THE ACID TEST: WHAT’S THE BEST EXFOLIATOR FOR YOUR SKIN TYPE?
Confused about acid exfoliators? So was Katie Wright, so
she asked an expert for help.
Confusing jargon abounds in the beauty world and nowhere is that more
the case than when it comes to exfoliation, an area rife with acronyms
(apparently AHA is not just an exclamation of surprise) and words with
way too many syllables – try saying gluconolactone three times fast, if
you don’t believe us.
But ‘glowy’ skin is what everyone wants right now and, in order to get
that, you’ve got to slough away dead skin cells. So, what’s the best way
to do it? Acid exfoliants are getting a lot of airtime at the moment,
but are they always better than traditional scrubs?
We asked a skincare expert for the lowdown on exfoliants, and discovered
it’s all about the As, Bs and Ps…
What are acid exfoliants?
“Acid exfoliants work by breaking down the glue that holds dead skin
cells to the surface of the skin,” explains Daniel Isaacs, chief product
officer at Medik8. “This allows them to be naturally shed, speeding up
cellular turnover and revealing a brighter, smoother complexion.”
They are a type of chemical exfoliant, usually applied with a cotton
pad, as opposed to mechanical exfoliators, such as scrubs or brushes,
which physically remove the dead skin.
What are the different types of acids?
Acid exfoliants can be broken down into three types: alpha-hydroxy acids
(for example, glycolic and lactic acid); beta-hydroxy acids (such as
salicylic acid); and polyhydroxy acids (which include the aforementioned
“AHAs deeply exfoliate to plump and refine the skin, while BHAs
penetrate deep into pores to clarify the skin and keep blemishes at
bay,” Isaacs says. “And PHAs polish the uppermost layer of skin to
brighten and renew the complexion at surface level.”
What’s the best type of exfoliant for each skin type?
People with normal, healthy skin can benefit from using all three acids
at once, because – according to Isaacs, “each acid exhibits slightly
different properties, so they can be used in tandem to enhance overall
skin health and radiance.”
“For sensitive skin types who are worried that acids may be too
irritating, it might be useful to find a formula that uses only PHAs,”
he recommends. “The molecules that make up PHAs are much larger in size.
This means they cannot penetrate skin as deeply as traditional AHAs and
BHAs. Instead, they work exclusively on the skin’s surface without
disturbing the delicate layers that lie beneath. This ensures optimum
skin renewal with minimal irritation.”
Are there any ‘dos and don’ts’ to be aware of when using acid
“Generally speaking, most over-the-counter acids are safe and
easy-to-use, even when combined with other skincare products. Just don’t
apply them to broken or damaged skin,” Isaacs warns. “And if you’re
using a high-strength solution, make sure you follow the instructions
exactly to avoid unwanted irritation.”
Some people think that hydroxy acids shouldn’t be used with retinol
products, but that’s not the case. In fact, they complement each other.
“Retinoids essentially cause old cells to retire faster. At Medik8, we
actually recommend a combination of hydroxy acids with retinol,” Isaacs
says. “The retinoids speed up cellular renewal and the acids ensure that
the retired cells can be efficiently shed from the surface, so you can
enjoy flawless, radiant skin even faster.”
As for combining chemical and mechanical exfoliators, many beauty buffs
like to mix them, using an acid in the evening and a scrub in the
morning to carry away the dead skin cells that were loosened the night
Also, it’s important to follow a chemical exfoliant with sunscreen the
next day, as they can increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.
Where can you find each type of exfoliant?
So now you know which type of exfoliator is best for your skin, here’s
where you can find those all-important ingredients.
For normal/combination skin:
Paula’s Choice Resist Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA, £34
For acne prone skin:
This Works Evening Detox Spray On Exfoliant, £28
DCL Multi Action Penta Peel, £58, CultBeauty
Glossier Solution, £19
For sensitive skin:
Medik8 White Balance Click Oxy-R, £59
La Mer The Replenishing Oil Exfoliator, £85 (available May 1)