Exfoliants: Current Favorites

I was asked to write a post about my Top 5 exfoliants. When I say exfoliants I mean chemical exfoliants. Physical exfoliants are your scrubs and things that manually remove dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants are things like peels, serums and toners that use Alpha Hydroxy Acids(AHA) or Beta Hydroxy Acids(BHA). There’s also a newer category Poly Hydroxy Acids(PHA). The purpose of using chemical exfoliants is to remove dead surface skin cells to encourage cell renewal and turnover. They help with acne, pigmentation and dark spots, overall texture of the skin as well as brightness and an even tone, and fine lines and wrinkles.

AHA(glycolic, malic, tartaric, mandelic, citric and lactic acids) benefits: Helps with sun damage, adds moisture by binding water to skin, removes upper layer of skin revealing more even, smoother skin, promotes cell turnover. This helps with pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles as well as reducing pore size. Overall, it’s your anti-aging acids. Glycolic acid commonly comes in 5, 10, 15 or 20% concentrations and is OK to use during pregnancy. Not everyone lists the percentage of glycolic acid on their product. Lactic acid also rarely has a percentage listed on it. Glycolic acid can be drying to the skin and cause irritation(burning, stinging, tingling). People with sensitive skin may want to test out the product containing it first.

BHA(salicylic acid) benefits: Best for acne and breakouts, large pores, black heads, it’s anti-inflammatory,  and antibacterial which can make it good for rosacea as well. It really unclogs oils in the pores and helps reduce oil overall on the skin. Think of it as the acid that removes all the glue stuck in your pores to clear them out. It’s not just for acne sufferers. Usually comes in 1-4% concentrations. I did avoid BHA’s during pregnancy even though 2% concentrations are supposed to be safe.

PHA(gluconolactone, galactose and lactobionic acid) benefits: These have the same anti-aging benefits as AHA. PHAs are larger molecules than AHA which has been shown to mean less irritation and drying out of the skin. It’s gentler. Good for sensitive skin types. PHA also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These are new and not in as many exfoliating products. I just started to venture into them, so none of them are listed in this post. Maybe in a future one.

Whether you choose a toner, serum or peel for your chemical exfoliation needs is personal preference. I like to use all three. This post is all about toners and serums. Leave on exfoliants. I use peels a few times a week. I use some form of toner/serum exfoliant on a daily basis. Always use a sunscreen when using these types products as they can make your skin more sensitive to sun damage. One tip to prevent irritation from AHA is to apply them on dry skin, not wet right after a toner. This helps reduce the stinging.

Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum was one of the first serums I used on a regular basis. I also experimented with quite a few from Paula’s Choice but liked Drunk Elephant the best as it’s less irritating to my skin than Paula’s Choice was. I’ve talked about it some here. This one has a clear serum like texture, doesn’t really sting nor give me many adverse effects. It’s not the strongest concentration AHA serum, so the effects will be milder than if you are a regular 20% glycolic acid user. This one also has a 1% BHA concentration, so it’s still pregnancy safe. This boost will help unclog some pores along with the anti-aging AHAs. The reason I reach for this one time and time again it that it’s a lesser AHA concentration so it’s easy to tolerate for daily use with a the bonus 1% of BHA.

A 12% AHA/BHA night serum that helps refine and resurface skin to reveal a smoother and more radiant looking complexion. T.L.C. Framboos™ enhances the performance of other products by clearing the way for maximum absorption. This high-tech gel resurfaces dull skin, gently lifting dead skin cells away by dissolving the glue that holds them to the surface. The results are greater clarity and a smoother, more even looking complexion. Formulated with our dream team AHA/BHA blend including Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric, Citric and Salicylic acids and blended with raspberry extract, T.L.C. Framboos™ sinks in easily and delivers effective and precise chemical exfoliation without the harsh side effects like dryness or sensitization. Horse chestnut and white tea help to soothe. Fine lines, wrinkles, discoloration along with excess oiliness and pores will appear dramatically diminished. Go from a drab complexion to an absolutely luminous one, practically overnight!

Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 is an acid toner. It’s a strong one. It uses AHA, BHA and PHA so you’re going to get the benefits of all of the acids. Review here. It’s pricey, but it works well. It’s the strongest of all the Lotion P50 toners. I can’t use this everyday. Every other day or 3x/week. It smells strongly of vinegar which I dislike, but the effects are so great I tolerate it. The Lotion P50 PIGM 400 is next on my list to try. I hear it’s a touch milder with brightening properties. I think whichever version of Lotion P50 works for you is worth hunting down as it’s probably hands down the best all around acid toner.

