Skin will naturally shed billions of skin cells every day. It is said that 90% of household dust is made up of dead skin cells. As we age, this natural shedding slows or stops due to many factors such as sun damage, dry skin, oily skin, genetics, or skin disorders. The results of this are dull, dry or flaky skin, clogged pores, blemishes, and uneven skin tone. Exfoliation is key in helping skin balance itself. Getting rid of skin cell build up can undo the effects experience by skin cell shedding slowdown.
Exfoliation helps your skin look younger, promote blood flow and circulation, promote collagen production, and improve skin health. But, with all the exfoliating products out there, how do we know which to use and which is appropriate for our skin type and need? To understand which to use we must understand how they work and what skin types and conditions are appropriate for each category.
As an esthetician, I’m always asked what the difference between AHA and BHA. Alpha Hydroxy Acid, AHA, are acids derived from natural substances such as sugar cane, milk, grapes etc. They work by melting the intercellular glue that holds our skin cells together. AHA are water loving and water soluble acids. The molecular structure is small. AHAs are preferred for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate on the surface of skin and have the added benefit of also improving moisture content. They do not penetrate as deep as BHA. The effects are felt on the surface of the skin. AHA’s rejuvenate aging skin. On the other hand, BHA, Beta Hydroxy Acids, is oil loving acids. BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads and white bumps because BHA can get through the oil that’s clogging your pores, normalizing the lining of the pore that contributes to acne. BHA has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Those are two more reasons to use a BHA exfliant if you have acne or sensitive, reddened skin. BHA is preferred for those struggling with rosacea. Not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant, but it is wise to experiment with a BHA product to see how your rosacea responds. It is likely you’ll see less redness and a smoother, even skin with fewer breakouts.
Can they be used together? Yes but not necessary. If you decide to do this make sure you use them separately; one in the morning and one at night to prevent irritation.
- Glycolic acid: derived from sugar cane
- Lactic acid: derived from milk
- Mandelic acid: derived from bitter almonds
- Tartaric acid: derived from grapes
- Malic acid: derived from apples and pears
- Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits
***It is important to note that with today’s technology, most of these acids are derived synthetically today. This is to keep the acid stable, allow for use for those with allergies to natural substances, and control its strength***
- Salicylic acid: derived from the Williow Bark Tree and others.
**This acid is dominantly used in skin care**
- Citric acid: derived from citrus fruits and considered a cross over acid. It can be an AHA depending on its formulation.
It is strongly recommended to use SPF when using any of the above acids. Exfoliants can make skin photosensitive and sensitive in general. SPF will help in the prevention of hyperpigmentation etc.
General guidelines for usage:
- You can apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice a day.
- You can also apply either of these around the eye area but not on the eyelid or directly under the eye.
- Apply the AHA or BHA product after your face is cleansed and after your toner has dried.
- Once the AHA or BHA has been absorbed, you can apply any other product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, eye cream, sunscreen, and/or foundation.
- If you’re using a topical prescription product such as Renova, other retinoids, or any of the topical prescription products for rosacea, consult with your doctor before applying either AHA or BHA.
Now, all that is left to do is to choose the best suited category for your skin and begin to exfoliate years away.