Chemical exfoliants

Since it’s officially summer, this week’s focus will be on “radiant skin” and I’ll be covering topics relating to achieving clear and glowy skin.  First, we’ll look at chemical exfoliants.

Don’t let the word “chemical” scare you, this is just to distinguish between the physical / manual type (scrubs, cloths, loofahs) and the ones that solely use non-abrasive ingredients to exfoliate the skin.
The 2 key categories of chemical exfoliants are BHA (beta hydroxy acid) and AHA (alpha hydroxy acid).  A trick I use to help myself remember which is for what purpose is: BHA = blemishes, and AHA = anti-aging.  Typically, BHA works better for oily skin types whereas AHA benefit drier skin.

The queen of exfoliants is Paula’s Choice (PC) – she definitely revolutionized the average consumer’s understanding and access to chemical exfoliants.  Her BHA and AHA offering are undoubtedly the best on the market for the price. Here are some exfoliants in my skincare collection:


BHA works by exfoliating beneath the surface of the skin.  BHA is oil soluable, so for blemish-prone skin where excess sebum can get trapped in pores, BHA can help to unclog them.  The key active ingredient that falls under the BHA category is salicylic acid (there is also some claims that willow bark can mimic BHA actions on the skin).  Shown here are PC Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid and 2% BHA Gel.  I prefer the liquid version since it doesn’t leave a sticky film on my skin.  Personally, I haven’t found BHA to be effective for me but it’s not geared toward my skin type.


AHA on the other hand, is my jam! Whenever, I use AHA, my skin just glows.  AHA is water soluable and acts on the surface of the skin, sloughing off dead skin which can cause the skin to look dull.  The feeling of AHA on the skin can be how you’d expect from an “acid” – which is to say it can tingle or burn if the concentration is too strong.  There are a wide range of active ingredients that fall under the AHA umbrella, including: glycolic acid, lactic acid, Malic acid, and citric acid – but glycolic acid remains the most popular.
My favourite AHA product is PC Resist Weekly Resurfing Treatment 10% AHA (in fact, it’s my favourite product from PC, period).  I use this weekly or sometimes more often if I find my skin looking lackluster.  I’ve decanted the last of my nearly empty bottle into a squeeze bottle for easier dispensing – it’s an amber coloured liquid.  After my normal toner, I pour about a dime size of the AHA liquid onto the palms of my hands and pat onto my face.
Another AHA product I like is surprisingly from Physician’s Formula (PF). Its Anti Aging Laser Resurfacing Serum with 2.4 AHA is a gentle exfoliant that can be used nightly if desired (it uses lactic acid).  I apply this lightweight gel lotion to cleansed face underneath my regular nighttime moisturizer – it makes my skin very soft and glowy.  There’s also vitamin C and peptide in the concoction – it has quite a strong fragrance which isn’t offensive (I can’t place the smell but my first thought was Play-Doh).

The other AHA products pictured are: PC 8% AHA Gel and Beyond Belief ABH Intensive Repair Serum (this was Sally Beauty Supply brand and is discontinued now unfortunately), and Neostrata Invigorating Solution pads (also discontinued).  I mostly stick to AHA and only use BHA during the week prior to my period when my hormonal blemishes tend to flare up.  I don’t use BHA and AHA on the same nights but I’ve read that it can be done – just apply BHA first, then let it absorb for 30 minutes, then apply AHA.  I do always wait 30 minutes before applying serum or moisturizer on top of either AHA / BHA. Using BHA and AHA will cause increased sun sensitivity (all products include this warning) so daily application of sunscreen is imperative!

Do you use any BHA or AHA products?

19 thoughts on “Chemical exfoliants

      1. No. I am really used to them now. The first few times you do it your skin will be irritated. There are producproducts that help with that too. There are different strengths of the solution that is used. It is NOT supposed to burn.


    1. I’ve heard great things about the First Aid Beauty and Dr. Dennis Gross pads – they look to be quite convenient too! I haven’t tried anything from Kate Somerville – I should try to get a sample! Thanks! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I used to use the Neostrata AHA and I loved it. There’s two levels so you can start with the weaker one and work your way up. Unfortunately I think I went too far with a good thing and it started having reverse effects on me and caused breakouts. I think my skin was retaliating. I haven’t used it since, but I will in the future. Before I do, I need to finally find a sunscreen I can commit to. Sunscreen is the most difficult product for me because it seems like 99% clog me and break me out. I’m still searching, but I know that using AHA without a daily sunscreen is bad news bears.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been very curious about the Neostrata AHA! It’s a bit pricier than the Paula’s Choice but given the exchange rate right now, maybe I’m better off supporting a Canadian brand instead! How often were you using it that it caused break outs?
      What kinds of sunscreens have you been using? I find that chemical sunscreens break me out. I just did a post on mineral sunscreens, maybe one of these could work for you:
      Also, I have to use cleansing oils to thoroughly remove sunscreen or else they could clog my pores too.

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      1. I really liked it before it became a problem for me. It always goes on sale at shoppers! And I can find it at winners sometimes too. The sunscreen I tried to use mostly was the Cerave AM and it broke me out like crazy, my chest was a mess too. I have the Clinique city block sheer.. I should try that again. I’ll take a look at your post. And good point on the removal.. It’s so hard to get off, and I have clog prone pores to begin with.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The Cerave AM is a mixture of chemical (Homosalate, Octinoxate, Octocrylene) and mineral (zinc oxide) sunscreen so that could be the culprit. The Clinique City Block Sheer should be good since it’s a mineral sunscreen!

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  2. I have a Neostrata AHA product that I haven’t used in ages. So lazy. I’ll whip it out this week 🙂

    So interesting that you like the Physician’s Formula! I will have to keep an eye out for it. I haven’t used PC in a very long time, but I remember liking some of the skincare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds really good – I’ll have to look into it! I’ve heard good things about Hada Labo but I haven’t tried anything from the brand yet.


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