The Beginner's Guide to Exfoliating Acids

The Beginner's Guide to Exfoliating Acids

If you’re looking to step up your skin care regime or are looking to understand exfoliating acids for beginners, you’ve come to the right place! In this blog we are going to explore the benefits of exfoliating acids for your skin. But, more importantly, we’re going to address questions like - what exactly are exfoliating acids? What do I use for my acne prone skin? How much is too much? Is it really important to incorporate them into your skin care routine?

Well, here’s a quick guide on all things exfoliation!


There are two types of exfoliation: physical and chemical

Physical exfoliation involves removing dead skin cells while chemical exfoliation works at the ingredient level essentially removing dead skin cells without having to physically scrub your face. While using scrubs occasionally is perfectly alright, they’re notorious for causing micro tears on the epidermis of your skin, doing more harm than good.

Chemical exfoliation involves the use of exfoliating acids to slough off the dead skin cells. When used in the right concentration, these are actually more efficient than physical exfoliants.

There are three main categories of exfoliants - AHAs, BHAs and PHAs. All of these are acids, but they differ in terms of penetrative ability and gentleness on the skin. AHAs are water-soluble and target skin's surface, while oil-soluble BHAs penetrate the skin more deeply.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are often derived from natural substances like sugarcanes or apples. Usually, these are gentle on the skin and do not cause any irritation. Hence, in most cases, are suitable for all skin types. While the benefits depend on which acid is used, AHAs are known to help treat hyperpigmentation, bumpy texture, and reduce dull tones and fine lines.

Commonly known AHAs: Glycolic, Lactic and Mandelic Acids

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

Beta Hydroxy Acids are commonly used for treating acne because of their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Not only will they exfoliate the top layer of the skin, but also go all the way in and effectively target the sebaceous glands to remove any clogged impurities.

Commonly known BHAs: Salicylic Acid

Poly Hydroxy Acids (PHAs)
Poly Hydroxy Acids work in a similar way to AHAs but the difference is that PHA molecules are larger, hence they cannot penetrate as deeply. So it is also less irritating than the other chemical exfoliants, AHA’s in particular.

What should you use to exfoliate?

If you have dry skin, we would recommend an AHA. Since AHA’s only work on the surface of the skin, they’ll help maintain your skin’s moisture balance.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, BHAs, salicylic acid specifically, is great for clearing pores and controlling breakouts. However, they can cause your skin to become dry, so don’t forget to moisturize (yes, even if you have oily skin).

If you have sensitive skin, PHAs are gentle enough for you to start with. Alternatively, an AHA like mandelic acid is also known to be mild on sensitive skin. In addition, low concentration BHAs – known for their soothing properties - are also a great pick for you.

If you have combination skin you require a perfect balance of both AHAs and BHAs. Try using an exfoliant containing glycolic acid and lactic acid.

How to incorporate an exfoliant into your routine?

As a cleanser: Use it in the first (or second step if double cleansing) of your skincare routine.

As a toner/serum: Use it on dried but cleansed skin. Take a few drops on a cleansing pad, and gently swipe all over your face and neck. Make sure you follow it up with a gentle moisturiser/oil.

As a moisturiser: Use it after cleansing and toning, as the final step of your routine.


  • If you’re new to exfoliating acids, start with just once a week.
  • Beginners (especially those with sensitive, sensitised and dehydrated skin) who are using an exfoliating serum can apply it, leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse. Gradually helping your skin get used to the acids.
  • It’s safest to use exfoliants in your PM routine.
  • Always use sunscreen (minimum SPF 35) in the day time.
  • Patch test for 24-48 hours.


  • Pair strong actives like Vitamin C or Retinol in the same routine as an exfoliant.
  • Apply exfoliants directly under the eye or on your eyelids
  • Go overboard with exfoliation, regardless of your skin type and concerns!

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about exfoliating acids! As always, start slow and gentle, listen to your skin and be patient and consistent with your routine!

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