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The best-selling chemical exfoliants to give you baby smooth skin

Chemical exfoliants have grown from a skincare fad to a daily essential and it’s about time they find room in your vanity for products of this nature. If you aren’t aware about what they are, here’s the lowdown: chemical exfoliants are a type of active acid-based ingredient that renew your skin in a manner far less harsh than a peel or a physical exfoliant — recall the rock-hard granules in a St. Ives’ Apricot Scrub.

There are different strains of it, each designed to remove impurities from your skin in a unique manner. Commonly labelled as AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) or PHAs (poly hydroxy acids) on products, chemical exfoliants absolve your complexion from a whole host of issues ranging from acne, problematic pores, visible signs of ageing and more.

We once delved deep into the category of products, explaining what each acid is exactly and how they help your skin (read all about that here). Now, with every skincare manufacturer proffering chemical exfoliants in one form or another, it’s time to zone in on the products themselves. Which one should you buy and which suits your needs best?

We have figured out the best, qualified by our own experience of the product and user reviews on the Internet. Just remember, your mileage may vary after use. From cleansing pads, masks, serums and the like, here are the best chemical exfoliants in every format to get you on the road to baby-smooth skin.

How to choose exfoliators as per skin type?

Exfoliating is super essential for a healthy skin however, it’s also important that you choose one according to your skin type. Here’s all that you need to know.

1. Oily Skin- An exfoliant that’s formulated with salicylic acid works well for people with oily and acne prone skin type.

2. Dry Skin- Exfoliating is a must for people with dry skin as it would not only rid you of dead skin and flakiness but also provide hydration. Hence, choose an exfoliant that’s enriched with glycolic acid as it will not only nourish your skin but also boost its collagen production.

3. Sensitive Skin- For people with a sensitive skin type, an exfoliator with lactic acid would do wonders and provide just the right hydration it needs.

4. Combination / Normal Skin- Since this skin type is a mix of both dry and oily, you can alternate between products rich in salicylic acid and glycolic acid.

Now that you know how to pick an exfoliator for yourself, let’s get scrolling through the list.

As its name suggests, Kate Somerville’s Exfolikate Glow moisturiser truly does give your complexion a tangible glow. Created with the combination of two potent AHAs, glycolic and lactic acid, as well as fruit enzymes, this lightweight cream is beloved for how it turns your skin from dull to radiant overnight.

Image: Courtesy Kate Somerville

Pixi is best known for its Glow Tonic, a glycolic acid toner many swear by for its ability to reduce blemishes and solve hyperpigmentation issues. A convenient replacement to the liquid toner is the handy Glow Tonic To-Go exfoliating toner cotton pads, which comes with 5% glycolic acid and aloe vera, as well as ginseng to hydrate. It’s super handy and far easier to travel with.

Image: Courtesy Pixi

BHAs, also known as beta-hydroxy acids, cleanse your skin from within and are best for reducing clogged pores and blemishes. Paula’s Choice 2 % BHA Liquid contains salicylic acid, a classic chemical exfoliant for sloughing off dead skin cells and minimising enlarged pores, so this is your new go-to and should solve your pertinent skin concerns.

Image: Courtesy Paula’s Choice

Sunday Riley’s Good Genes treatment is the poster child for the wonders of AHAs. It’s got stellar reviews on every beauty retail platform and has a legion of users who swear by this lactic acid exfoliator. This product remedies zits, reduces fine lines and rids you of hyperpigmentation issues. Use at night and wake up to brighter skin that makes you look like you’ve got good genes.

Image: Courtesy Sunday Riley

While AHAs and BHAs are now a norm in the skincare world, PHAs, or poly hydroxy acids, are still an up-and-coming category. These are the gentler siblings of AHAs, which serve to remove dead skin cells to smoothen your skin. Another plus side to PHAs is the fact that they draw water molecules to your face to moisturise it, resulting in a plumper visage with use. Lixir’s serum combines AHAs and PHAs to detoxify the skin, with reviewers touting its exceptional benefits for acne-prone complexions.

Image: Courtesy Lixir

Masks are perfect for deep fixes and Tata Harper’s Resurfacing Mask is exactly that with BHAs and fruit enzymes in the mix. This all-natural skincare brand creates their mask with pink clay, white willow bark and pomegranate enzymes to transform problem skin to perfection, with dramatic results visible after just a couple of uses.

Image: Courtesy Tata Harper

Appropriate for normal, dry, oily and combination skin types, this potent chemical exfoliant manages skin concerns like uneven skin texture and tone, pigmentation and dark spots, dullness and visible pores. It’s formulated with 10% AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) that improves skin’s moisture levels while reducing the look of pores and dark spots.

Furthermore, fruit enzymes and extracts together help purify, clarify and smoothen the skin. The applicator is reusable and provides gentle physical exfoliation that lends you a soft and radiant looking skin.

