Exfoliation Explained: The AHAs, BHAs & Scrubs

Exfoliation can help reduce fine lines, dark spots and improve your skin’s texture. It also helps the natural process of cell turnover by removing dead skin cells and revealing a newer, healthier layer underneath. It also helps your skin absorb the active ingredients in your serums better.

It can only accomplish all of this if it’s done wisely. If you aren’t careful, you can end up damaging your skin, which can lead to ageing and other concerns.


Everyone should do some exfoliation, but how you do it will differ depending on your skin type. It’s also worth learning a few things about chemical exfoliators, such as AHA acids to reduce your risk of inadvertently damaging to your skin with scrubs.



How Can Exfoliation Damage Your Skin?



Whether exfoliation helps or hinders your skin care journey depends on what you're using. 

Exfoliating scrubs have a rough texture that gently scrapes away dead skin cells. They used to commonly be sold as cleansers with exfoliating beads, but many of these were discontinued and banned in many countries when it was discovered that the non-biodegradable beads were getting into oceans and posing problems for marine life.

Though they’ve become more environmentally friendly, exfoliating scrubs can cause microtears to the skin. While your skin cells repair the damage, there’s a risk that small amounts of scar tissue can form. You may not see it, but over time, it can start to effect the overall texture of your skin.

Chemical exfoliators that contain small amounts of natural acids derived from fruits are much less likely to damage your skin. These acids dissolve the bonds between the skin cells so that the dead skin cells can be easily rinsed away. The most common ingredient in these chemical exfoliators are AHAs, but more on that below.

Exfoliation can make you more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to wear sunscreen everyday. 



What Are AHAs and BHAs?



Both AHAs and BHAs are chemical exfoliators that dissolve the bonds between surface cells so that dead skin cells wash away easily.

You can buy AHA cleansers with lower percentages of AHAs for at-home use.

AHA stands for Alpha-Hydroxy Acid. It’s generally derived from food sources; Glycolic Acid comes from sugarcane, Citrus Acid comes from fruit, Lactic Acid is produced with a fermentation process.

Though BHA stands for Beta-Hydroxy Acid, but it’s known more commonly as salicylic acid.

BHA is oil soluble, so it can be good for oily, more acne prone skin. If your skin is normal, sensitive or prone to dryness, you may prefer to stick with water-soluble AHAs, and use smaller amounts if you are prone to sensitivity. You should also moisturise afterward to protect the new skin and make sunscreen a part of your daily routine.

With professional peels, you can get an instant glow, but with at-home exfoliation, it can take a few weeks before you notice improvement in your skin. Be patient, though, your skin will thank you for it.