Exfoliation 101 for healthy, glowing skin

Although the feel of autumn is a little late to the party, it’s never too early to treat the skin with some extra attention and TLC. While the city is still under the persistent glare of the sun, come evening, the change of season is felt in a cool breeze, and you might begin to notice that your skin is a little dull or dry to the touch, which could mean one thing: It’s time to incorporate an additional step to your beauty regimen – exfoliation.


You can slather on layers of skincare products for an illuminating glow, but there is nothing like an exfoliating routine to work its magic and offer your dermis a clear, clean canvas for the rest of your skincare routine to take effect. Fit it into your routine twice a week to clear dead skin cells, remove dirt from pores, and reduce inflammation, fine lines and mild pigmentation. It also promotes the effects of collagen and antioxidants, giving dermis a healthier and brighter natural glow.

So, how best to include an exfoliating step in your beauty routine? To kick off, there are two types of exfoliators – chemical and physical – and they can come in a variety of forms, such as cleansers, toners, masks, scrubs and serums. Which one to reach for depends entirely on your skin type.


Chemical peels are generally most beneficial to those with dry skin. Falling under three high-performing groups of acids: AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid), BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) and PHAs (polyhydroxy acid), each type contains different active ingredients that offer slightly diverse benefits. For example, AHAs are plant-based, water-soluble substances that exfoliate the outer layer of the skin. They normally contains glycolic, lactic or citric acid, or a combination of the three, much like UK skincare brand 111Skin’s Rose Quartz Exfoliating Mask is formulated with a blend of amino acids, hydrators, botanical extracts and fruit acid complex, all of which work to slough off dead skin cells while hydrating the dermis and activating collagen production, resulting in a plumper, brighter complexion.


First-time AHA users may find the tingling sensation of these chemicals a little uncomfortable, and their skin and may need time to adapt. AHA levels range between three and 30 percent, so for sensitive skin, formulations of five percent and less will exfoliate more gently. For instance, Chanel’s Hydra Beauty Camellia Glow Concentrate features a three percent blend of AHAs as well as hyaluronic acid – which despite its ‘acid’ moniker serves as a humectant, binding in moisture rather than stripping  it away. Fellow hero ingredients camellia yeast extract and blue ginger then provide antioxidant for sun protection while boosting hydration, giving the skin a fresh, natural glow.


For sensitive and dry skin, opt for PHAs. Although having similar effects to AHAs, they comprise larger molecules that sink down, thereby causing less irritation on delicate dermis. Calling on the likes of inflammation-busting gluconolactone acid and lactobionic acid, PHA-based products like cruelty-free Ole Henriksen’s Dewtopia 20% Acid Night Treatment or Tata Harper’s Regenerating Cleanser both smoothen out the skin for a more radiant complexion.

“A PHA-based product will probably not cause as much irritation as an AHA, and is less sensitive to sun exposure, too”


While the former includes an acid blend of 10-percent AHA and 10-percent PHA, and lemon enzymes that replenish the skin as you sleep, its US counterpart boasts a wholly natural, non-toxic dual-action exfoliating treatment to reduce skin smarting and reddening. Its cherry-stone micro powder then gently lifts and buffs away dead skin cells. The outcome? A more balanced, smoother and more radiant complexion.


Moving on to acne-prone skin, salicylic acid, a type of BHA, is the exfoliating friend of those prone to break outs and mild skin pigmentation. Unlike the other two acid groups, BHAs are oil soluble organic compounds that penetrate deeper into the dermis – healing acne scars, blemishes and removing blackhads and whiteheads. Thus, products containing salicylic acid like New York City-based Wander Beauty’s Fast Lane Instant Facial and Tarte’s Knockout Tingling Treatment serves as much more effective cleansers for clogged pores than regular ones – better yet, they’re both vegan.

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The former is a fast-acting exfoliating gel mask, which contains 10-percent AHA (lactic and glycolic acids) and 2-percent BHA levels, as well as root extract from meadowfoam seed oil to moisturise. The latter is a skin-tingling toner that helps to balance the skin’s pH level, while minimising pores and promoting cell renewal. Its active ingredients include a 10-percent acid complex of salicylic and lactic acids, as well as sulphur, niacinamide and glycerin to hydrate and clarify.

“Salicylic acid, a type of BHA, is the exfoliator friend of those prone to acne or skin pigmentation”


But who says exfoliation is only for the face? Body scrubs for oily skin are also a luscious self-care treatment for the rest of your body. An option like Ouai’s Scalp & Body Scrubs, featuring core ingredients like apple cider vinegar and chelating agents, provides deep-cleansing of oil and dirt, heavy metals, chlorine and other waterborne impurities, as well as the remnants of hair-styling products, thanks to its hydrolyzed keratin, giving the hair and body a fresh start at the end of the day.


Another pick, perhaps, is Italian skincare expert Seed to Skin’s The Awakening Detoxifying Algae Marine Salt Scrub might fit the bill with its mineral and antioxidant-rich combination of sea salt and mud, marine algae, shea butter, spirulina and green tea said to leave the skin feeling rejuvenated.


For a therapeutic option, Mauli’s Reawaken Himalayan Hand & Body Scrub imparts mineral-rich salts infused with curative oils such as lime, sandalwood, jasmine, rose and frankincense for an aromatically relaxing, end-of-day treatment, leaving skin silky smooth and glowing all over. Just as it should be.

