Beauty School With Erin: The Power Of Chemical Exfoliation

Written by on February 25, 2014 in Beauty, Skincare - 13 Comments
Beauty School With Erin: The Power Of Chemical Exfoliation


The trick to smooth, supple skin? Consistent and effective exfoliation. Abrasive scrubs—also known as “mechanical exfoliation”—can be unnecessarily harsh on the complexion, but choosing to remove dull skin via chemical means has a long list of benefits. Not only can chemical exfoliation be much more effective in the short term, but it can also change the way that skin ages! Chemical exfoliators that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic and lactic acid—or beta hydroxy acids (BHA’s) such as salicylic acids and enzymes—are derived naturally, meaning the skin-enhancing benefits are huge.

Exfoliating regularly will decrease buildup of dead (and often, acne-causing) skin cells, allow serums and moisturizers to sink in more deeply (making those products more effective!) and can also address texture and pigmentation concerns. Want to know more? Follow along on our first Beauty 101 lesson!

Effects: Brightens, tones, tightens, increases cell turnover, boosts collagen, reduces and prevents acne and rosacea, humectant benefits.

Routine: As with anything, consistency is key, and results will increase with cumulative treatment. If you are new to exfoliation—or have sensitive skin or an inflammatory condition (like acne or rosacea)—your skin will need some coaxing before you launch into a regimented routine. Start by using an exfoliating product once a week (doing so at night is best), and move up from there over the period of a month. Keep an eye on the way that your skin reacts: a bit of peeling and flaky skin is normal, but long-term redness and irritation is not. Post-exfoliation is the perfect time to apply vitamin-packed serums and moisturizers—these will immediately soak deep into the skin and produce better results!

By Erin Gerlach of The Sparkle

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  • Salicylic Acid: Derived from the bark of a willow tree, salicylic acid is a BHA. This ingredient is ideal for the treatment of acne—its anti-inflammatory properties penetrate to exfoliate deep into blocked pores at percentages of .5-2%.

    Try: SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense ($82)

  • Lactic Acid: A natural AHA, lactic acid is derived from dairy, and provides a very gentle option ideal for sensitive skin. Stimulating the skin’s production of plumping hyaluronic acid, it achieves humectant (moisturizing) benefits, lightening and brightening the skin at percentages of 4-10%.

    Try: Eve Lom Moisturizer ($68)

  • Lactic Acid: Dermalogica Skin Resurfacing Cleanser ($53)

  • Glycolic Acid: Derived from the sugar cane, glycolic acid is an ideal way to promote cell turnover, clear blocked pores, remove hyperpigmentation and smooth skin’s texture. Look for formulas made of 5-20% glycolic acid for the most dramatic results.

    Try: Bliss That’s Incredi-‘Peel’! Resurfacing Pads ($49)

  • Glycolic Acid: Murad Age Diffusing Serum ($74)

  • Retinol: A concentrated form of topical Vitamin A, retinol assists in increasing collagen production and rapidly creating new skin cells—thus forcing old surface cells to shed. Pigmentation, pores and fine lines will be diminished, and the increased collagen production will result in plumper, more even-toned skin. Flaking can occur for several weeks after you begin using retinol as fresher skin gradually begins to reveal itself. Look for .05% to 2% to achieve results.

    Try: StriVectin-AR Advanced Retinol Night Treatment ($109)

  • Enzymes: A wonderfully mild and natural alternative for sensitive skin types, at a 5% concentration or higher. Enzyme peels use fruit acids to gently remove dead cells, taking dullness right along with them!

    Try: Éminence Yam & Pumpkin Peel ($46)

  • Enzymes: AmorePacific Treatment Enzyme Peel ($60)

  • Scandalous Beauty

    I absolutely love this post!! I already swear by the Amore Pacific Enzyme Treatment. It’s so gentle that it feels like a cleanser, but your skin feels radiant afterward. I’ve used the Eminence Stone Crop Masque, but I’ll have to try the Yam and Pumpkin masque. I’ve been eyeing the Kate Sommerville Resurfacing Peel Wipes, but now I think I’m interested in the Bliss wipes. Whew, this post was loaded! Thanks for the new ideas!!

    • erin

      so glad you took a lot out of it! chemical exfoliation is defo the way to go – let me know if you have any questions! x

  • chelsie @ hellogirl

    this collage was so fun to make + i couldn’t wait for it to go live to read more!! love it!!

    • erin

      great job on the collage, chelsie! it was a lot of info to capture, but it’s so useful! x

  • Kaleigh Fasanella

    Love this post Erin! I have very sensitive skin so I’m always searching for a good chemical exfoliator to try that won’t hurt my skin. Thank you for the lovely recommendations! :)

    • erin

      so glad you liked it, kaleigh! if you’re sensitive, i would start with the enzyme method – the yam and pumpkin peel from eminence. enjoy! x

  • Lisa Wong

    Great Exfoliation 101 lesson.

    Exfoliating is something I don’t do often enough, but it’s so beneficial I may have to make a Sunday night ritual out of it. My fave is Philosophy’s Microdelivery dual-step peel: vitamin C, peptides, lactic acid, and it takes about 3 minutes and produces great results.

    • erin

      thanks, lisa! allocating a specific day is a great way to go – keeps us on top of consistency! that philosophy pick is a great one, too! x

  • Brittany

    Thank you for this! How do you feel about using a product like Clarisonic, or any face brush for exfoliation?

    • erin

      hi brittany! i’m a huge fan of the clarisonic for deep cleansing and believe it’s the best of it’s kind on the market. it’s a great tool to get rid of debris and dirt, but isn’t the only/last step in deep cleansing and exfoliation. it’s a great start, though! x

  • Kate

    This post came at the perfect time! I’ve been trying to figure out what it is I need in terms of skin care and this was super helpful! I have recently learned that I have rosacea, and am in the process of taking antibiotics and using an antibiotic gel to help clear it up. I’m only about a month into the treatment, so have been nervous to try anything besides cetaphil (cleanser and moisturizer) but have been wanting to try an exfoliant of some sort.. I am thinking maybe the glycolic acid sounds right for me, but do you happen to have any suggestions for less expensive/drug store brands that are good to try out first? I’d hate to drop $60 on a product that makes my skin flare up!

  • Rachel

    Glycolic acid has made such a difference for my face. My acne scars are fading so quickly and my hyperpigmentation (the worst part of bad skin for me) is almost a thing of the past. I’ve been using Avon’s Clearskin Professional line off and on for over a year and it has just helped so much. I do have sensitive, acne prone skin, but I haven’t had much difficulty with the exfoliating face wash. The first couple of times it was a little harsh, but I only use it at night now with Simple products in the morning. I’m thinking of using Cetaphil in the mornings once I run out of Simple face wash, but that is working for me right now.

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