8 best acid and chemical exfoliants for all skin types
A(HA), B(HA), P(HA) ... easy as 1, 2, 3? It is now. Here are best beauty acids to suit everyone
The world of beauty acids is really having its moment in the sun with claims of super clean, resurfaced, baby-soft skin from brands the world over.
However, the daunting task of figuring out your molecules from malic to mandelic and how they actually benefit your mug can be exhausting. So, in the runup to this festive season, the following guide will ensure that whatever your skin type, your flawless face is what will be remembered at the Christmas party rather than you shouting at your boss after a few too many mulled wines.
Whatever the weather, one stipulation is that you must wear a good sunscreen if you’re going to set sail on any of these acid trips. The skin is more photosensitive as a result, so pack on the SPF.
Whatever result you’re looking for, the following demystifying guide will ensure your skin is ready to make a grand entrance come party season.
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For avid skincare lovers...
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum: £76, Cult Beauty
The beauty behemoth that is Drunk Elephant arrived on UK shores last month, with its Instaworthy range receiving well deserved hysteria from its followers. TLC Framboos is a clear gel blended with 10 per cent AHA and 2 per cent BHA to be applied at night underneath your moisturiser. The glycolic works to resurface the skin, while the lactic clears out those pores to give you an extra boost after cleansing. What makes Framboos particularly special is the refined balance of moisturising ingredients that work in harmony, ensuring that the old “no pain no gain” mantra is firmly an urban legend.
Founder Tiffany Masterson, mum of four turned envied entrepreneur, states this is free of the “suspicious six”, so if you’re one of those whose skin has had a tantrum with fragrances, essential oils, drying alcohols, SLS, chemical screens and silicones tainting your favourite products, this is for you. Don’t expect to be baby soft overnight as prolonged use is key to getting the desired results. Four weeks will see you come up trumps. Good acids and no bad trips is on Drunk Elephant’s bumper sticker. We’re in the passenger seat for a happy ride.
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant: £22.10, Paula’s Choice
Paula Begoun is a legend in the skincare industry. With 21 books under her belt, she knows her stuff, and her brand Paula’s Choice has been banishing acne since the 1990s. This 2 per cent BHA liquid is the perfect low-maintenance choice for anyone looking to boost their routine with one simple step. The salicylic lotion is great for first-time acid goers or those with particularly congested skin; it’s the go-to for getting rid of excess dirt and regulating sebum.
Teenage skin would definitely benefit giving this a go before cracking out industrial strength spot medications. Green tea extract helps as an extra antioxidant treatment. Grab a cotton round and swash this over your face avoiding the eye area. If you’re a gal, guy or anything in between who is always on the go and want to wipe some of the mucky city off your face without a huge song and dance, this is for you.
Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment: £85, Space NK
Sunday Riley’s hero product has been on hiatus and recently returned having had a little makeover, with a new formula at 7 per cent glycolic acid with 3 per cent lactic. If you buy this outside the EU you’ll find it’s a whopping 40 per cent lactic, for which you’d have to have a pretty robust face to use on a daily basis. We’re a fan of glycolic as the molecules are smaller, so it helps to penetrate beneath the surface of the skin, rather than its lactic partner in crime.
Balanced with prickly pear extract to soothe from irritation, the creamy texture glides over freshly cleansed skin. Texturally this is more emollient than traditional acids that we’ve experienced, feeling almost moisturising upon application and suitably luxe.
Good Genes gave our tester a warm, subtle glow come the morning with a smoother base than usual, which may be the inclusion of dimethicone (commonly known as silicone) as a large ingredient so will only be temporary. If you’re after quick results with a hard working, no fuss application acid, this is a great introduction to your routine.
Glossier Solution Exfoliation Skin Perfector: £19, Glossier
Glossier gave in to our cries for cult products Boy Brow and Haloscope in 2017 as the brand found itself on UK shores. With its makeup products already firmly fan favourites, Solution was launched in January this year. It’s a gentle blend of all the good acids with lactic coming in at the top of the list, quickly followed by a glycolic hit. A hefty amount of aloe barbadensis leaf juice calms the skin, making it feel fresh upon application.
It’s the perfect antidote if you’re looking for an all-rounder to do a little bit of everything from exfoliating to deep cleansing and making you feel generally marvellous. Its baby pink packaging is airtight, keeping the ingredients stable from oxidisation.
Grab a cotton round, tap on top of the disc to dispense the product then press onto the skin. Swiping over the skin gave us a slight tacky feel, which you may appreciate to help your slap stick a bit better, so swipe away if you’d prefer.
