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Exfoliation Done Right: How Much Acid Is Too Much Acid

Acids are great and a useful part of any skincare routine. A fantastic chemical exfoliant like glycolic acid can really help transform your skin, erasing lines, fading dark spots, resolving texture issues, and even helping dehydration.

But here’s the problem: exfoliating products are getting stronger, certain ingredients are not safe, and some users are just flat-out exfoliating too often.

Here are the products to avoid, the percentages to stick to, and how to know how much exfoliation is too much.

Understanding Exfoliation and Acids

There are two main types of exfoliants: physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants.

Physical Exfoliation

physical exfoliation Eight Saints Zen Out Of Ten Natural Exfoliating Scrub

Physical exfoliants slough away dead skin cells, get rid of dirt and debris and prepare your skin to absorb all of the active ingredients in your skincare.

The main thing to keep in mind here is that you pick a physical exfoliant with the rightingredients. That means avoiding synthetics, harsh abrasives, microbeads, alcohol, or overly-harsh actives.

Instead, opt for effective-yet-gentle ingredients that will exfoliate the skin without causing microtears or weakening your skin’s natural barrier.

Here are the best face scrub particles to use - and remember to exfoliate gently a maximum of two times a week, at least until you’re certain about what your skin can handle.

Chemical Exfoliation

The main two types of chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHAs.

Overall, chemical exfoliants can be a little riskier when it comes to over-doing it: you can’t always feel yourself harming your skin in the same way you can with physical exfoliants, and you may not know that you’ve caused some damage until its too late and your skin is overly-sensitive, dry, or red.

Here’s the information.

AHAs: The Basics

Many fruits – like oranges, apples, pears, lemons, and grapes – naturally contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) that exfoliate and clarify the skin. These include:

  • Malic acid(apples and pears): Improves skin tone and elasticity, increases oxygen to the skin
  • Lactic acid (sour milk and bilberry): Antimicrobial, increases the skin’s moisture-holding capacity
  • Glycolic acid (sugar cane): Softens skin, decreases sebum, increases circulation and collagen
  • Tartaric acid (grapes): Antioxidant, improves skin tone and elasticity
  • Citric acid (oranges and lemons): Brightens skin, stimulates collagen production

The most thoroughly researched of these are glycolic and lactic acids – and glycolic acid is generally considered to be the most effective AHA. That's because it’s the smallest molecule of the bunch and therefore the most easily absorbed.

In general, AHA's work by dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. That exfoliates the skin evenly, encourages cell turnover, increases skin repair, and helps nutrients reach the inner layers of the skin. This comes with lots of visible benefits, including:

  • Improved skin texture
  • Balanced skin tone
  • Increased hydration
  • Diminished lines and wrinkles
  • Reduced signs of sun damage, including wrinkles and crepey skin

Find an effective glycolic acid moisturizer here. 

BHAs: The Basics

BHAs, or beta-hydroxy acids, also “unglue” the bonds that hold dead skin to the face, helping to gently exfoliate over time. Like AHA's, they offer these benefits:

  • Improved look and feel of the skin
  • Smoother texture and fewer imperfections
  • Increased hydration
  • Diminished fine lines and wrinkles

BHA's specialize in unclogging pores to maintain oil balance, prevent ingrown hairs, and fight underlying congestion.

The most commonly used BHA is salicylic acid. Its molecules are even smaller than glycolic acid.

The Differences and Who They Work For

AHA's are water-soluble, so they only work on the surface of the skin. This makes them great for resolving issues on normal, dry, or sun-damaged skin such as fine lines, texture imperfections, and dull tone.

BHA's, on the other hand, are lipid-soluble. They work both on the skin’s surface and deep within the pores. This makes them stronger and typically better for normal to oily skin or skin that’s prone to bumps, enlarged pores, and blemishes. They’re particularly effective at balancing oil levels and treating deep issues like blackheads and whiteheads.

BHA’s also have skin-calming properties, making them great for those with sensitive or redness-prone skin.

How to Know If You’re Overdoing It

Signs that your skin has been overexposed to chemical exfoliants include:

  • Irritation
  • Possible burns
  • Dryness
  • Breakouts
  • Photosensitivity

There are also long-term side effects like skin sensitization and even melanin accumulation, thinning skin, and premature aging if your skin is exposed to long-term UV and free radical damage without protection.

Exfoliating the Right Way

Eight Saints Zen Out Of Ten Gentle Skin Efoliator

So what’s the problem here? Usually, it’s not the harshness of physical exfoliants or acids that are used in skincare in their natural form.

Instead, it’s the combination of at-home peeling products with daily exfoliators and other add-on ingredients that can cause major concerns.

As a rule of thumb, then, you should:

  • Find one AHA product that works for you, and don’t use it more than every other day unless you have a doctor’s orders saying otherwise.
  • Be mindful of the other active ingredients that you’re using. If your skincare regimen includes powerful actives retinols or antioxidants, be extra aware to make sure that the combination isn’t causing irritation or breakouts.
  • As a general guideline, only use one of those products each day rather than using them all at once. For example, try to avoid vitamin C or retinol directly after you use an AHA. This will allow your skin to work with one active at a time, thereby reducing the chances that it’ll overreact.

On top of that, if you’re already experiencing any sensitivity or irritation symptoms, stop exfoliating for a while and focus on nourishing and rebuilding your skin’s natural barrier.That means incorporating products like:

Not sure where to get started? You can find both amazing, safe exfoliants andskin-nourishing barrier builders here.