Looking to add a little extra glow to your skin? (Ah, always!) You need exfoliation. If you’re not already familiar with the process, it’s a step in your skincare routine that involves removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. This helps to keep your skin looking healthy, fresh and radiant.

There are a few different types of exfoliation, but the main two are physical and chemical. Let’s focus on how chemical exfoliation can make a big difference to your skin’s glow up.

What is Chemical Exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliation uses skin-friendly chemicals to remove dead skin cells from the surface. Unlike physical exfoliation, which involves scrubbing the skin with a gritty substance, chemical exfoliation works by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. Chemical exfoliation is gentler on the skin than physical exfoliation and is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

There are some different types of chemical exfoliants that are used in skincare, and the one that works best for you will depend on your skin and your preferences. The main types of chemical exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), beta hydroxy acids (BHA) and poly hydroxy acids (PHA).

AHAs for exfoliation

Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are a group of water-soluble acids that are derived from fruit and milk. They’re some of the most commonly used exfoliants in skincare because they’re effective in removing dead skin cells and improving skin texture.

The most commonly used AHAs in skincare are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Glycolic acid is a small molecule that penetrates the skin deeply, making it ideal for treating fine lines and wrinkles. Lactic acid is a larger molecule that works on the surface of the skin, making it ideal for treating hyperpigmentation and improving skin texture.

AHAs are also amazing for improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. They work by stimulating collagen production, helping to plump up the skin and reduce the appearance of signs of ageing such as fine lines, wrinkles, texture, uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation. 

If you want to add AHAs into your routine, the COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner combines AHAs and BHAs along with purifying botanical ingredients to improve skin texture and control pores while hydrating the skin - especially sensitive skin that needs soothed and moisturised, thanks to allantoin and panthenol in the formulation.

BHAs for exfoliation

Beta Hydroxy Acids, or BHAs, are a group of oil-soluble acids that come  from salicylic acid. They work really well on acne-prone skin as they can penetrate deep into the pores, dissolving excess oil, dead skin and debris in there. BHAs are also great for reducing inflammation and redness, which can be caused by acne.

BHAs are an essential when it comes to treating blackheads and whiteheads. They work by dissolving the keratin that plugs the hair follicles, allowing the debris to be easily removed. BHAs are also effective in reducing the appearance of large pores by dissolving the oil and debris that clog them. Salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA in skincare.

For a blackhead-fighting BHA boost in your routine, you need the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. With salicylic acid, niacinamide, willow bark and panthenol, it exfoliates, comforts and continues to work even after it’s removed.

PHAs for exfoliation

Polyhydroxy Acids, or PHAs, are a group of water-soluble acids that are similar to AHAs. They’re gentle exfoliants that are suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

As well as removing dead skin, PHAs also hydrate the skin and stimulate collagen production, both of which are great for dealing with signs of premature ageing. They work by attracting water molecules to keep it plump and hydrated. The most commonly used PHAs in skincare are gluconolactone and lactobionic acid.

Looking to add PHAs into your exfoliation routine? Try the Dr.Jart PHA Exfoliating serum. They’re pre-soaked pads that are available in lemon, wine or green tea. They’re perfect for taking on the go, and work to exfoliate your skin without affecting your skin barrier. 

Choosing the right exfoliant

Choosing the right exfoliant for your skin is important to get the results you’re looking for and to keep your skin feeling (and looking healthy).

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, a BHA exfoliant containing salicylic acid may be the best option for you. If you have dry or sensitive skin, a PHA exfoliant containing gluconolactone or lactobionic acid may be more suitable.

New to exfoliation? Start out slow and gradually increase how often you exfoliate. Over-exfoliating can irritate and damage your skin, which is bad for your natural glow and can feel uncomfortable. It can also damage your skin barrier and leave your skin prone to imbalances or infection. Listen to your skin and adjust your routine accordingly.


Melissa Redshaw