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July 12, 2022
Most of you have heard about how exfoliation is key to reducing acne and skin roughness, but the truth is, that is not all exfoliation does. Since there are so many misconceptions regarding the topic, we will dive into that today.
As we get older, the speed and efficiency of our cell renewal process decrease significantly——from 14-21 days in our 20s, to 28-45 days in our 30s, 45-60 days in our 40s, and 90 days in our 50s-60s on average! That's crazy, isn't it? Well this is actually the exact reason why you feel like your acne marks are taking longer to fade than when you are in college!
In fact, with a buildup of dead skin cells and excess sebum, the following issues may arise:
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Due to the below reasons, we do not recommend using physical scrubs for all skin types.
First of all, the friction in the process may irritate your already-inflamed skin. Secondly, it may also damage the skin barrier by removing healthy skin cells and causing micro-tears, and a damaged skin barrier simply cannot properly retain moisture, nor can it keep bacteria and allergens out, leading to more acne. Thirdly, such friction can also contribute to acne scars, as well as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which can take weeks, if not months, to improve. And last but not least, face scrubs cannot penetrate pores and unclog them, which means they won’t actually do anything for acne or blackheads/whiteheads!
On the other hand, AHAs and PHAs work by dissolving and breaking the bonds that hold together the dead skin cells on the skin surface. As these bonds are broken, dead skin cells get shedded naturally, and new, regenerated skin is revealed. Now, while all acids and enzymes work on the top layers of skin, BHAs can also work inside the pores to remove excess sebum as they are oil-soluble, making it the best choice for improving pores, acne, whiteheads, and blackheads.
Now, although acids may sound irritating to many, with the right acid combination and concentration in a well-rounded, carefully thought out formulation, they can actually be used by all skin types to target acne, pigmentation, uneven skin tone and rough texture if used properly.
With continued use, they also stimulate collagen and hyaluronic acid deposition and synthesis, meaning thicker dermis, increased elasticity and less wrinkles!
Contrary to popular belief, all skin types, including sensitive, eczema and rosacea skin, can all benefit from exfoliation. As mentioned above, it’s all about the types and concentration of acids used, the overall formula, and the frequency of use.
For instance, acids like mandelic acid and lactobionic acid are extremely gentle, whilst lactic acid actually hydrates. Soothing ingredients such as aloe vera within the formula can also act as a buffer and soothe skin at the same time.
In fact, gentle use of acids can reduce redness and dry, flaky skin experienced by eczema and rosacea-prone skin. They will also help keep the barrier balanced, and avoid bacteria getting trapped in the skin, which in turn can help mitigate flare-ups.
There are many different types of acids, all of which contain different properties, so while they all fall under the acid category, they work differently with individual benefits.
Lactic Acid, which is derived from milk, is a gentle, hydrating AHA that is naturally found in our body. It is rather unusual in the sense that it is also one of the main substance of the epidermis’ Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF). This means although it gently exfoliates, it also improves the skin’s NMF, as well as enhances ceramides production in the epidermis, so the skin is more hydrated, and can better lock in moisture.
In addition, studies have shown lactic acid to kill bacteria, reduce acne, and diminish wrinkles, as well as help treat keratosis pilaris.
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Mandelic Acid is derived from bitter almonds, and is considered to be the most gentle compared to Lactic and Glycolic Acid. Apart from gentle exfoliation to even skin tone and smooth texture, it has been shown to reduce melasma by as much as 50% in four weeks, and is thus most often recommended for skin with pigmentation.
This gentle acid is also great for treating existing acne and preventing future breakouts, as not only is it antibacterial, it also helps regulate sebum production, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation.
In addition, studies have also shown that mandelic acid helps stimulate collagen production, which ultimately helps soften the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
A mild AHA derived from fermented apples. While it is rarely spoken of, the exfoliating properties of malic acid help brighten skin tone and clear pores. In addition, it aids in healthy skin barrier function and ceramides stimulation.
A very interesting fact——while malic acid is brilliant used topically, when ingested from apples, it can irritate and stimulate the kidneys to produce excessive uric acid in the skin, which will contribute to Keratosis Pilaris. So if you have KP, it's best to stop eating apples.
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Glycolic Acid is derived from sugar cane, and is considered the most potent form of AHA thanks to its small molecular size. Like Mandelic and Lactic Acid, it is effective at exfoliating skin, reducing fine lines, and preventing acne; however, it is comparatively more irritating.
Even for non-sensitive skin, Glycolic Acid is not for everyday use. In fact, at high concentration, using it even once a week may greatly irritate some skin. And if you have sensitive skin, it is best to avoid Glycolic Acid.
Salicylic Acid, a BHA derived from Willow Bark, is an oil-soluble acid. This means besides exfoliation, it can penetrate into pores, and dissolves the skin debris and oils that are clogging them, thereby reducing blackheads, whiteheads, and acne.
For at-home use, look for products with under 2% Salicylic Acid. Anything over that may be irritating to the skin.
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A natural source of Salicylic Acid, Willow Bark is also considered a BHA. In addition to possessing ability in unclogging pores and alleviating acne just like Salicylic Acid, this anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, versatile ingredient is also high in tannins, phenolic acids, flavonoids, and various minerals, all of which help soothe the skin, stimulate cell regeneration, as well as reduce signs of aging and the appearance of wrinkles.
What’s more, some studies have shown Willow Bark to help alleviate conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea!
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PHAs are quite similar to AHAs in terms of similar chemical structure and similar effects on the skin, such as exfoliation and long term anti-aging benefits like increased skin thickness and decreased wrinkles. They are, however, larger in molecular size than AHAs, and are thus more gentle. What’s better, they even possess hydrating and antioxidant benefits!
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Lactobionic acid, is a PHA derived from sugar that has similar effects to AHAs, such as exfoliation, fading pigmentation, reducing the appearance of lines and wrinkles, improving enlarged pores and smoothing skin texture. Although less potent than AHAs, they are gentle enough for even sensitive skin, as it doesn't need to be used at a low pH.
In addition, besides also being a humectant that attracts water to the skin, it has been shown to act as a potent antioxidant as well that targets naturally-occurring, skin degrading enzymes to help maintain a youthful look.
Gluconolactone is a type of PHA that naturally occurs in fruit, honey, and wine. Not only is it a gentle exfoliating acid, it is also a hydrator thanks to its ability in attracting water to the skin, making it a great choice for sensitive skin. Better yet, Gluconolactone has healing and antimicrobial properties, and therefore is often recommended for healing broken skin, including those that have had recent superficial cosmetic procedures like laser treatments.
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