The best chemical exfoliators you can buy in 2021


It’s not hard to remember a time when acids were confined to chemistry lessons or Bond villains’ weapon of choice. Nasty and dangerous liquids that you wouldn’t want near you, let alone on your face.

Fast forward a few years, and chemical scrubs containing just that have become mainstream, rolling out of medical clinics and entering formulas for all major skin care products.

The reality is that acids aren’t scary at all. Used in controlled amounts, they can dissolve dead skin cells, along with oil, dirt, and bacteria, to deliver a level of cleanliness you just couldn’t get with a facial cleanser or exfoliant. physical.


Large pores? Glycolic acid. Dull skin? Mandelic acid. Dry skin? Lactic acid. Oily skin? Salicylic acid. There is an acid for every skin condition, so get over your fear and dive in for your best skin yet.

What is a chemical exfoliant?

Chemical exfoliators are acids that react with the skin, removing accumulated layers of dead skin cells and excess oil that can cause dull skin and blemishes.

“The results of chemical exfoliation are generally more uniform than physical,” adds the godfather of acids himself, Dr. Dennis Gross. “Although physical exfoliators remove dead skin, it’s like wearing sandpaper on a wooden surface – if you look closely you can see scratches.”

How do chemical exfoliators work?

“Chemical exfoliators safely remove the top layer of dead skin, allowing new, healthy, young skin to show through,” says Dr. Gross.

However, all acids have a different cellular composition. Those made up of large molecules focus on the outer layers of the skin, while some are much thinner, able to sink deep into the dermis for deeper exfoliation.


How often should I use a chemical exfoliant?

“In the past, dermatologists advised against daily exfoliation – forget that,” says Dr. Gross. “Today we have advancements in formulations that allow us to exfoliate daily without stripping or irritating the skin.”

If you’re new to acids, however, it’s wise to start with a chemical exfoliant twice a week and work daily.

Chemical exfoliators: types of acid

AHA (alpha hydroxy acids)

AHAs are a family of acids – including glycolic, lactic, mandelic, malic, and tartaric – that are soluble in water. These are the ones you turn to if the texture, pigmentation, pores, or a dull complexion are burning you. “AHA [are] a great chemical exfoliant, ”says Dr. Gross. “These improve cell turnover for a brighter, clearer and younger appearance. They can also help lighten dark spots caused by sun damage. “

BHA (beta-hydroxy acids)

BHAs – which are mostly made up of salicylic acid – are oil soluble and therefore able to dive deep into pores to dissolve excess sebum which can mix with dirt, dead skin cells, and oils. bacteria to cause blemishes. If blackheads, spots, and general fat are your concern, go for a BHA.

Chemical Exfoliators: Dr Dennis Gross Acid Index

Glycolic acid

“Glycolic acid is an AHA with the smallest molecular structure, which allows it to penetrate the skin for a deeper exfoliation. Glycolic Acid is used to improve the appearance and texture of the skin through exfoliation while reducing fine lines, hyperpigmentation, dark spots and uneven skin tone.

Lactic acid

“Lactic acid is a natural acid which is milder than glycolic acid. Lactic acid helps exfoliate and speed up cell renewal and renewal. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for multitasking. “

Salicylic acid

“Salicylic acid is a BHA that exfoliates the skin, reducing the number of pore blockages while building elastin and collagen. It is also an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory acid that helps calm and clarify the skin, making it suitable for combination to oily and acne-prone skin.

The best chemical exfoliators for every skin type

Photo by Lumin on Unsplash

Best Everyday Chemical Exfoliant

Anthony Purifying Astringent Pads

Astringent pads are a great option if you want total ease – just a few glides on the skin and you’re good to go. Strong enough to deliver results yet soothing enough for daily use, Anthony’s blend of witch hazel, azelaic acid and aloe vera will rid the skin of impurities and excess oil without drying out your complexion. With 60 vegan towels in the tub, you get what you pay for, too.

Buy Now: £ 25.00


Best chemical exfoliant for sensitive skin

111SKIN Exfoliating cleanser

Sensitive skin is a frustrating condition to deal with. The trick is to use the products less often so that your face has time to calm any inflammation or irritation. Instead of a pure chemical exfoliant, opt for a cleanser with exfoliating properties. This one from 111SKIN is designed to stay on the skin only for a short time before being neutralized by water.