Image: Courtesy Fenty Skin

The Daily Microfoliant by Dermalogica is a rice-based enzyme powder enriched with a botanical brightening complex of phytic acid that does wonders to your skin. This exfoliator helps you achieve a brighter and smoother skin everyday by managing uneven skin tone and dullness. The presence of colloidal oatmeal and allantoin helps calm the skin. The exfoliant is suitable for all skin types.

Image: Courtesy Dermalogica

A gentle exfoliating toner that refreshes and softens your skin, this clarifying treatment has a blend of AHA, BHA and other botanical ingredients. Together they help in improving the skin’s texture, eliminating impurities, controlling pores, hydrating the skin and increasing its vitality.

To reap its benefits, apply it on your skin with a cotton pad and swipe it over for soft exfoliation.

Image: Courtesy Cosrx

A multifunctional lotion that exfoliates, cleanses and purifies the skin and helps in maintaining its pH balance, Lotion P50 must be bookmarked. Its use overtime lends your skin a mattified and regenerated look. The lotion is suitable for normal to oily skin type and can be used by dabbing it all over your face, neck and décolleté using a cotton pad.

Image: Courtesy Biologique Recherche

The Ordinary toning solution with 7% glycolic acid offers mild exfoliation whilst improving the radiance and managing the uneven skin texture. The formula also contains tasmanian pepperberry, aloe vera, ginseng and amino acids that support skin improvement. The solution is suitable for oily, dry, normal and combination skin types and is free from parabens and sulphate.

Image: Courtesy The Ordinary

Apt for skin toning and brightening, the Facial Radiance Pads exfoliate your skin, reduce fine lines and provide a clearer complexion. They manage dullness and uneven skin tone to give you a rather brighter-looking and glowing skin that feels soft, hydrated and soothing. These pads work well even on sensitive skin.

Image: Courtesy First Aid Beauty

The CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser is loaded with goodness that caters to various skin concerns. While it acts as a cleanser that removes oil and dirt to lend a smooth and soft skin, the salicylic acid gently exfoliates the skin. It’s also formulated with hyaluronic acid that hydrates the skin and three essential ceramides that maintains its natural barrier.

It’s non-comedogenic, non-drying and free of harsh microbeads.

Image: Courtesy CeraVe

The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder by Tatcha is a water-activated exfoliator consisting of silk proteins and Japanese rice bran. It turns into a creamy cloud-like foam providing a smooth polish and healthy glow. While the presence of papaya enzyme promotes skin turnover, the pH neutral formula with amino acids cleanses skin while maintaining its moisture levels.

The formula also contains Hadasei-3 (a trio of fermented Japanese superfoods like green tea, algae and rice) that restores skin’s radiance and health. This exfoliant fights skin concerns like dullness, uneven texture and pores and is suitable for combination to dry skin.

Image: Courtesy Tatcha

Give your skin the love it needs with this face wash scrub that does the work of both cleanser and exfoliant. While it removes dirt, excess oil and makeup without stripping the skin of its natural moisture, it also refines the look of pores to lend a smooth and brighter-looking skin. The formulation of this cleanser is a rich blend of sugar crystals, grapeseed oil, strawberry extract and soap berry peel extract.

Image: Courtesy Fresh


Which chemical exfoliators are best for beginners?

The key to picking the best chemical exfoliators is figuring out your skin type and skin concerns. Whether you should opt for an AHA-rich or BHA-rich exfoliant or you can use a combination of both depends on your skin.
You can start out with cleansers that have these ingredients in their formulations and then switch to scrubs and exfoliants. However, since you’re introducing chemical exfoliants to your skin, it is important to do it slowly but consistently.

Are chemical exfoliators better than natural exfoliators?

Both natural and chemical exfoliators have their own benefits and uses and one can incorporate them in their routine as per their preferences. While using chemical exfoliators might be good for your face, especially for sensitive skin, your body needs exfoliation too. And physical scrubbing makes for a great choice for that.

Which is the most gentle chemical exfoliator?

While AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid both make for gentle chemical exfoliants, lactic acid is the most gentle one. It has soothing properties and a moisturising effect that suits even sensitive skin. Hence, look for an exfoliant that’s rich in that component.

How to exfoliate your face?

People with dry or sensitive skin types should avoid physical exfoliation (scrubbing) as it can further irritate and harm the skin. They should rather opt for chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid and lactic acid. On the other hand, people with oily or normal skin can choose both physical and chemical exfoliation.

For scrubbing, you can use a brush, a sponge or a glove to manually exfoliate. Whereas for chemical exfoliation, use a cotton pad to dab and wipe it all over your face. In case it’s in a cleanser form, use it like a normal face wash on damp skin.

How often should I exfoliate my face?

You can exfoliate your face two-three times a week. If your skin is prone to irritation and redness, once or twice a week is enough.

The best-selling chemical exfoliants to give you baby smooth skin

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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