The Lotions P50 are Biologique Recherche’s unique acid toners; the fruit of 30 years of reflection and experience. These balancing and exfoliating lotions speed up the epidermis’ natural exfoliating process and the reconstruction of the epidermal shield. The fortified epidermis can then fulfil its protective functions completely, enhancing the skin’s self-regeneration potential. The Lotion P50 ritual is a key stage in all Biologique Recherche skin care programmes; it not only exfoliates, but it also purifies, regenerates and maintains the pH of the epidermis.

The chemical exfoliation of the skin is a procedure that happens thanks to the topical application of a cocktail of hydroxy acids. All Lotions P50 contain a potent combination of AHA, BHA and PHA exfoliants: lactic acid, malic acid, citric acid, salicylic acid and gluconolactone, to act as a chemical exfoliator. As its name indicates, the Lotions P50 gently renews the skin over 50 days – ‘P’ stands for peeling and ‘50’ stands for 50 days – which represents about two epidermal cycles, for a gentle yet effective exfoliating process.

Sunday Riley Good Genes should be tried by everyone at some point. It’s the King of all AHA serums. It’s works beautifully. This is a AHA serum utilizing lactic acid. So if you don’t like glycolic acid this is for you. It’s a strong formula and it’s very effective. Conversely, it smells like cat pee but other than that it it has a fabulous ingredient list and works beautifully. Review here. I alternate using a bottle of this with Drunk Elephant. I almost like this one better, but I do like the all around AHA/BHA less irritating Drunk Elephant version. Good Genes is quite strong. For being strong it doesn’t really sting or anything. I don’t find it too harsh to use everyday. I wouldn’t apply it over open blemishes to avoid severe stinging/burning. That goes for all AHA/BHA exfoliants.

Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment is formulated with high potency, purified grade lactic acid that immediately exfoliates dull, pore-clogging dead skin cells, revealing smoother, fresher, younger-looking skin. Fine lines appear visually plumped while the skin looks more radiant. With continued use, the appearance of stubborn hyperpigmentation and the visible signs of aging are reduced for a healthier-looking complexion. Perfect for all skin types and all ages, this treatment is enhanced with licorice for brightening, Good Genes clarifies, smooths, and retexturizes for instant radiance.

I threw The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% in here for it’s price point. While I do prefer Sunday Riley Good Genes for a lactic acid only serum, The Ordinary 10% Lactic Acid is good for it’s price point. Review here. The Ordinary is milder than Good Genes. It does have a peppery melon scent which is nice. If you want an anti-aging AHA product for under $10 this is one of the better choices out there.

Lactic Acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin. This 10% formulation offers mild exfoliation and is supported with a purified Tasmanian pepperberry known to reduce signs of inflammation and sensitivity that is often associated with exfoliation. This formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use. This derivative is of plant origin and varies in colour seasonally and this colour variation may be apparent in the formula from time to time.

Rene Rouleau Pro Results Power Serum was a recent purchase for me. This is a clear serum that will kick your skins butt. It’s quite powerful. I couldn’t use this everyday nor is it designed for everyday use. It’s designed to use three nights on, three nights off. I tend to use 1-2 times a week and it does fine for me at giving my skin an AHA power boost of radiance. Don’t use this after an acid toner nor after an acid peel/mask. This is way too strong. This is also in lieu of the nightly exfoliant serum like Drunk Elephant or Good Genes. Replace your usual with this one a few times a week. Review here.

Pro Results Power Serum dramatically repairs the visible effects of sun damage by lifting dry cells and brown spots to reveal a smoother, brighter texture. Pro Results Power Serum by Renée Rouleau transforms the skin to a dramatically smoother finish while working to help it remember its once youthful form, suppleness and bounce. This dark spot corrector is a powerful blend of 20% lactic, glycolic and mandelic acids which gently lift surface sun damage discoloration and reduces visible lines and pore size to reveal smoother skin.

Last up is The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution. This is a mild AHA acid toner. It’s so much more gentle than Biologique Recherche Lotion P50. It’s also very affordable in comparison. Less irritation does mean less anti-aging effects are achieved. That’s not always a bad thing. This toner is able to be used on a daily basis. The Lotion P50 is not. This is your daily glow toner versus the power toner. It’s going to be good for sensitive skin types or anyone who wants a less strong but still good formula. The ingredient list is good and it’s under $10. You can use this toner and follow with a serum like Drunk Elephant and you won’t irritate your skin. Review here.

With 7% Glycolic Acid, Amino Acids, Aloe Vera, Ginseng and Tasmanian Pepperberry. Glycolic Acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid that exfoliates the skin. This 7% toning solution offers mild exfoliation for improved skin radiance and visible clarity. The formula also improves the appearance of skin texture with continued use.

This formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use. This derivative is of plant origin and varies in colour seasonally and this colour variation may be apparent in the formula from time to time. The formula is further supported with inclusion of ginseng root and aloe vera for both visible radiance and soothing benefits.

Ingredients of all above mentioned products:

Drunk Elephant

12% T.L.C. Framboos™ AHA blend: (glycolic, (T) tartaric, (L) lactic, and (C) citric acids) exfoliates built-up dead skin cells, resurfacing dull, uneven skin for a smoother, brighter, more even-looking complexion.
1% salicylic acid: loosens sebum to unclog pores while helping to soothe redness.
raspberry fruit extract: rehydrates and soothes damaged skin, has antioxidant properties.
cactus extract: helps to soothe skin while using AHAs.
horse chestnut: helps improve the appearance of broken capillaries and redness.
galactoarabinan: (polysaccharide extracted from larch trees) that acts as a gentle exfoliant and minimizes the appearance of fine lines while helping to inhibit moisture loss.
phytostem buddleja davidii meristem cell culture: plant-derived, cultured stem cells with potent antioxidant properties that help defend against photodamage and oxidative stress.
virgin marula oil: super-absorbent oil, high in critical antioxidants and omegas 6 and 9, helps nourish and rejuvenate skin.
green tea leaf extract: potent antioxidant that provides soothing benefits.
sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer: has a smaller molecular weight than hyaluronic acid and is able to deeply penetrate skin, delivering intense hydration, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, while promoting firmness.
yeast extract: brightens and reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, helping to minimize skin stress and soothe redness.

Water/Aqua/Eau, Glycolic Acid, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Buddleja Davidii Meristem Cell Culture, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Allantoin, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Galactoarabinan, Propanediol, Disodium EDTA, Xanthan Gum, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Nitrate, Potassium Sorbate, Pentylene Glycol, Sodium Benzoate 
Biologique Recherche
Water (Aqua), Gluconolactone, Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Niacinamide, Citric Acid, Ethoxydiglycol, Magnesium Chloride, Malic Acid, Vinegar (Acetum), Phytic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Cochlearia Armoracia (Horseradish) Root Extract, Arctium Lappa Root (Burdock Root) Extract, Rumex Acetosa Leaf Extract, Myrtus Communis Extract, Commiphora Myrrha Resin Extract, Allium Cepa (Onion) Bulb Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Flower/Leaf Oil, Sulfur, Sorbitol, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.
Sunday Riley
Agave Tequilana (Blue Agave) Leaf, Cypripedium Pebescens (Orchid), Opuntial Tuna (Prickly Pear) Fruit, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract & Saccaromyces Cerevisiae (Yeast), Glycyrrhiza Glabra Extract, Lactic Acid, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (Coconut Oil), Butylene Glycol, Squalene, Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone, PPG-12/SMDI Copolymer, Stearic Acid Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) extract , PEG-100 Stearate, PEG-75 Meadowsol, Lemongrass Extract, Arnica Extract, Triethanolamine, Xanthan Gum, Phenoxyethanol, Steareth-20, DMDM Hydantoin.
The Ordinary

Aqua (Water), Lactic Acid, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Potassium Citrate, Arginine, Triethanolamine, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/leaf Extract, Acacia Senegal Gum, Xanthan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, PPG-26-Buteth-26, Ethyl 2,2-Dimethylhydrocinnamal, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

Renee Rouleau

  • 9.5% Glycolic Acid (AHA) – fast-acting exfoliant to lift discoloration.
  • 9.5% Lactic Acid (AHA) – skin-comforting and hydrating exfoliant.
  • 1% Mandelic Acid (AHA) – brightening and smoothing exfoliant.
  • Green Tea Leaf Extract – calming and soothing anti-aging antioxidant.
  • Allantoin – soothing and hydrating properties.


The Ordinary

Aqua (Water), Glycolic Acid, Rosa damascena flower water, Centaurea cyanus flower water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, Propanediol, Glycerin, Triethanolamine, Aminomethyl Propanol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Tasmannia Lanceolata Fruit/Leaf Extract, Aspartic Acid, Alanine, Glycine, Serine, Valine, Isoleucine, Proline, Threonine, Histidine, Phenylalanine, Glutamic Acid, Arginine, PCA, Sodium PCA, Sodium Lactate, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose, Urea, Hexyl Nicotinate, Dextrin, Citric Acid, Polysorbate 20, Gellan Gum, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Chloride, Hexylene Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol.

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