarged pores, blackheads, whiteheads and breakouts.
  • Removes dead skin cells.
  • Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.
  • Can cause allergic reaction/inflammation if percentage is too high. 

 PHA (Poly Hydroxy Acids)

Gluconolactone, Lactobionic acid
Skin type
Sensitive (highly sensitive) skin
  • Have larger molecule size, meaning they penetrate the skin slower. Suitable for first timers as well.
  • Helps remove dead skin cells from the skin's surface. 
  • Compared to both AHA/BHA, the results from PHAs may not be as significant or fast.


How often should I exfoliate?

We would say around 1-3 times/per week. This number can vary depending on the product, concentration and how your skin reacts. It is very important to read the product label and instruction before use, some products may recommend once a week, while others may recommend it to be every other day. Chemical exfoliating is strong and over-exfoliating can cause skin sensitivity, irritation and even a weakened skin barrier.


What is over-exfoliation and how to prevent?

Over-exfoliation is when you are exfoliating the skin too much, this includes chemical and physical exfoliation. Over-exfoliation rids the skin of its natural oils and its protective layer, this can lead to over-sensitivity, inflammation (redness), a burning sensation, sudden breakouts, oily skin, and even dryness (flaking, itching).

If you think that your skin isn’t reacting well to chemical exfoliating and you’ve been suffering from these side effects, try to avoid exfoliating the skin for a week to let it heal. After, you can slowly reintroduce it to your skin and following the 1-3 times/per week, or maybe switch to a lower acid concentration.


How to treat over-exfoliation?

If you think that your skin isn’t reacting well to chemical exfoliating and you’ve been suffering from these side effects, let your skin take a break for any sort of exfoliating for at least a week, until your skin is fully recovered. After, you can slowly reintroduce it to your skin and following the 1-3 times/per week, or maybe switch to a lower acid concentration. It is important to use skin soothing and repairing ingredients like Centella Asiatica, Snail Mucin, Ceramide or Rosehip Oil.


What is the difference between chemical and physical exfoliating?

Chemical exfoliating uses certain chemical ingredients that are able to remove dead skin, impurities and brighten the skin. Whereas physical exfoliating uses actual granules like sugar, coffee, walnut sheet, sea salt and more to have the same effect.

For some, physical exfoliating can be too taxing on the skin and often causes the skin to feel tight or inflamed. If you feel this way, it is best to switch to chemical exfoliating.


Ingredients TO mix with hydroxy acids

We get tons of questions regarding which ingredients can be used with acids and which should be avoided. So we’ve compiled a few YES combinations for you.

  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Hyaluronic Acid
  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Ceramide
  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Centella Asiatica

Anything hydrating, soothing, repairing is perfect to be paired with hydroxy acids. SPF is another must. Hydroxy acids makes the skin more prone to sun damage.

Here are a few NO combinations:

  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Retinol/Retinoids
  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Benzoyl Peroxide
  • AHA/BHA/PHA + Vitamin C


What to do if your routine consists of the DO NOT MIX ingredients?

If your routine consists of these DO NOTT MIX ingredients it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of one or the other. You can alternate their uses; e.g., hydroxy acids 3 times/week and retinol 2 times/week, or vice versa. Or use Vitamin C in the day and hydroxy acids in the PM.


When do I use hydroxy acids?

You can use hydroxy acids in the AM but we recommend using them in the PM. This is because chemical exfoliating causes the skin to be more sensitive to sun damage. So, if you’re using any hydroxy acids in the AM, it’s imperative to wear sunscreen diligently!


What type of hydroxy acid products are best?

There are a number of hydroxy acid products on the market, some toners, some cleansers. So, it can be very hard to make up your mind. There isn’t a rule that says a specific hydroxy acid product is better than the other but generally a product that sits on your face will work better than one that will be washed off. So, try looking for a hydroxy acid toner or serum as these types of products are easily absorbed into the skin.


Can I use AHA and BHA together?

There’s no rule that says you can’t. Actually, AHAs and BHAs work well together to help improve your skin condition but only if both percentages are low enough so that it won’t damage the skin barrier. Ideally, <10% for AHAs and <2% for BHAs, one has to be significantly lower than the other. If the combination is too strong, certain side effects include a burning/stinging sensation, redness, and breakouts.

You could also look for products that are formulated with AHA and BHA. This ensures that either one of the acids will not to be too potent for the skin to handle.

We recommend:


I have sensitive skin, can I use chemical exfoliants?

Absolutely! It might seem ironic because over-exfoliating can sensitize the skin. Chemically exfoliating for sensitive skin helps to stabilize the skin’s barrier and pH levels, improve natural moisture factor, and reducing discoloration. A great start could be using PHAs, or AHAs like Lactic or Mandelic acid as they all have larger molecular sizes.

We recommend:


That's it, it is that simple. These are only the few common questions we often get from customers. So, if you have any other questions, let us know in the comments below or send a DM to our insta or FB page!

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