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You’ve probably heard about AHAs (alpha hydroxy) and BHAs (beta hydroxy), but to make things more complicated, let’s bring in PHAs (poly hydroxy). It’s one of the newer ones to grace our skincare ingredients list. These refer to various acids of different molecular size, for example glycolic and lactic acid is a form of AHA, which targets the surface of the epidermis. BHAs, like salicylic acid can penetrate deeper. PHAs are the smallest of them all, like lactobionic, galactose or gluconolactone. It’s also gentler than the two with which you may be most familiar and able to help the skin hold onto moisture. What all of these do is resurface the skin, helping the cell’s turnover to be as healthy as possible, and with varying degrees of efficacy. When it comes to at-home skincare, chemical exfoliants as opposed to physical ones are essential. I didn’t know this until the hype (and dangers) of DIY micro-needling came about but scrubs with insoluble beads can also cause micro tears in the skin. Take a look at what I’ve been trialling for the last few months, which are some of the best chemical exfoliants in skincare and get an idea of what might suit your needs.
What I like about Paula’s Choice is that it’s really the skincare for anyone, at any age and for most budgets. It covers all of your basic needs with no frills and this really extends to the packaging as well. The 2% BHA is akin to a toner in appearance and texture but it’s an exfoliator. The gentleness of the product means it’s meant to be used daily, preferably after a double cleanse. If your cotton pad has smears of makeup on it – you’re not really dissolving the dead skin cells but leftover grime. I can’t say I have particularly sensitive skin, so while others may feel a tingle, this brought no sensation.
The clean beauty brand’s crowning glory is the Glow Tonic. Admittedly, I have tried most resurfacing procedures and products, so compared to the others on this list let alone a peel, I haven’t seen a notable difference. On the other hand, this isn’t marketed as an exfoliator but the 5% glycolic acid still does the job. The alcohol-free formula is accessible (£18) and undoubtedly, the pretty pastel green packaging has aided its rise in popularity. As for its efficacy? This is a winner. The reason I had to feature it is because it is one of the only toners that won’t dry out your skin and for that price with an active AHA, it should be a staple for every bathroom. I particularly like this because its gentle enough for younger skin under 25 and there are no nasties.
This Parisian ultra-luxe skincare brand is known for being elusive on the internet, in London you can currently find it at Liberty department store or online at Embassy of Beauty. I’m told that it’s because they believe that it should be as bespoke as possible, and that consumers should be educated about their ‘skin instants’ before purchasing. The noble thought is also a practical one too, Lotion P50 is potent (£50). Its astringent despite lacking alcohol and it contains all three acid types, meaning that all layers of your skin will be affected. The slogan, ‘facial in a bottle’ refers to your new skin after 50 days of use. As you might’ve deduced, I’d really recommend this for those with more mature skin with a need for anti-ageing skincare. For someone with my skin concerns – oily and prone to inflammation, I use it as a treatment about once a month, which is about as long as the skin cycle. However, if you pick this you probably don’t want to go with any of the others on this list, this is strong enough!
If you’re one of those people that believes ‘no pain no gain’, this is probably the exfoliant for you. Deep Exfoliating Mask (£59) is lactic acid based and stings so much that Dr Sebagh even has a version for sensitive skin. The downside to this product is that it should really be used sparingly. It contains several irritants (even the sensitive formula), including alcohol and fragrance, two ingredients that we should all recognise as unnecessary. The benefit however, is that it really does its job. After you endure the eye-watering 10 minutes, where the ache does start to subside halfway, you’re really on your way to brighter glowing skin. Unlike the other products on this list, the instant hit of this mask makes it effective but unless you’re a sadist, not one that you’d want to slather on every week.
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