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Exfoliation Explained: The AHAs, BHAs and Scrubs

April 18, 2019

Exfoliation can help reduce fine lines, dark spots and improve your skin’s texture. It also helps the natural process of cell turnover by removing dead skin cells and revealing a newer, healthier layer underneath. It can only accomplish all of this if it’s done wisely. If you aren’t careful, you can end up damaging your skin, which can lead to ageing and other problems.

Everyone should do some exfoliation, but how you do it will differ depending on your skin type. It’s also worth learning a few things about chemical exfoliators, such as AHA acids to reduce your risk of inadvertently damaging to your skin.

How Can Exfoliation Damage Your Skin?

Whether exfoliation helps or hinders your skin care journey depends on how you’re doing it. Exfoliating scrubs, also known as physical or manual exfoliators, pose a higher risk of skin damage than chemical exfoliators.

Exfoliating scrubs often have a rough texture and they work by gently scraping away dead skin cells. They used to commonly be sold as cleansing gels with exfoliating beads, but many of these were discontinued when it was discovered that the non-biodegradable beads were getting into oceans and posing problems for marine life.

Though they’ve become more environmentally friendly, exfoliating scrubs can cause micro-damages to the skin. While your skin cells repair the damage, there’s a risk that small amounts of scar tissue can form. You may not see it, but over time, it can start to effect the overall texture of your skin.

Chemical exfoliators that contain small amounts of natural acids derived from fruit or dairy are much less likely to damage your skin. These acids dissolve the bonds between the skin cells so that the dead skin cells can be removed. The most common ingredient in these chemical exfoliators are AHAs, but more on that below.

The most common mistake made with exfoliation is too much too often. You should always start gently and, unless otherwise directed by a skincare professional, exfoliate 1-3 times per week maximum.

Exfoliation can make you more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to wear sunscreen everyday. You can also exfoliate at night to let your new layer of skin regenerate while you sleep.

What Are AHAs and BHAs?

Both BHAs and AHAs are chemical exfoliators that dissolve the bonds between surface cells so that dead skin cells can be removed more easily. Products with higher percentages are often used by professionals in lactobotanical facials and peels. You can buy cleansers with lower percentages of each for at-home use.

AHA stands for Alpha-Hydroxy Acid. It’s generally derived from food sources and there are a few different types; glycolic acid comes from sugarcane, lactic acid from milk and  citrus acid from fruit.

BHA stands for Beta-Hydroxy Acid, but it’s known more commonly as salicylic acid. BHA is oil soluble, so it can be good for oily, more acne prone skin. If your skin is normal, sensitive or prone to dryness, you may prefer to stick with water-soluble AHAs, and always use smaller amounts if you are prone to sensitivity. You should also moisturise afterward to protect the new skin and remember that exfoliation can make you more sensitive to the sun, so make sunscreen a part of your daily routine.

With professional peels, you can get an instant glow, but with at-home exfoliation, it can takes weeks before you notice improvement in your skin. Be patient, though, and never exfoliate more than 2-3 times per week unless a professional directs you otherwise. It will be worth it.

Do you want to brighten your skin with some exfoliation?

Come in for a free consultation to get more information or a professional peel.

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