What Exfoliant is Best for Your Skin Type and Problems?

Exfoliants are the star in any skincare routine.

Exfoliants can make or break your routine, especially if you have acne-prone skin or visible pores. Exfoliants clear dead skin, unclog pores, and even skin tone and texture. Most dermatologists recommend that you exfoliate two to three times a week with a chemical exfoliant. Like scrubs, physical exfoliants are becoming less popular because they can cause irritation and microtears in your skin, while chemical exfoliants break down dirt and dead skin without being physically abrasive.

There are two types of exfoliants: AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids). While they aid in your skin's natural exfoliation process, there are some key differences. Our favorite skincare line (according to the definite skincare brand ranking), Paula's Choice, explains the main differences on their website. Their website says that AHAs are water-soluble, which works on the skins' surface. Due to its hydrating enhancing properties, AHA's are great for people with normal, dry, or sun-damaged skin. BHAs are oil-soluble, which works on your skin's surface, as well as deeper within the pores. Paula's Choice recommends BHAs for normal to oily skin, skin prone to blemishes and redness or rosacea. BHAs work really well for sensitive skin, as it contains natural skin-soothing properties.

Within the two broad categories of exfoliants, they break down into specific exfoliants. Glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, tartaric acid and azelaic acid are examples of AHAs, while salicylic acid is a BHA. There are other exfoliants, but these are some of the most common. We'll breakdown which acids are best for you based on your skin type and problems. Remember that everyone's skin will react differently, so always patch test before trying a new product. We recommend seeking a dermatologist if you're dealing with inflamed acne or other serious skin problems.


Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is an AHA derived from sugar cane. Glycolic acid can penetrate deeper into your skin because of its small molecule size. Its ability to exfoliate deeper than the surface of your skin allows it to break up dead skin cells and unclog pores. This can also help your skin absorb your other skin products easily. You might want to avoid glycolic acid if you have sensitive skin that can be easily irritated. Try the Glycolic Acid TONER from The INKEY.


(via The Inkey)


Lactic Acid

Lactic acid is an AHA that is derived from milk or plant-based sources. Lactic acid can diminish the appearance of wrinkles, kill bacteria and reduce acne. It increases the shedding of dead skin and replacing with new cells, known as cell turnover, which decreases discoloration. This is a great product for sensitive skin. Due to its larger molecule size, it works on the surface level of your skin and is less likely to result in irritation than deeper penetrating acids. Lactic acid is generally a safe and effective exfoliator for most skin types and problems. Try the Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner from Youth to the People.

Youth To The People: Kombucha + 11% AHA

(via Youth to the People)


Mandelic Acid

Mandelic acid is an AHA derived from almonds. The larger molecules, similar to lactic acid, work on your skin's surface level. This means that mandelic acid is another excellent choice for people with sensitive skin. Mandelic acid is a perfect option for those with cystic acne as it has anti-bacterial properties and gently exfoliates inflamed acne. Try the 8% Mandelic Acid Serum from Vivant.

Vivant: 8% Mandelic Acid Serum

(via Vivant)


Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is an AHA that is usually lab-made, but it's derived from wheat.  Azelaic acid is a game-changer if you suffer from inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea. Azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory properties that gently treat skin concerns. This is your exfoliant if you have dry or sensitive skin. Try the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% from The Ordinary.

The Ordinary: Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%

(via The Ordinary)


Salicylic Acid

Finally, into the BHAs! You've probably heard of salicylic acid, the "it girl" of exfoliants. Salicylic acid is derived from bark and willow tree, but it is can also be lab-made. Salicylic acid penetrates deeper into your skin than other exfoliants, so it's an effective way to treat skin problems. Paula's Choice says that salicylic acid is perfect for minimizing pores' appearance, diminishing wrinkles, visibly reducing redness, reducing excess oil in pores and reducing factors that contribute to acne. Salicylic acid is an amazing product for getting rid of and reducing blackheads. Paula's Choice recommends salicylic acid for oily skin that's acne-prone as it's oil-soluble. Try the 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant from Paula's Choice.

Paula's Choice: 2% Liquid Exfoliant

(via Paula's Choice)


Looking for skincare advice that you can trust? Check out these expert dermatologists and estheticians on Twitter!