The Scoop on Chemical v Physical Exfoliants

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I bought my first exfoliating scrub when I was maybe 16. It was the cult favourite by St. Ives that everyone owned back then. It was heavenly and I still use it occasionally when I want to feel like I’ve given myself a DYI mini-micro (haha). It’s also dirt cheap, so who can complain about that?!

Dermal therapists and magazines throw around terms like AHA and BHA and chemical exfoliants and bla bla all the time…it can definitely get rather confusing to know what the hell you should be using and why.

So here is my breakdown of what I feel works best for what and why. I’ll start off with a little background on what AHA/BHA actually means and the difference between the physical and chemical exfoliants. Hopefully you’ll have a little more insight into your own needs by the end of the post.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are both chemical exfoliants. This means they come in liquid formula (usually) minus granules that scratch the skin.

Our complexion can look dull when skin cells aren’t shed quickly enough. The accumulated dead skin cells can also lead to breakouts and blackheads because the leftover debris isn’t removed.

AHAs detach dead skin cells by loosening the sticky, glue-like protein bonds that hold them together. This removes the dead skin cells easily and reveals smoother, brighter looking skin beneath (in other words, no more dullness!!!!).

In addition to helping to remove and un-glue the dead skin cells, some studies have suggested AHAs can help increase your skin’s thickness, improve collagen and generally boost the texture and health of your skin! Amazing or what?! (Ref: Paula’s Choice)

Types of AHAs are: glycolic, mandelic and lactic. You have probably noticed plenty of skincare products containing these AHAs and had no idea what they actually meant. Look out for these ingredients if you think the above description is what you need.

BHAs are my personal favourite, though I use both in conjunction. BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads and white bumps because BHA can get through the oil that clogs pores, normalising the lining of the pore that contributes to acne. BHA is also anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial (RefPaula’s Choice). This makes me Exhibit A.

There are many types of scrubs (physical exfoliants) which contain both AHA/BHA ingredients. However, some just rely on a type of microbead to physically manoeuvre debris from the surface of the skin (St. Ives for example and most others you find in Priceline or the pharmacy). I’ve heard mixed things about this type of exfoliation as some experts suggest it can scratch the surface too much and cause irritation. All I know is that certain types of physical exfoliants, depending on their ingredients, can flare up my dermatitis if they’re too harsh. They do give you a really fresh and glowy appearance though, so it’s nice to use a gentle scrub once a week.

Scrubs containing AHA/BHA ingredients are also given negative feedback for the minimal time spent on the skin. In other words, the goodness gets washed down the drain before producing any significant results. A great alternative is the Drunk Elephant Gylocolic Night Serum which you apply after cleansing and sleep with. It resurfaces the skin and helps reduce signs of aging. I’m yet to trial this one myself but I’ve heard good things!

The CLEAR Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid and the RESIST Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA have been my saving grace products for the past year or so. Before that I struggled to control my breakouts. One bottle lasts a good few months and they are also very reasonably priced. Check here for details.

Okay, so hopefully you understand a little more about these ingredients now and are free to explore the isles of skincare till your heart is content! I know I found it all very confusing at first so I like to lend a hand where possible.

Let me know if I’ve left anything out or if you have some extra information for me too.

Mel xo

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