Long gone are the days where the iconic St. Ives Apricot Scrub was our only exfoliating option. Today’s sophisticated beauty regimen takes a much more comprehensive approach to exfoliating with chemical exfoliators taking the centre stage. We chat with the skincare acids and find out why acids for anyone in search of eternally luminous skin.
Not so long ago, if you mentioned the words acid and skincare in the same sentence most people would assume that you were asking for angry, irritated skin. But in 2019, at-home peels and exfoliating acids are one of the fastest-growing skincare categories. “Years ago, if you heard the word ‘acid’ you immediately thought of something that is harsh, irritating and shouldn’t o near your face,” says Lucy Shaw, skincare retail manager of MECCA Brands. Today, however, we’re more informed and educated than ever before. As consumers, we’re beauty aficionados – and we’re not just passionate about skincare, we’re informed and educated too. “It comes down to self-education and access to information,” says Shaw. “Now that we can use the Internet and read up on all the wonderful sources of information, advice from a dermatologist or skin expert is far more accessible.”
But it’s not just the fact that ‘acid’ is no longer considered a bad word in the skincare world that has led to the proliferation of at-home peels. While we’re more educated than ever before when it comes to all things skincare related, we’re also living in a world where instant gratification is the norm. And, as Shaw explains, our skincare routine is no exception. Instagram and selfie obsession has undeniably amplified our desire for blemish-free, luminous skin. “We’re living in the age of instant gratification and a constant quest for perfection,” she says. “And as it turns out, acids are pretty darn phenomenal at helping make this happen.”
Quality of Quantity
Although we’re living in an age where all the information you could possibly dream of is just a Google search and a mouseclick away, with such an endless abundance of skincare advice out there it can be tricky to decipher it all. If you’re considering adding an acid-based at-home peel or exfoliating product to your skincare line-up, it’s important to understand why exfoliating is important in the first place. “Your skin cells are constantly turning over,” explains Shaw. “Therefore your skin needs to naturally exfoliate, shedding around one million cells per day.” But thanks to ageing, our lifestyle, health and hormonal changes, our skin sometimes needs a helping hand to get the job done. “If you’ve tried exfoliating in the past you will be familiar with how the skin immediately looks and feels better,” says Shaw. “By removing this dead, dull layer of skin means that our products work more effectively and exfoliation can also help to prevent unwanted breakouts and congestion.”
So why not simply reach for the old St Ives Apricot scrub from the supermarket beauty aisle? “Both types of exfoliation (chemical and mechanical) have different benefits and it’s definitely about choosing the right type for you and your skin needs,” says Shaw. Mechanical exfoliators – scrubs with gritty textures – use friction to remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliators – which use acids such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids – break down the bonds between skin cells. “Mechanical exfoliants are great for breaking through that really stubborn layer of skin that can build up, particularly if you don’t exfoliate regularly,” says Shaw.
But mechanical exfoliators have their limitations. Many scrubs can are too harsh and can result in micro-tears on the skin and as Shaw says they’re not always suitable for all skin types – delicate, sensitive or redness-prone skin can be aggravated by mechanical exfoliators. “Chemical exfoliants will often use a combination of different acids that will work synergistically with the skin at a safe level,” says Shaw. “Our skin is naturally more acidic and so the skin responds really well to using acids. The key is to find the right exfoliator for you and ensure that you commit to it because, like exercise, it needs to be something that you do continually and regularly as part of your skin homework.”
Finding the right acid for you
Because skincare acids are now found in everything from serums, masks, exfoliators and at-home peels, deciding which type of product you reach for, it all really comes down to your skin concerns and skin type explains Prudvi Kaka, chief scientific officer for Deciem. “For new acid users, one must take into consideration the condition of their skin,” says Kaka. Unless you have sensitive skin – in this case, it’s always best to consult with a skin expert or dermatologist before using new products on your skin – Kaka suggests beginning with an acid that has a high molecular weight and low concentration for a gentle approach.
“There are two factors that determine an acid’s efficacy, those being the molecular weight and concentration,” explains Kaka. “An acid with a high molecular weight, such as Mandelic Acid, will have a milder approach to exfoliation and require more time to bring about the same effects on the skin as acids with low molecular weights, such as Glycolic Acid,” he adds. The Ordinary – one of Deciem’s brands – for example, offers various different acids each with different objectives. “For example, our Glycolic Acid formula is a toner and serves as a leave-on product, whereas our Salicylic Acid 2% Masque is a rinse-off formula,” explains Kaka. “We offer a range of acid formulas in different formats to accommodate different levels of skin tolerance.”
Skin type and tolerance to acids aside, not all skincare acids are created equally. “The acids we see most commonly in skincare vary depending on their origin (mostly fruit or plant) and therefore have different characteristics and benefits,” explains Shaw.
While some products have one hero acid ingredient, some products contain a blend of acids to target various skin concerns explains Emma Hobson, Dermalogica director of education for Asia Pacific. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) are two groups of commonly used acids that we see used in skincare. “The main difference between and AHA and a BHA is that a BHA is oil loving (lipid soluble), whereas AHAs are water loving,” explains Hobson. Salicylic acid, one of the key BHAs used in skincare for blemish-prone skin, is therefore excellent at helping to clear congested pores and preventing further breakouts says Hobson. “AHAs on the other hand, are used for general exfoliation purposes,” explains Hobson.
Lactic acid and glycolic acid are two of the most commonly utilised AHAs and skincare and both work in slightly different ways to help speed up cell turnover to reveal radiant skin. Lactic acid, which is made synthetically, has a larger molecule size explains Shaw. “Latic Acid increases skin hydration and ceramides, the skins vital protective barrier lipids improving the skins water barrier properties,” says Hobson. When used regulary she says lactic acid can help stimulate collagen synthesis, improve skin texture, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve skin ton. Glycolic acid, on the other hand, is a natural sugarcane derivative. “It’s known for being an effective anti-ageing acid,” says Shaw.
“Because it has a smaller-sized molecule it’s able to penetrate deeper into the skin and really works on increasing cell turnover,” she adds. As we start to see more and more acid-based products enter the skincare world, we’re starting to see new types of acids emerge too. PHAs (poly-hydroxy-acids), such as Lactobionic acid or Gluconolactone, which Shaw refers to as the cousins of Lactic acid are starting to have a presence in our beauty cabinet. “PHAs are even more gentle and hydrating so they are often combined with other acids as they have antioxidant and anti-glycation benefits too.”
There is such thing as too much exfoliation. Click here to find out How to Avoid Over-Exfoliating Your Skin with Skincare Acids