Spring Cleaning Your Skin: Everything You Need To Know About Chemical Exfoliants

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Kat from Sophistikat.ie as a guest blogger today. For those of you that don’t know, Kat is is previously from the award winning blog Dolly Rouge. When it comes to skin care, there really is nobody else in the Irish blogging world with Kat’s knowledge. Every Irish beauty blogger knows that when you have a skin care related question, Kat is the person to go for. Once you have read her post below, don’t forget to follow her on Facebook and twitter and check out her blog here.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been hiding under a big pile of anything you could bury yourself under all winter: blankets, cardis, 1000 denier tights, and the heaviest coverage foundation you own. There’s nothing like a bit of spring in the air to make me start to panic about the fact that my skin hasn’t seen the light of day in a good 8 months. While it’s not quite time to tackle the amazon rainforest south of the belly button, sheer, glowy skin season is just around the corner. And I know my mug is lacking quite a bit of lustre after the winter. This time of the year I really start to focus on “spring cleaning” my visage with chemical exfoliants, to slough the dead skin and neglect right off, leaving baby soft, glowing skin behind. Ready for all the sheer foundations, Mary-Lou Manizer and cream blush I can throw at it.


Why chemical exfoliants you ask? Well If I were president of the world, I’d actually ban most physical scrubs. ESPECIALLY St. Ives Apricot Scrub. That one is pure evil. The majority of physical scrubs contain jagged particles that create micro-tears in the skin. And if you’re sensitive, or acne prone, you could actually be doing more harm than good, as scrubbing your skin with scratchy particles will cause your immune system to activate, creating inflammation, and possibly new spots. The great thing about chemical exfoliants is that they nibble away the connections between dead skin cells, allowing them to gently slough off, no scrubbing, rubbing, or otherwise irritating your face required. As long as you use the right product and don’t jump in with a high strength peel if you’re not used to it, chemical exfoliants are actually tolerated better than scrubs, and are in fact recommended in conditions such as rosacea as they can help the skin strengthen itself! Mad ted.


Today I’m going to walk you through my favourite chemical exfoliant products. I’ve included a product for every step of your routine, but I should emphasise that you don’t use them all at once. Pick one and see how you get on. Perhaps you really love your current serum and don’t want to replace it for something else. That’s no problem, I’ve mentioned a cleanser or a toner you can use instead. I’ve also given two products in each category, one gentle (best for first time users, or those with sensitive skin) and one strong (for those who have been using chemical exfoliants for a while). As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’m more than happy to help.



Gentle – GloTherapeutics Clear Acne Cleanser

GloTherapeutics Clear Acne Cleanser is a gentle, yet effective cleanser, which works on three fronts to exfoliate. You may have heard of salicylic acid already, it’s well represented in products for acne prone skin, as it’s an oil soluble beta hydroxy acid which means it can enter the pore and clear out oily congestion, which some water soluble alpha hydroxy acids can’t. So if you have problems with blackheads and clogged pores, this is the exfoliant for you. What you may not know however is that salicylic acid works best in a certain pH range, and most high-street products which contain salicylic acid don’t have it at the required pH of 3-4 for it to work optimally. Fortunately GloTherapeutics Clear Acne Cleanser is formulated at an effective pH of 4, so you can be sure you’re getting what you pay for. It also uses natural enzymes from apple, to help slough off dead skin on the surface, complimenting the salicylic acid nicely. Yes, I know after all I said about physical scrubs, it also contains scrubbing beads. But these are soft, not scratchy, and certainly not harsh. In a well formulated product like this, they work well *eats her hat*. This will set you back €36 and you can buy it online here

Strong – Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash

This cleanser from Neostrata, quite simply, resurfaces your skin on a daily basis. It contains a high concentration of glycolic acid, which is the gold standard alpha hydroxy acid. It has the smallest molecular size of all the alpha hydroxy acids, which means it penetrates the skin very effectively. It is a water soluble AHA which means it works on the surface of the skin better than the oily pore (bear this in mind if you have acne prone skin – you’ll likely need salicylic acid), however it also a humectant. This means it attracts and binds water to the skin, which for those of us who suffer from dehydration is an absolute godsend. The act of rehydrating the skin alone can immediately plump and firm it, helping to smooth lines and wrinkles. It has also been shown to promote collagen production in the skin over time, making it a gold standard in anti-aging.
This product also contains lactobionic acid, a polyhydroxy acid. This is a similar acid to glycolic, but with a more gentle exfoliating action. It also is a potent antioxidant, inhibiting the enzymes in the skin which breakdown collagen, again helping to plump and refine the skin’s structure. If your skin is too sensitive for glycolic acid, look for products containing lactobionic acid instead, for similar results.
The Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash is very strong, so even if you’re a seasoned AHA user, I recommend caution at first. Use it every other day and see how you get on. Don’t be seduced by the baby soft skin it reveals and use it twice a day off the bat, as you may suffer a reaction. Build up your tolerance over time. After a few weeks you will be able to use it more frequently, and you’ll be hooked. Believe me. The Glycolic wash costs €24 and you can find your nearest stockist here