AHA vs. BHA: Decoding the best acid for your face

Beauty does not come cheap – we all know that – but you could be washing away hundreds of dollars on a face wash, and even more on serums and moisturisers, without giving your skin the ideal condition to thrive in.

To truly reap the benefits of your skincare routine, adding products with AHAs and BHAs to your regime could do wonders to the skin and give it to a more youthful, supple glow. Haven’t heard of these magical ingredients?

Here’s what you need to know. 

AHA and BHA The difference, benefits and when to use it gafencu beauty indie lee oraganic fruity skincare

What are AHAs and BHAs
AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acid) are hydroxy acids, also referred to as chemical peels. They are used to exfoliate dead skin cells, clear the pores of bacteria, reduce inflammation, acne scars, fine lines and ageing spots caused by sun damage. Basically, improving the overall texture and complexion in the long run. They typically come in the form of liquid masks, but can also be found in a variety of skincare products such as moisturisers, scrubs, serums and toners.

Although both groups of acids yield similar benefits, they each have distinct differences in terms of purpose and results. If you’re looking to reap more anti-ageing and hydrating benefits from your products, try AHAs, while BHAs will help you tackle acne issues.  

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Photo courtesy of Indie Lee

Try: Indie Lee Stem Cell Serum contains citric and hyaluronic acid to support the skin’s natural hydration and brighten the skin tone. Its ingredients are free of alcohol, fragrance, oil, paraben and sulphate, making its formula suitable for dry, sensitive, oily and combination skin, while addressing mild pigmentation and dry skin problems. Priced at HK$1,060


Are there any side effects
Mild redness and tingles are common side effects of both AHA and BHA products. They have highly potent and active ingredients and skin reaction to them is common.

Those new to using these hydroxy acid peels can start with a lower level of eight to 10% for AHA and 1% BHA, before gradually moving on to higher concentration levels. Day creams and serums with AHAs should also be followed with a layer of protective sun screen because photosensitivity can leave the skin vulnerable and irritate the skin. 

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Photo courtesy: Ole Henriksen

Try: Ole Henriksen Dewtopia™ 20% Acid Night Treatment, a cruelty-free vegan serum formulated with 20% acid blend of 10% AHAs and 10% PHAs, sealing your evening routine with a firming gel that reveals a smoother and brighter complexion overnight. Priced at HK$480

Also Read: Damaging skincare ingredients you need to be wary of!

How to use AHA
AHAs are primarily glycolic, lactic and citric acids, though it could also include tartaric, malic and mandelic acids. They are all water-soluble exfoliating ingredients from sugary fruits that help reduce ageing spots, melasma, acne scars and reduce fine lines on the epidermis. AHA chemical peels can go up to 30% in concentration level, but those still new to AHAs or have dry and sensitive skin can start with formulations of 10% or lower. This will give your skin a gentler introduction to AHAs before gradually working your way up to higher concentration levels over time. 

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Photo courtesy: Good Genes

Try: Sunday Riley Good Genese All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment contains lactic acid and balancing botanicals that gently exfoliate the skin and reduce the visibility of fine lines and dark spots — revealing a clearer and smoother complxion. HK$960


What is BHA
BHAs are oil-soluble organic compound exfoliators, typically salicylic acid, that are best used to relieve clogged pores, blemishes and acne scars, as well as remove black heads and white heads. Unlike AHAs, they are able to penetrate underneath the skin as well as on the surface, effectively breaking down and clearing dead skin cells and bacteria from within the pores and preventing breakouts. The highest level of BHA concentration is a mere 2%, though 1% BHA will still offer an effective cleanse on sensitive skin whilst providing a calmer formula to ease redness and inflammation. 

AHA and BHA The difference, benefits and when to use it gafencu beauty tarte skincare
Photo courtesy: Tarte

Try: Tarte Knockout Texture & Pore Refining Pads, a set of 2-sided skin-renewing peel pads containing a blend of BHAs, amino acids, vitamin B5 and centella asiatica that help penetrate below the epidermis, promote hydration and collagen production, and instantly reduce the visibility of large pores and fine lines, resulting in extra soft and smooth complextion. The cotton pads are also biodegradable. $310

Also Read: Skincare Secrets: Five beauty truths that the industry won’t tell you


Can you combine AHA and BHA?
Using AHAs and BHAs can yield visible benefits for the epidermis, both inside and out. When used in combination, it can clear the surface of the skin and underneath it, supporting hydration and allowing for the rest of your skincare products to work more effectively.

As for sensitive skin, these potent acids can leave the surface of the skin temporarily dryer,  and more vulnerable and sensitive due to its active exfoliating ingredients. In that case, you can split the two group of acids into day and night routines, rather than layering the two products on top of one another. 

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Photo courtesy: Allies of Skin

Try: Allies of Skin Bright Future Sleeping Facial contains 8% AHAs and BHAs, 5% enzymes, seven brightening and antioxidants, like salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, a ton of probiotics – all this hydrates the dermis as it exfoliates it. It’s almost like an effortless overnight facial that results in brighter, smoother and clearer skin. Formulated to suit hypo-allergenic and sensitive skin, it is free of fragrance, parabens and sulphates. Priced at HK$1,035