Beauty Guru Nitya on Exfoliants: AHAs and BHAs
Chemical vs Physical Exfoliants
Physical exfoliants are products that physically buff away the top layer of your skin. Examples are the little beads in your face scrubs or coarse brushes or sponges, such as Forea and Clarisonic, that are designed to remove dead skin cells. I personally find physical exfoliators in face washes to be a little bit abrasive and prefer chemical exfoliants. If you’re not careful and you are too aggressive physical exfoliants can cause microtears in your skin! So be gentle when using them and let the product work for you so you don’t need to put a lot of pressure or force. Professional options include microdermabrasion and dermaplaning.
Chemical exfoliants can be broken into two groups: AHAs and BHAs
1. AHAs, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are water-soluble and resurface the skin by removing dead skin cells. They are great for superficial hyperpigmentation. Examples of AHAs are lactic acid and glycolic acid.
--Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and is smaller than lactic acid so it can penetrate deeper into the skin
--Lactic acid is the gentlest acid so if you have sensitive skin or new to chemical exfoliants this is a great one to start with
2. BHAs, or Beta Hydroxy Acids, are oil-soluble so they can penetrate deeper into the pores. They are great for helping clear acne, blackheads, and controlling oily skin. BHAs also possesses antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which are great for treating acne since acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Salicylic acid is the most common BHA.
OTC products range from 5-30% for AHAs and 1-4% for BHAs. Higher concentrations are available through professional services.
There are tons of products on the market that claim to create glowing skin but the most important thing to do is look at the active ingredients. For beginners, I would start on the lower end of the percent ranges so your skin can gently acclimate. The high concentration products such as Drunk Elephant’s TLC Sukari Babyfacial (25% AHA, 2% BHA) should be used as a mask for 10-15 mins once a week and not daily. A great alternative is The Ordinary’s Peeling Solution (30% AHA, 2% BHA). Buy The Ordinary
But perhaps the most iconic chemical toner for skincare junkies is Biologique Recherche’s Lotion P50. Not only is it pricey but it is only available at a select few spas in the US, one of which is Rescue Spa in Philadelphia, which is where I first tried it. Lotion P50 has an unpleasant, vinegar smell but it has worked wonders. It has a long ingredient list and the formula is top secret but it contains a mix of AHA’s and BHA’s. I found it to even out my hyperpigmentation/sun spots and control the oil in T-zone to the point where I don’t need to pull out my oil blotting sheets anymore or even using mattifying products! This is one of my all-time favorite skin care products and has following unlike any other product out there. But being back on a student budget and the elusive nature of even acquiring this product has made me look for alternatives.
Two great options are COSRX AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner and the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. I prefer the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid because oily skin and blackheads are my primary skin concern. I’ve had great success with it and I think it is an amazing alternative to Lotion P50 along with the AHA/BHA Clarifying Toner, which ingredient-wise is more similar to Lotion P50.