There is a small amount of fragrance so beware if you’re particularly sensitive. Be patient as we’d suggest a good four weeks for your skin to acclimatise; results will improve with continued use and for less than £20, we’ll sit quietly thank you very much.
For makeup lovers...
Herbivore Prism Natural Fruit Acids 5% Exfoliating Glow Potion: £52, Space NK
From humble beginnings on Etsy, vegan brand Herbivore has cemented itself firmly as a go-to for many enthusiasts the world over. Prism markets itself as a ‘glow potion’ with a 5 per cent active acid cocktail consisting of bilberry lactic, willow bark glycolic and malic from apples. While we wouldn’t normally recommend using acids in the daytime, due to Prism’s low dosage and promises, we decided to pop a few drops on in the morning beneath the usual onslaught.
It’s an incredibly light oil in texture that dries into the skin super-quick. It gives a wonderfully subtle dew to the skin, which isn’t wet so your moisturiser won’t pill on impact. Your mug is brighter and makeup has a little more of a stage to shout on.
To add even more joy to this purchase, Herbivore donates $1 from every bottle sold (until the end of time!) to LGBTQIA+ charities chosen by a Herbivore team member, which changes every couple of months. There is nothing not to love. Get this if you’re looking to kill some of that redness and clarify your canvas.
For perfectly matte skin lovers...
Omorovicza Copper Peel: £95, John Lewis
If it’s good enough for the Queen of Hungary, it’s good enough for us. Omorovicza’s copper peel is a two-step, slightly messy but worth it, process: Step one: twist the cap off the the green gel and slather over clean, dry skin, massaging for one minute. Step two: apply the clear gel over the top and work into a lather. Expect a comfortable tingle about now. Massage this in for two minutes then rinse off.
Amid slipping around with the tubes and trying not to waste the product, we were admittedly huffing a tad. Come the morning, however, all was forgiven. This is definitely for you if you’re looking for a wonderfully resurfaced finish for a special occasion or a weekly boosting treatment.
It definitely evens out texture and gives a uniform tone throughout the skin. It’s an über-cleanse jam packed with lactic acid and trademark Hungarian thermal water for when you’re feeling like you need a bit of reviving.
You have to work a bit harder than just chucking a layer of product on your skin and running out the door, but once you’ve got the knack of it, it’s less of a chore and more of a fun science project. Especially when you know what’s coming post-beauty sleep. No pun intended.
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel: £81, Space NK
There’s something sceptical about wipes for us. Maybe it’s a psychological thing. The slightly lacklustre feeling when finally getting your mitts on a dreamy beauty product and upon unboxing, it’s a small, individual cotton wipe saturated in product. Casting aside our pre-judgements; Dr. Dennis Gross’s two-step peel promises to give dull skin of the day a good seeing-to and then enhancing the new skin cells you’ve ignited to come to life underneath.
The first step in these extra gentle wipes is a hybrid of lactic and mandelic; great for uneven pigmentation or if your face is feeling a tad listless. The second is a myriad of antioxidants to slather onto your face after sloughing off the old layer. This is a great, weekly “facial at home”-style treatment or something to pop into your diary a couple of days before you want your face to make an impression.
For lovers of luxury...
Kat Burki Restorative Dual Acid Peel: £110, Net-A-Porter
The eponymous Kat Burki has been wowing celebrity clients since 2013, quickly rising to most wanted status in the interim. Burki’s career began primarily in nutrition and the line promises to close the gap between skincare and healthcare. Don’t be fooled by the modest packaging; housed in a simple silver card cube box, along with the product you’ll also find a mini brush for application. It’s a thin, peach gel that has a cooling effect on the skin.
Interestingly, all of the brand’s products are free of fillers, including water, alcohols and silicones, so this particular product is crammed with undiluted, effective ingredients. Cold-pressed avocado oil nourishes and botanical hyaluronic acid hydrates in tandem.
The mini applicator brush is rather unassuming but is actually a real treat. It not only leaves the product sanitary as you don’t need to dip your mucky mitts into it, but helps not waste excess product. Imagine your skin if you went to the gym and then had an afternoon siesta. Relaxed, vibrant and energetic skin awaits.
The Verdict: Best acid and chemical exfoliants for all skin types
Drunk Elephant leads the way with the effective mix, top notch airtight packaging and general wonder for all skin types if you’re willing to stick with it. Omorovicza and Kat Burki are the frontrunners for souped-up, sexy instant skin boosts.
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