How to Use the Right Chemical Exfoliant in Your Skincare Routine

Skincare experts share how to replace the harsh physical face scrubs that harm your skin with these gentle, chemical exfoliants for glowing, clear skin!

For long, the easiest way to quickly smoothen your skin was by rubbing your favourite apricot or walnut or sugar scrub on your face! However, as it turns out, the instant-glow on your face may just be short-lived since using physical exfoliants on your face can cause micro-tears and weaken the skin's moisture barrier.    

Chemical exfoliation has become the latest 'Aha!' moment for all skincare enthusiasts. So, even though the name sounds rather daunting, these potions are far more gentle on your skin and get the job done without the rough scrubbing.  

Introducing the exfoliator trio, AHAs/BHAs/PHAs,  in your beauty routine help you slough off dead skin. These are exfoliating acids that when applied, force the skin to self-exfoliate and result in glow, rejuvenation and brightening.  

aha bha pha

However, although they belong to the same family there are some key differences between the three. Dr Nirupama Parwanda, dermatologist and founder, Zolie Skin Clinic says, “AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) help reduce pigmentation and achieve a more even-toned skin. It is also beneficial to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles. Meanwhile, BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) contains anti-inflammatory properties and reduces sebum secretion. It helps reduced blackheads/ whiteheads and acne lesions, along with reducing pigmented spots. Then, PHAs (Poly Hydroxy Acids) have a larger molecular structure than AHA thus penetrate the skin more slowly which make them great to be used for exfoliation of sensitive skin that is prone to irritation and also for conditions such as eczema or rosacea.”   

So, you pick a potion depending upon the skin type and issues. As Dr Kiran Sethi, celebrity skin and wellness expert, Isya Aesthetics puts it: 

AHAs are alpha hydroxy acids but they are water-soluble. So, they are more hydrating, and they unglue the skin cells from each other forcing them to exfoliate off. We typically use AHAs for pigmentation, hydration and also for anti-ageing as they have a collagen-boosting ability.
There are many types of AHA's - so their result and precautions depend on which acid it is and what the pH is and how much you apply. The lower the pH and the more application layers - the stronger the peel.

cosrx aha

Rs 1,270, maccaron.in

BHAs are oil-soluble – so they can specifically go inside the follicle and exfoliate in the sebum and pores. It is designed more for the anti-acne benefit for this reason. It's good for unclogging those pores and better for oilier skin types.

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Rs 900, amazon.in

PHAs are super gentle versions of AHAs. They hydrate more and generally don't penetrate so deeply. They are great for glow, hydration and for sensitive skin types as well. 

pha serum

Rs 2,450, amazon.in

How can we include it in our skincare regime?

Once you have narrowed down the exfoliation best suited for your skin concerns, you can use it in the form of face washes during the day or as toners/ serums/ creams during night time.

“Look for serums containing AHAs or PHAs at night for anti-ageing, hydration, glow and anti-pigmentation. If you have acne, look for products with BHAs to be used in the morning or night such as lotions, serums or even 2% salicylic acid face washes,” says Dr Sethi. 

A word of caution though… 

Using these self-exfoliators may increase photosensitivity levels in your skin, so you may have to actively protect yourself from sun exposure. 

Dr Parwanda says, “The thing to really be particular about when incorporating such formulations in the skincare routine is to avoid excessive sun exposure and to regularly use sunscreen.”