I distinctly remember the days when my nightly skincare routine involved scratching the life out of my skin with a manual exfoliator (i.e. facial scrubs). It has taken me years to rid myself of this habit and I still, from time to time, cannot resist the allure of a good, vigorous scrub.
However, after a painful realization that my skin was not responding well to manual exfoliation, I did some research and discovered the world of chemical exfoliators and acid toning. This is not to say that manual exfoliation should be avoided at all costs or that it is ineffective. I am sure that there are scores of people who swear by manual exfoliation and their skins love it. My skin, however, much prefers chemical exfoliation as it is less irritating and gives me better results.
Before I start rambling on about my go-to acid toners, it would be useful to tell you a little bit about, both, physical and chemical exfoliation.
Physical Exfoliation: This method of exfoliation involves physically sloughing off dead skin and can be done using a variety of tools – granular scrubs, a face brush or cloth, or professional microdermabrasion. While I do indulge in some physical exfoliation from time to time as I use a Clarisonic to cleanse my face a few times a week, I also stay very far away from facial scrubs that contain nut shells (think walnut shells) and fruit pits like apricot seeds, as they have a tendency to cause micro-tears (i.e. little tears in the skin) in the skin. This is also partly because a lot of us like to give our skin a thorough scrub, which is often too harsh for our skins to handle, leaving it inflamed and sore.
Chemical Exfoliation or Acid Toning: Chemical exfoliation involves sloughing off dead skin with the aid of chemicals, thereby promoting cell turnover. There are many different types of acids available in the market today and while they basically perform the same function, i.e. slough of dead skin, they all work slightly differently, making some more suitable for specific conditions and skin types than others. Typically, most skincare brands use either Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) – glycolic, mandelic, citric, lactic and malic acids, or Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) which is essentially salicylic acid. AHAs are water soluble and do not penetrate the skin deeply while salicylic acid has the ability to penetrate deeply into the skin, making it a wonderful choice of ingredient for blemish-prone skin. AHAs are, however, wonderful exfoliating agents and stimulate collagen in the skin, making them particularly good for aging skin.
Despite being blemish-prone, I am partial towards salicylic acid as my skin always seems to react adversely whenever I use a skincare product with a high concentration of this ingredient in it. This intolerance towards salicylic acid has shifted my focus towards AHAs and, after much experimentation, I have discovered some fabulous products which have gone a long way to help me keep my skin spot-free and smooth.
Gentle Exfoliator by Clarins: This acid toner is the reason I fell in love with chemical exfoliation. It contains both, glycolic acid and salicylic acid, and I typically use this product once or twice a week at night before a serum or facial oil as it layers beautifully underneath them. I find this exfoliator especially pleasant to use as it has a fresh smell and does not sting my skin in the least when used (not the case with the other chemical exfoliators on my list).
Used once or twice a week, this little-known gem from the Clarins family leaves my skin smooth, calm and hydrated in the mornings and has been key in helping me battle old scars left over by blemishes as well as texture issues. This product has also brightened my skin and helps other skincare absorb more effectively into the skin.
This product is also more readily available than my other two picks as it can be found at most department stores around the world.
A word of caution – this product is slightly fragranced so if your skin is intolerant towards fragrance as an ingredient, I would err on the side of caution and do a patch test first before slathering it all over the face. Drier-skinned girls may also want to use this less than frequently as it can tend to have a slightly drying effect on the skin when overused.
Highly recommended for those of you who are new to acid toning and want to try something gentle yet effective.
Glow Tonic by Pixi: I have had my eye on this product for a while now and I was beyond happy when I was able to pick this baby up during my last trip to London. Although this is a newer addition to my collection of acid toners, it has quickly and steadily become one of my favourite acid toners of all time. Also glycolic acid based, this product is brilliant at taking care of any texture issues and large pores and leaves the skin looking absolutely beautiful and even. It also contains ginseng, which improves circulation and gives the skin a really lovely glow, and aloe vera (high on the ingredient list), which hydrates the skin and prevents it from drying out.
This product is on the more affordable side and would make for a wonderful toner for younger skins or for those on a budget who still want something that packs a punch. Like the Gentle Exfoliator by Clarins, the Glow Tonic has a pleasant smell and layers beautifully under other serums and creams.
Given that this product is glycolic acid heavy, I would recommend doing a patch test first if you are glycolic acid intolerant.
An absolutely brilliant and affordable chemical exfoliator!
Lotion P50 PIGM 400 by Biologique Recherche: Being a lover of the original P50 Lotion from the brand, I was over the moon when I realized that Biologique Recherche had released another formulation of their cult product. This new formulation is specifically targeted towards tackling pigmentation and scarring.
This product is one of the most ‘heavy duty’ chemical exfoliators out there. It contains a potent combination of lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, salicylic acid and gluconolactone as well as flavonoids and wasabi extracts (new additions to the original P50 formula).
Apart from having the most complex and acid-heavy formulations, the Lotion P50 PIGM 400 also feels heavy-duty on the skin as it causes a stinging sensation when applied. However, this sensation subsides quickly and the product sinks into the skin beautifully, leaving it prepped and ready for other skincare products.
There is a reason that this product has a cult status in the beauty industry as its benefits to the skin are truly remarkable. After consistent use, I have noticed that marks left over by past blemishes have reduced significantly and my skin texture is unusually smooth. It has also helped get rid of small blemishes and is working wonders to get rid of larger bumps and blemishes.
The downside to this product is, however, its incredibly high price point (65 pounds / 5,445 rupees) and its scarce availability.
Tip: This product should be patted into the skin with a cotton pad rather than rubbed into the skin.
It does not get any better than this when it comes to chemical exfoliation.
As I have been away doing exams over the past few months, I would like to apologize for my long hiatus from blogging. I am excited to be back and am looking forward to sharing some of my new discoveries with you.
As always, I am excited to hear from you on some of your favourite acid toners so please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below or get in touch through Instagram or Twitter.