Buy Now: £ 45.00


Best chemical exfoliant for acne

Alpha H Fair Skin Tonic

If your face is no stranger to rashes, then go for a product that contains salicylic acid. The only oil-dissolving acid, it penetrates deep into clogged pores and cleanses them. Clear Skin Tonic by Alpha H is enriched with chamomile, cucumber, arnica and thyme to calm any inflammation and redness.

Buy Now: £ 8.75

Clear skin tonic

Best gentle chemical exfoliant

PHA Inkey List Toner

Relatively new to the skin care scene, PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) offer the gentlest form of chemical exfoliant, removing dead skin while drawing water to the top layers. If your skin is dull, dry, or congested, this is the chemical exfoliant for you. Opt for The Inky List’s PHA Toner, which combines mild acid with aloe vera and niacinamide (a form of vitamin B) to keep you looking fresh.

Buy Now: £ 9.99


Best chemical exfoliant for combination skin

DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel

For a chemical exfoliant that has a high impact, it’s hard to go wrong with DCL’s Penta Peel Multi-Action Pads. But don’t let that scare you. The product does not leave your face tight or red. Instead, the blend of acids (salicylic, hyaluronic, lactic, phytic, and mandelic) will overcome all concerns, leaving your face so smooth that you won’t be able to stop touching it.

Buy Now: £ 58.00

DCL Multi-Action Penta Peel 50 pads

Best chemical exfoliant for ingrown hairs

Malin + Goetz Ingrown Hair Cream

A physical scrub is a great way to take care of everyday ingrown hairs. For particularly stubborn people, or for sensitive skin that hates too much noise, however, there is the chemical exfoliating cream from Malin + Goetz. Glycolic and Salicylic Acid will remove any trapped debris, while Vitamin B5 helps heal broken skin. It works on both the body and the face for this post-manscaping routine.

Buy Now: £ 27.00

cream for ingrown hairs.

Best chemical exfoliant for oily skin

Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Universal Peel

Dr Dennis Gross is the godfather of acids, so it’s no surprise that his first at-home peel is a cult favorite. A mixture of five acids (including salicylic to dissolve excess oil), plus antioxidants and vitamins, it comes in two stages: one to exfoliate and one to strengthen the skin. It’s the chemical exfoliant to splurge on if you want to change your skin tone and texture overnight.

Buy Now: £ 19.00

DR DENNIS GROSS Alpha Beta Daily Universal Peel

Best chemical body scrub

REN AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum

Acids aren’t just for your face – likely to collect dead skin that even the best shower gel can’t wash away, your body also needs to be exfoliated. Part serum, part moisturizing, part exfoliating, Ren’s AHA based body treatment will soften bumps, remove accumulated cells and stimulate dull areas, so you can undress without shame.

Buy Now: £ 42.00

AHA Smart Renewal Body Serum

Best chemical exfoliant for dry skin

Regular lactic acid + HA

Lactic acid is as moisturizing as it is exfoliating. Combine that with the moisturizing properties of hyaluronic acid (capable of holding up to 1000 times its weight in water), and you’ve got a serious dry skin killer. Make sure that water does not escape once it is sucked up the dermis by sealing it with a good moisturizer.

Buy Now: £ 5.50

Lactic acid 5% + HA

Best chemical exfoliant for blackheads

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Ask any grooming expert how to tackle pesky blackheads, and they’ll tell you this is the product for that problem. Created by industry favorite Paula’s Choice, the two percent salicylic acid formula doesn’t waste time dissolving the oil inside the pore. For a full effect, combine it with a charcoal mask to remove the rest of the deep-rooted gunk.

Buy Now: £ 28.00

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Best chemical exfoliant for spots

Votary Blemish Rescue Oil

If it’s just the occasional blemish you suffer from rather than full-blown acne, try this blemish-free oil. Applying oil to a spot might seem counterintuitive, but it isn’t. The spots are almost always dry and damaged around the area where they surfaced, breaking the skin and causing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This little warrior reverses all of that, dissolves bacteria while feeding the surrounding area.

Buy Now: £ 35.00



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