Popular Chemical Exfoliants for the Skin


woman applying toner

You probably already know you should be exfoliating regularly to achieve and keep a healthy glow, but with so many options, adding another step to your routine may seem all too daunting a task.

If your skin has been on the drier, dull, or lackluster side lately, then it's time to drop that Apricot scrub and check out our exfoliation run down to avoid making mistakes and to get your revived glow like a Pro!  

Every adult of every skin type can benefit from a little exfoliation. But there is no single exfoliant that we can recommend for all. When selecting an exfoliant or exfoliating method, think first of your type of skin: Do you have Sensitive, Normal, Dry, Oily, or Combination skin? Your selection of methods should be based on your skin type. Check out our previous Blog Why is Exfoliation Important for some Pro-Tips. 

There are two main methods of exfoliation for at-home skin care: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation uses a tool, such as a brush or sponge, or scrub to physically remove dead skin cells via crushed shells, seeds, oil beads, or plastic beads. Chemical exfoliation uses substances, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, or enzymes to work deeper to help loosen the cellular "glue" and dissolve away dead skin cells. 

A combination of these methods would likely give you the best results. But do remember that this is about repetition over time, as the skin works 24/7 through all seasons and stages of life to create new cells.

If you want vibrant, healthier skin with a more even tone and texture and a radiant glow, using the right ingredients can get you there naturally.

Most Popular Chemical Exfoliants:

  1. Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) 

  2. Beta Hydroxy Acids 

  3. Enzymes

Both Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids are used in the formulation of cleansers, toners, moisturizers, scrubs, peels, and masks. They are both highly effective in removing dead cells, unclogging pores, decreasing inflammation, and diminishing lines, resulting in smoother texture and skin tone. Some people alternate the use of both to enjoy all their benefits. 

sugar cane 

Enzymes work differently than acids. They affect the substances that keep the dead skin attached to the outermost layer of the skin, helping to shed dead skin cells. 

Natural exfoliants have the power to remove excess build-up and provide the right amount of support for skin regeneration while addressing dull or flaky skin, congested pores, and excess pigmentation. It is crucially important that you seek natural products, without microplastics that can harm your skin and the environment. Also try to assess how much exfoliation you need, a gentle cleanser or a deep scrub before starting your self-treatments, and use exfoliation with caution to not cause harm.

Most Popular Natural Ingredients for Exfoliation 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) are water-soluble acids and the most typically used for skin exfoliation. AHA can not only help remove dead skin cells, it can also smooth fine lines, and improve the tone and texture of the skin. They are extracted from fruits and plants and used in anti-aging products. Examples include:

  • Lactic Acid
  • Citric Acid
  • Glycolic Acid
  • Mandelic acids


Beta Hydroxy Acids are fat (or oil) soluble acids that are gentle exfoliants and can help brighten the skin by penetrating the skin to unclog pores. They are highly effective, especially in reducing inflammation and increasing cellular turnover acting as anti-keratolytics. They are recommended for oily skin types, and to treat conditions such as Acne, Psoriasis and Eczema. It is important to know that you should apply sunscreen after using a product containing Beta Hydroxy Acids. 

  • Salicylic Acid 

Enzymes are proteins, which are composed of amino acids. Instead of helping to remove dead skin cells, enzymes help to break down keratin from the skin’s top layer, easing the shedding or release of dead skin cells. Using an enzyme is a very gentle way to refresh the outer layer of the skin. In addition to supporting cellular turnover, Enzymes bring the added benefits of reducing dark spots, improving tone and texture, clearing pores, and boosting collagen production. Our favorite enzymes for this purpose are:

  • Bromelain (from Pineapple)
  • Papain (from Papaya)


Now that you have a broad understanding of natural ingredients that can help you to integrate exfoliation into your skincare routine, it is important to remember to be patient and gentle with yourself. Test and observe, treat and observe. If you think you may be overdoing it, ask yourself: Are You Doing Too Much Harm To Your Skin?

Chemical and physical exfoliators are used to give the appearance of having smoother and lighter skin and are highly recommended for keeping your skin healthy and youthful. But aside from that, they can also help improve how well your skincare products perform. Choosing the best exfoliation method that works for you is key to making it a regular part of your routine. Exfoliating a few times per week will make a noticeable difference over time in the texture and health of your skin.

Want more in depth information to different skin care ingredients? Follow our new Vella series on Amazon Kindle to read monthly episodes on the most popular ingredients in skin care, how to use them and why with our new Quick Guide to Natural Skin Care Ingredients.


 regina disilvestro


Healthline - AHA vs. BHA: What’s the Difference?

RD Alchemy – Are You Doing Too Much Harm To Your Skin?

RD Alchemy – Why is Exfoliation Important?

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