Exfoliating can be an intimidating business. Add the word "chemical" in front of it, which entails using acids to slough away dead skin cells, and it sounds downright scary. But adding acids to your routine really isn't as intense as it sounds once you understand how they work. As long as you're using the best chemical exfoliant for your skin type, the chance of encountering irritation on your quest for clearer, brighter skin is little to none.
To break things down, it's important to know that most chemical exfoliants contain acids that come in two forms: Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). There are several acids that fall under the AHA umbrella, of which the most well known are glycolic and lactic, while BHAs largely refer to salicylic acid. Both AHAs and BHAs improve the skin's tone and texture by gently breaking down the intercellular glue that holds the top layers of dead skin cells together, thus encouraging the skin's natural shedding process.
AHAs tend to be preferred by dry and sun-damaged skin types, as they work on the skin's surface to help fade hyperpigmentation and improve the efficacy of your moisturizers and other treatments. Meanwhile, BHAs are better for oily and acne-prone skin types because they're oil-soluble, so they work on the skin's surface and inside the pores. They also have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, so BHAs can cut through oil that clogs pores while also helping to eliminate acne-causing bacteria.
If you have extreme skin sensitivities such as rosacea, you'll want to check with your dermatologist before you add any type of exfoliator into your routine to make sure you're using a product that won't exacerbate your skin condition. And, no matter what your skin type, if you're new to chemical exfoliants, you'll want to start out with a lower concentration of your acid of choice (between 2 and 5 percent) and work your way up as your skin becomes used to it. Exfoliation of any kind also makes you more vulnerable to sun damage, so you'll want to make sure to be extra diligent about using SPF (even on cloudy days) to keep your skin protected.
Ahead, you'll find six of the best chemical exfoliant products, from on-the-go pads to nightly toners, and even an exfoliation spray for your body.