Dr. Dennis Gross
Alpha Beta Exfoliating Moisturizer, $68 at Dr. Dennis Gross
Celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross (Olivia Palermo, Selena Gomez, Zoë Kravitz…) is a huge proponent of chemical exfoliation and acids feature prominently across his product line. His two-step peel gets most of the glory, but this moisturizer shouldn’t be overlooked since it’s loaded with seven Alpha Beta acids: glycolic, lactic, malic, citric, mandelic, tartaric and salicylic. It’s also oil-free, so it’s totally safe for acne-prone skin.
Peter Thomas Roth
8% Glycolic Solutions Toner, $40 at Peter Thomas Roth
Using a toner will not only enhance the results of your skin care regimen (products absorb better applied over a toner than dry skin), but it will also support your skin’s natural protective barrier (since toners supply hydration and nutrients). This pick from Peter Thomas Roth takes it one step further with the addition of exfoliating glycolic acid.
That’s Incredi-peel, $22 at Bliss
These single-step, no-rinse peel pads work wonders post-workout (and post-cleanse). You need to get rid of all the sweat and grime, especially if you wore makeup, and this makes it easy. No moisturizer required.
First Aid Beauty
FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid 10% AHA, $55 at Sephora
Designed with sensitive skin in mind, this product has anti-aging ingredients in addition to its leave-on exfoliating acids.
LHA Cleansing Gel, $40 at SkinCeuticals
If you have acne-prone skin, it’s important to prevent breakouts on all fronts, especially if you’re sweating. This cleanser is effective enough to remove dead skin cells and grime, but not so strong that you can’t use it with other chemical exfoliators if you have thick, oily skin.
Idéalia Peel Face Peel for Radiance, $37 at Vichy
Your nighttime skin care routine is all about repairing your skin (versus a daytime routine where the main focus is protection from environmental aggressors) because during sleep, skin’s protective barrier function is decreased. Before bed is the perfect time to lather on this no-rinse acid solution.
PowerGlow Peel, $62 at Bluemercury
Bluemercury sells one of these pad packs every eight seconds! If you suddenly find yourself with a breakout related to an allergy or skin care product, these are aaamaazing. Just a few swipes all over your face and you should see things start to clear up the next day. No worries about the slight tingly sensation since it’s totally normal. Just keep these pads away from your eye area.
Youth Corridor by Dr. Gerald Imber
Revitalizing Beta Hydroxy Mask, $95 at Youth Corridor by Dr. Gerald Imber
Dermatologist and plastic surgeon Dr. Gerald Imber was an early pioneer of some of the first anti-aging procedures so you can expect the same cutting-edge ingredients and effectiveness with his products. Case in point: this anti-inflammatory mask that combines gentle acids to slough off dead skin cells without irritation along with hydrating ingredients to moisturize and protect from environmental stressors.
Clarifying Lotion 2, $16 at Clinique
What’s unique about this chemical exfoliator is that it comes in five subformulas depending on your skin type (from dry and sensitive to very oily). You can slot in just the right product to use between your cleansing and moisturizing.
Foaming Glycolic Wash, $40 at NeoStrata
With 18 percent glycolic acid, this isn’t a cleanser you’ll want to use every day. It’s also one that is best saved for very thick, oily skin in need of a serious deep cleaning. It’s the perfect cleanser to unclog and brighten skin in seconds.
BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz
Complete Exfoliation Gift Set, $170 at BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz
If you’re ready to truly commit, snag this set that includes everything you need for a serious skin cleanse. Included are products for your face, eyes and body.
If you use rough face scrubs to slough off dead skin cells, you may want to stop. Not only is your cleanser possibly harming marine life, but it could be seriously damaging your skin. But that’s not to say that you should skip exfoliation — it’s a critical part of your skin care routine.
“Exfoliation is the best therapeutic skin care treatment that you can do at home to get healthier, more radiant and younger-looking skin (along with SPF),” says Dr. Neal Schultz, New York City dermatologist, host of DermTV and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz. “It makes other skin care products apply and penetrate better into skin. It helps remove unwanted brown discolorations and evens skin tone. It helps treat and prevent ingrown hairs. It helps self-tanner apply smoother. It helps lessen the need for makeup (when your skin is glowing, you don’t need to mask it with foundation) and causes makeup to go on with an airbrush finish. It reduces the oil content (the root cause of acne) in your skin and helps prevent breakouts (even hormonal/menstrual) and makes existing breakouts heal faster. It also reduces the appearance of enlarged pores.” Convinced yet?
One note of caution: it’s key to correctly exfoliate or else you risk your skin becoming irritated and/or inflamed. Every dermatologist we’ve spoken to agreed that chemical exfoliation with acids like glycolic, lactic or salicylic, is the way to go. You’ll see results immediately and these acids come in the form of cleansers, masks, moisturizers, serums or pads.
“Chemical exfoliants essentially dissolve the glue holding the unwanted dead skin cells on and are suitable for all skin types, even for sensitive skin, while physical exfoliants (which mechanically remove dead skin cells by abrading them off) should never be used on sensitive skin,” says Schultz, who goes on to explain that chemical exfoliation gives better, consistent and predictable results. Why? “The outcome of physical exfoliation depends on three variables, which are never the same: how much pressure or how hard you rub; how long you treat any given area; the lack of constancy of the physical exfoliating medium (e.g., granules or loofah).”
It’s also worth noting that, contrary to popular belief, you make the same number of new dead cells every season, so exfoliating is something that should be done year round. If you’re looking to exfoliate every day, go for a low concentration of acids or products that specifically state they are meant for everyday use.
Remember, not all acids have the same strength. There are two categories: AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic and lactic acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid). Glycolic acid is the gold standard in chemical exfoliants with the others being weaker. With that in mind, BHAs are usually preferred for those with acne-prone and very sensitive skin or rosacea. They’re also a good place to start if you have no experience using chemical exfoliators. For the experienced user, however, AHAs are the way to go.
Click through for the best chemical exfoliants to try now.
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