How to Exfoliate Skin (and Why It's So Important)

Exfoliating with a leave-on product refers to a process that breaks the bonds holding dry, dull cells to skin’s surface and inside the pore lining. A leave-on exfoliant can quickly reveal smoother, healthier-looking skin with a beautiful glow.

What is Exfoliating

Well-formulated exfoliants with AHA or BHA have so much to offer your skin. These products help fight signs of ageing and helps against break-outs, and so much more.

AHA is the abbreviation of alpha hydroxy acid. Glycolic acid and lactic acid are two types of AHA. BHA is short for beta hydroxy acid, commonly known as salicylic acid. Products containing these ingredients are available in different concentrations to target the exfoliation needs of different skin types and concerns.

How Does Exfoliating Work?

Your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells, a process that’s imperceptible but can become faulty. Skin's natural exfoliation process can become obstructed due to sun damage, dry or oily skin, genetics or various skin concerns. The consequences can be dull-looking or dry, rough textured skin, clogged pores, breakouts, milia, blackheads and uneven skin tone.

A leave-on, non-abrasive exfoliant helps to restore the natural process. If you remove dead skin cells gently then you can stop pores from becoming clogged, help to control breakouts, visibly lessen the depth of wrinkles and even rehydrate dry skin. Your skin will look younger, pratically overnight. An exfoliant can:

  • minimise the appearance of wrinkles
  • bring clarity to a dull/uneven skin tone
  • smooth rough, bumpy skin
  • unclog pores
  • increase hydration (yes, even increase hydration!)

Which Should I Use: Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid?

Both AHAs (amongst which glycolic acid) and BHA (salicylic acid) help to reduce wrinkles. They stimulate the production of collagen and strengthen the skin. The products’ specific properties will determine the best choice for you.

Paula's Choice AHA and BHA exfoliants for different skin concerns.

From left to right:

AHA (glycolic acid/ lactic acid) BHA (salicylic acid)

Recommended for:
+ Dry skin
+ Sun damaged skin

Recommended for:
+ Oily skin
+ Sensitive skin
+ Breakouts and blackheads
+ Rosacea-prone skin

+ Removes dead skin cells on the skin’s surface
+ Anti-ageing properties
+ Hydrates and brightens skin

+ Removes dead skin cells on the surface and in the pores
+ Combats breakouts, enlarged pores and blackheads
+ Anti-inflammatory properties

- Less suitable for extra sensitive skin which is prone to break-outs and blackheads

  • AHAs are recommended for dry skin or skin that has been damaged by the sun because they exfoliate the skin surface and improve the skin’s moisture levels. They can also improve minor breakouts and clogged pores but for moderate to stubborn spots BHA is far better.
  • BHA is recommended for an oily skin and for skin suffering from spots, blackheads or milia. This is because BHA can penetrate blocked pores and prevent spots and acne from forming.
  • BHA has an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effect. These are two more reasons to use a BHA exfoliant if you have spots, acne, or a red, sensitive skin.
  • BHA is recommended for people suffering from rosacea-prone skin. Not everyone suffering from rosacea-prone skin can tolerate an exfoliant, but it is worth trying a BHA exfoliant to see if your skin reacts positively to it.

Our Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion is an outstanding option that will give you hydrated, supple skin and an ultra-smooth healthy glow. It also includes anti-ageing properties to smooth wrinkles and fine lines. We have other options to check out in our Resist Collection for normal to dry skin as well!

Our Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is an all-around fan favourite for addressing multiple concerns, while our Clear Regular Strength Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid is a great place to start if you have acne. For those with rosacea-prone skin or extra sensitive skin our Calm Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant.

How to Exfoliate with AHA or BHA (and Get the Most Out of It)

  • Apply your AHA or BHA exfoliant after the cleanser and toner steps in your routine. If it’s a liquid, apply it with a cotton pad; if a lotion or gel, apply it with your fingers.
  • You can use it around the eye area, but not on the eyelid or directly under the eye (along the lower lash line).
  • You don’t need to wait for the BHA or AHA to absorb or dry; you can apply any other product in your routine - moisturiser, serum, eye cream, or sunscreen - immediately afterwards.
  • Experiment with different strengths of glycolic acid or salicylic acid to see which concentration gives you the best results.
  • How often you should exfoliate depends on your skin type and skin concerns. Some people do well exfoliating with AHA or BHA twice a day, whereas others find that once a day or every other day is a perfect balance. Test to see what works best for your skin.
  • Exfoliating with AHA or BHA from the neck down has great benefits as well. In particular, our 2% BHA Body Spot Exfoliant smooths the appearance of rough, red, hard, bumps on the arms and legs, and is even suitable for those with skin prone to keratosis pilaris.

Why Not Just Use a Scrub or Cleansing Brush?

Most scrubs have a rough, coarse, uneven texture, which can be too harsh and abrasive, causing micro-tears in skin. Many cleansing brushes are also a problem because they have stiff bristles and have the same negative impact on skin’s vulnerable surface.

Gentle scrubs, soft cleansing brushes, or a soft washcloth are the exception because they don’t damage skin, but even those are best used as an extra cleansing step, not as a replacement for what a well-formulated exfoliant with glycolic acid or salicylic acid can do.

Scrubs simply work on the very surface of skin and can’t reach the multiple layers of built up dead skin cells and into the pore to really change skin for the better in so many ways.

Still Wondering How to Find the Best Exfoliant

Regular exfoliation gives your skin a healthy, youthful radiance.

If you’re still a bit confused about which AHA or BHA exfoliant to choose, contact our Customer Care experts for a personalized skincare consultation to help you find the perfect solution for your skin!


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