A Beginner’s Guide to Chemical Exfoliants: Everything You Need to Know

Physical scrubs tend to cause micro-tear to the skin barrier, leaving the skin more damaged and vulnerable, the reason why chemical exfoliants have come to our rescue.

Ever wondered why everyone is switching from physical scrubs to chemical exfoliants? Simply because it does so much more than just exfoliating dead skins.

Benefits of chemical exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants are now in the buzz mainly because it can address a lot of skincare issues which wasn’t possible to treat so easily before. Mild chemical exfoliants clear out congested pores and remove dead skin cells without causing any damage to the skin barrier. More effective chemical exfoliants boost collagen production, correct the function of oil glands and over time, remove wrinkles.

But what are chemical exfoliants?

Chemical exfoliants are mainly exfoliating toners based on AHAs as in Alpha Hydroxy Acids or BHAs or Beta Hydroxy Acids.

For beginners, any form of acid in skincare may sound alarming, so let’s take a quick look at what is AHA or BHA.


Alpha Hydroxy Acids like Lactic acid, Glycolic acid, Tartaric, and Citric acid help in refining the skin texture and even skin tone. Incorporating them in a proper skin regime results in radiant-looking skin, free of sluggish skin texture.


Beta Hydroxy Acid like Salicylic acid penetrates further than AHAs, best likely to be used for treating spots and shrinking pores. As BHA is oil-soluble, it can deeply clean out the skin.

Can all skin types use chemical exfoliants?

As chemical exfoliants are very active skincare products, it is best to know what type of exfoliants would work the best for your skin type.

Sensitive skin

If you have highly sensitive skin, it is best to start at a mild chemical exfoliant with the lowest strength, likely to be AHAs, and slowly build skin tolerance. For delicate skin type, Mandelic acid works best as it brightens the skin by exfoliation but does not penetrate too deep to irritate the skin.

For reactive skin, azelaic acid suits best as it can reduce redness and dullness and the least irritating acid of all.

Oily acne-prone skin

For acne-prone skin, BHA like Salicylic acid functions as the anti-inflammatory exfoliant which targets the spot areas and penetrates deeper into the skin to shrink pores.

Dry skin

For dry and flaky skin, Lactic acid works like a miracle as it not only exfoliates dead skin cells, it also hydrates the skin and makes it radiant and plump in no time.

Combination Skin

People with combination skin can use pretty much any AHAs or BHAs based on their specific needs.

What to remember while using chemical exfoliants

  • Chemical exfoliants should be used at night in a toner or serum formulation. Best to start at the lowest strength to give your skin proper time to adjust.
  • While using chemical exfoliants, do not forget to use SPF in the morning.
  • If you are already using an active ingredient like retinol in your skincare, talk to your dermatologist about the right way to incorporate the exfoliant.
  • To avoid skin irritation, start by using the exfoliant once a week and gradually build a tolerance.

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