If you’ve been struggling with acne for a long time, and you can’t seem to find a product or system that works for you to get rid of existing pimples and discolouration from old ones, then it’s time to consider chemical exfoliation.
I credit chemical exfoliation for the biggest physical difference in my skin, though I do a LOT for clear skin…I mean, seriously…
I decided to experiment with just doing the diet/health thing to improve my skin, and let me tell you, though diet plays a HUGE role in skin health, I’d say that chemically exfoliating makes an even larger difference.
Taking care to eat well while also chemically exfoliating is an easy recipe for incredible skin!
How Skin Works
Your skin is made up of cells called keratinocytes that make up the outer layer of your skin called the epidermis. This layer looks a little like a mosaic on top of a mosaic on top of a mosaic, where the tiles are your skin cells.
Amazingly, keratinocytes continually move up from the lower levels of the epidermis, out to the outer layers of the epidermis…They age as they do, becoming dryer, and eventually suffocating and dying off.
The further the keratinocytes get from the lower level of the epidermis, the further they are from the blood supply. The blood supply, coming from the layer of skin called the dermis right underneath the epidermis, is where the cells get oxygen and nutrients.
Essentially, the blood feeds the skin and gives it air. Otherwise, the skin does not breathe. So the quality of what you eat matters, because it affects your blood, which affects your skin…
Skin is a pretty amazing organ, because of it’s regenerative abilities!
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You are constantly losing skin cells, and they are constantly regenerating to the point where you are quite literally a new person every 4-6 weeks!
But what if you can speed up this process?
Why You Should Consider Chemical Exfoliation For Clear Skin
This is where chemical exfoliation comes in. Essentially, chemical exfoliation is a controlled chemical burn using an acid of varying strengths. It’s not as scary as it sounds, but it can be if you do it wrong!
There are daily chemical exfoliants that are extremely gentle, all the way to deep chemical peels that require painkillers and medical attention!
Chemical exfoliation is a process through which you basically dry out the outermost layers of your skin, the most dead skin cells, so that new, glowy skin can come to the surface faster.
You can get rid of acne, discolouration, hyper-pigmentation, and even fine lines with a chemical exfoliant.
The Difference Between AHAs and BHAs
Today I’d like to discuss two different types of chemical exfoliants that I’ve used and loved: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs).
The difference between AHAs and BHAs is that AHAs are water-soluble and have humectant properties, while BHAs are fat-soluble and actually exfoliate INSIDE the pores. This makes AHAs ideal for people with dry skin, because they actually help your skin not only appear smoother, but also retain more moisture.
AHAs come in a large variety of acids differing mainly in molecule size. These include glycolic acid, mandelic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, while BHA is primarily just salicylic acid.
Glycolic acid is stronger than mandolin acid, and can penetrate more deeply. But angelic acid is safer for darker skin tones.
There are a lot of nuances relating to chemical exfoliants…
How To Chemically Exfoliate
Like any product, I recommend you do your research first without relying solely on this one article as your source.
It’s always a good idea to educate yourself on any product, but especially chemical exfoliants.
When I didn’t do my research and rushed into a chemical peel situation at home, I was left with extreme wounds and scars, that kept me from leaving the house for SIX whole days!
My recommendation is to start slowly, and with a weak strength of a chemical exfoliant. My personal favourites are glycolic, salicylic, and mandolin acids, and I have had incredible results with them all.
A weak chemical exfoliant can still be EXTREMELY effective at speeding up cell turnover, but won’t come with the side effects of extreme dryness and peeling that happens with actual chemical peels.
When you do decide to try a chemical exfoliant, do not rush the process. Start by using it maybe 2 nights a weak if it’s a super weak one (under 3%), eventually upping the frequency while listening closely to your skin…
Weak chemical exfoliants can go inside the pore and clear it out, without drying or irritating your skin. I think they can be gentler than manual exfoliants in the case of super inflamed pimples and cystic acne – because manual exfoliation like scrubs can potentially damage the surface of your skin when it’s that inflamed.
I personally like to use a daily chemical exfoliant twice a day, and light peels every couple of months or whenever I feel like my skin needs a little pick-me-up.
Chemical peels are more powerful, and depending on the strength of the peel, can give you pretty dramatic results. I stick to light peels because I don’t want down-time where I’d need my skin to literally heal before I can go out there into the world and be seen, and I do them a few times a year.
Purging On Chemical Exfoliants
Purging is often confused with breaking out or reacting to products, but it only occurs when you use actives.
Actives are ingredients that promotes cellular turnover, such as acids, retinoids, vitamin C, and even scrubs and other manual exfoliants.
The reason you might break out from using actives is precisely because they increase cellular turnover. That means that any clogged pores get cleared out quickly – and that’s a good thing.
The important thing to note is that actual visible clogs take up to 8 weeks to form. They usually start with a microcomedone – a tiny clog so small that you don’t even notice it.
If your immune system is healthy, then the tiny clog comes and goes without you realizing.
The conditions in your body have to be just right for the microcomedone to turn into a comedones, blackhead, whitehead, pimple, cyst, or node. Factors like chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, hormone imbalances all play into creating the right environment for the clog to become a visible, red, painful mess.
Actives speed up the process of the microcomedone coming out, so you might think you are breaking out from a product that contains actives.
It’s important to be patient and kind to yourself through this process until you stop purging and you’re left with clear, glowy, smooth skin.
Don’t jump to conclusions and freak out that, say a 2% BHA exfoliant is breaking you out. You’re just going through a totally normal process.
I use chemical exfoliants every day and can attest to their skin-clearing powers. And I’ve seen what happens to acne-prone skin that’s untouched or neglected and not exfoliated…
When I stopped using a chemical exfoliant, my skin experienced what I describe as build-up. The sebum and dead skin cells would get sticky and block pores, while the actual cellular turnover was on the slow side.
Too much dead skin cell buildup can lead to the potential of pores clogging more frequently, so using a chemical peel is meant to open up the pore, to let sebum flow without encountering obstructions along the way.
P.S. I’ve shared my best 28 hacks for clear skin in my 28 Days Of Clear Skin video series. You can sign up to get every single hack in your inbox here!