Chemical Exfoliators

Chemical exfoliators work by gently loosening the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface. They can range from enzymes such as those found in pineapple, papaya and kiwi, to chemicals such as alpha hydroxy acids AHA (for example, glycolic acid) or beta hydroxy acids - BHAs (such as salicylic acid). These products will make oily, congested and tired skins look their best again.

When using any type of chemical exfoliator, it is crucial to make sure that you use a broad spectrum product that protects you from the sun's rays, as your skin will become sensitive to UVA and UVB rays, and you may end up with burns and discolorations.

Enzymatic Exfoliators

Enzymes known as proteinases (found in fruits such as pineapple, papaya, pumpkin and kiwi) act to digest the glue-like substance that holds the skin cells together, allowing them to gently lift away. This type of exfoliation is particularly recommended for those who want to treat acne or visible capillaries and is also suitable for dry, thin skins.

Chemical Peels

Chemical exfoliation may involve the use of products that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Alpha hydroxy acids are naturally occurring organic carboxylic acids that make up the mildest of the peel formulas and produces light peels for treatment of areas of dryness, fine wrinkles, acne and uneven pigmentation. They are often combined with a facial cream or wash to form part of a daily skin-care regimen to improve the skin's texture. Beta hydroxy acid (BHA) peels have the ability to get deeper into the pores, and are thought to remove dead skin cells better than AHAs.

Some of the chemicals used for exfoliation include (in order of increasing strength):

  • Citric acid (AHA) has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is useful for sensitive skin or Rosacia.
  • Salicylic acid (BHA) is a key ingredient in many skin-care products for the treatment of psoriasis, acne, corns, calluses and keratosis pilaris. It causes the cells of the epidermis to shed more readily, allowing room for new cell growth, and preventing pores from clogging up.
  • Glycolic acid (AHA) may be found in home chemical peel kits at concentrations between 10 and 20%, and in chemical peels performed by dermatologists in concentrations of 20 to 70%. Once applied, the acid reacts with the upper layer of the epidermis, weakening the binding properties of the lipids that hold the dead skin cells together. Glycolic acid may reduce wrinkles, acne scarring and hyperpigmentation.
  • Retinoic acid is the strongest of the chemical exfoliators; it detaches the desmosomes (the attachments that hold the skin cells together) and sends a signal to the cell to operate more efficiently. These acids are most useful for anti-aging and for treating acne.

Wine was used as a chemical exfoliant in the Middle Ages, with tartaric acid as the active agent.