2. Toners


Gentle – Clarins Gentle Exfoliator

Clarins Gentle Exfoliator is a Caroline Hirons rubber stamped “acid toner”. It contains AHAs glycolic acid and tartaric acid (a larger molecule than glycolic, meaning it stays closer to the surface of the skin and doesn’t penetrate as deeply, making it more gentle) and BHA salicylic acid. It also contains glycerin, another humectant (water attracting), which means it should help to draw moisture into the skin as well as gently exfoliating. A nice one for sensitive skin with a mixture of issues – fine lines and clogged pores – as thanks to the blend of AHAs and BHAs it should act both on the surface and inside the pore. CLarins is available nationwide and the Gentle Exfoliator  costs €31.00

Strong – Malin + Goetz 10% Glycolic Acid Pads

Malin + Goetz 10% Glycolic Acid Pads is another complete skin resurfacing product, with one of the highest percentages of glycolic acid I’ve seen on the high street. I consider this a similar strength to the Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash, except that you can leave this on your skin for longer if you want even more bang for your buck. I’m a seasoned chemical exfoliant user, and I can still feel this tingle, so proceed with caution. Don’t go leaving it on overnight on first use. However once you’ve broken it in, you can get incredible results by leaving it on a little while. Also, after applying to the face and neck, the pads always have enough solution left to rub over legs, back or arms – so you get a two for one resurfacing your face and preventing ingrown hairs/clearing bacne or keratosis pilaris! The pads will set you back about €55 in Harvey Nichols or Space nk.


Gentle – Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Serum
Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Serum is a lovely cooling aloe vera based gel, with 4% glycolic acid. A great one to try if you’re just starting out with chemical exfoliants or have sensitive skin, as it will soothe as it exfoliates. Nip Fab is available in Boots or online here for €14.99
Strong – GloTherapeutics Renew SerumGloTherapeutics Renew Serum contains my perfect trifecta of anti-aging and anti-acne ingredients – 7% glycolic acid, 1% salicylic acid and 1% retinol. Other than chemical exfoliants, retinol is the other cosmeceutical ingredient I’m fanatical about. It’s one of the vitamin A derivatives which are the gold standard in anti-aging dermatology. Vitamin A derivatives are the only clinically proven skincare ingredient which can actually “turn back the clock” in terms of aging: reducing wrinkles, increasing collagen and elastin production to plump the skin, reducing hyperpigmentation and photoaging and refining pores. It’s a miracle worker, so I love this serum. Be warned, it can cause dryness and flaking at first, as the skin starts being resurfaced. But after a couple of weeks of use you’ll see your skin brighter and plumper, and your pores smaller. This product is one of my mainstays coming up to my wedding day. You can get your hands on one here for €36


Gentle – Ziaja Sensitive Enzyme Peeling Mask
Ziaja Sensitive Enzyme Peeling Mask contains papain, which is an enzyme from papaya. Having a larger structure than most of the AHAs, this is going to work mainly on the surface of the skin, meaning it’s a great pick for sensitive skin to slough away surface skin layers without irritation. Also it’s purse friendly at under a fiver! You can pick one up here for €4.99
Strong – Ren Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask
Ren Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask is my hangover cure. Leave it on for 10 minutes, hop in the shower and rinse off, moisturise well, and your skin is transformed from grey and dead to glowing. Containing a combination of fruit acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, tartaric acid and papain) this is a potent AHA mask and an instant brightening fix for dull skin. In fact the Ziaja Sensitive Enzyme Peeling Mask is the poor-man’s version of this!
So there you have it, a ramble through the wilds of chemical exfoliation. Hopefully I’ve convinced you why chemical exfoliants are SO much better than scrubs, and one of my recommendations will find its way into your routine. If you have any questions, or specific skin concerns, don’t hesitate to ask. You can buy it here for €35

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  • Reply
    Sharon Leavy
    March 4, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    Fantastic informative post, thank you!

  • Reply
    March 4, 2015 at 8:55 pm

    Fantastic post Kat. Informative as ever. Near running to the end of my NeoStrata and will definitely re-purchase. Loving the sound of that serum too.

  • Reply
    March 4, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    Fab post

  • Reply
    Kiss & Make-up
    March 5, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I use a BHA exfoliant from Paula’s Choice, but I’ve always wanted to try that REN peeling a try.

  • Reply
    March 5, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Kat what is the best serum available in Ireland containing salicylic acid??

  • Reply
    Cosmetics lover
    March 6, 2015 at 2:07 am

    great post as usual Sinead!

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