Those who are serious about skincare know that exfoliating acids are nothing new. In fact, Cleopatra herself may have been aware of chemical exfoliation, bathing in lactic acid rich milk.
Acids are having a bit of a comeback at the moment in the world of skincare, with many beginning to ditch their scrubs and opt for toners, tonics, cleansers and masks that do the hard work for them. But why are acids and chemical exfoliants preferable to other modes of exfoliation?
Controversially, we at The Skin Nerd® would believe that scrubs and other forms of mechanical exfoliation, such as grits and exfoliating brushes, aren’t the ideal way to exfoliate, and we aren’t alone in this. The theory that many aestheticians hold is that mechanical exfoliants cause damage to the surface of the skin due to the sharp, abrasive edges of the exfoliating particles.
Exfoliating acids, such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid and polyhydroxy acid, on the other hand, are much more respectful to our skin’s protective barrier, the uppermost layer of the skin made up of dead skin cells and lipids. This barrier is simultaneously your skin’s lid and its shield that works to lock moisture in and keep “bad” bacteria and irritants out.
Where scrubs work to remove the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin manually, acids take a slower and more deliberate approach in that they work to speed up our skin cell turnover, the process of new skin cells being made and older ones being shed off like a skin cell conveyor belt, whilst gently unsticking the glue holding dead skin cells to each other.
I will be honest: this does not mean that acid exfoliation is a fool-proof, damage-free mode of exfoliation. In fact, if carried out too frequently or done in the incorrect manner, acid exfoliation can be detrimental to skin health, stripping the skin of its barrier and leaving it red, irritated and dehydrated.
With great power comes great responsibility, and when you’re using potent acid exfoliators, you are responsible for taking care of your usage. This is why I believe in the power of education in skincare. Without education, you as the skincare user do not know what you’re doing and can cause yourself damage.
A brand that doesn’t tell you how often to use your potent products, or doesn’t tell you when not to use them is only doing half a job in my eyes.
When it comes to the type of exfoliating acid best suited for your skin, a number of factors come into play. I, as someone often plagued by excessive oiliness and frequent lumps and bumps, am a prime candidate for salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is oil-soluble, meaning that it can funnel into the pore itself to break up the plugs of dead skin cells and debris that cause spots to occur.
For those with normal, dry or dehydrated skin, and particularly those who may be a bit more sensitive, lactic acid should be what you’re reaching for. Lactic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid with a larger molecular size than its cousin, glycolic acid. This means that it is a touch gentler on the skin than glycolic acid.
Lactic acid binds water to it, so it is fantastic for hydrating the skin and helping it to become near-instantly plumper.
Whether you opt to introduce acid exfoliation into your routine through a cleanser or a leave-on product is up to you but tread softly and do your research to find out which acid is best for you.
The Nerdie Pick
If you feel that lactic acid would be a good fit for your skin, get your hands on the Gallinee La Culture Foaming Facial Cleanser (€16.50, available on store.theskinnerd.com and from selected pharmacies nationwide).
Created by French Doctor in Pharmacy, Marie Drago, Gallinee focuses on balancing the skin’s microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics, and the La Culture Foaming Facial Cleanser combines lactic acid with a probiotic complex to exfoliate, nourish and hydrate the skin in one fell swoop. Texturally, it is a deliciously light, soft foam that is a joy to put on your face.