Remember when tingly, skin-sloughing chemical peels were strictly reserved for days at the spa? Most likely, it's a distant memory now. The best chemical exfoliators have taken over the show, entering skin care aficionados' beauty routines as effortlessly as a new moisturizer or serum. However, those with insider knowledge still help pave the way to explaining the difference between all those acids you'll spot on skin care labels — and which one you should invest in for your own skin type.
Although there are plenty to know, three stand out from the crowd: "Glycolic acid is typically derived from sugar cane, lactic acid is derived from milk, and salicylic acid is derived from willow bark," Stacy Honda — senior esthetician at Penelope & The Beauty Bar and a partner at DAPHNE Studio — tells TZR over email. "They work similarly to loosen and slough off dead skin cells and refine the surface of the skin. The main difference is glycolic and lactic acids are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) which are water soluble and salicylic is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) which is oil soluble, so it penetrates deeper into the pores."
As you can imagine, certain exfoliating acids complement certain skin types better than others. "Since salicylic acid is oil soluble, it works well with oily, congested skin. Glycolic acid is great for fine lines, and lactic acid is more moisturizing and helpful for hyperpigmentation," Honda continues. "Generally, lactic acid is more gentle and better suited for sensitive skin."
Nevertheless, you still need to be careful when using chemical exfoliators — though you probably knew that already, because of the whole acid thing. "The perks of using a chemical exfoliator is that skin can be left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated," says Dr. Shari Sperling of Sperling Dermatology. "However, it also makes your skin more prone to sunburn, so you have to be careful to wear sunscreen after while your skin is healing. But you should be wearing sunscreen anyway."
Though with patience, a careful hand, and the right products, refreshed and rejuvenated skin is well within your grasp. Ahead, the best chemical exfoliators you can use at home, according to Honda and Dr. Sperling.
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Honda describes this cult favorite as "a daily exfoliating lotion with different formulations for different skin needs." (Multiple versions and prices are available.) "Over-exfoliating with harsh products and scrubs can compromise your skin barrier leading to irritation and sensitivities," she notes. "It works gently so that it helps to strengthen the epidermis."
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