Our guide to nature’s gentle exfoliators will help you explore the different options and assist you in choosing the right exfoliant for your skin type and concerns.
AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are natural acids with non-friction type exfoliation properties that work by breaking down the protein bonds between dead and living skin cells, allowing the dead cells to be shed.
The “acid” part may give you pause, however, these acids are derived from natural sources. Let’s take a look at the difference between some of the most common chemical exfoliants you’ll encounter in skincare.
AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) - Anti-ageing benefits AHAs are water-soluble acids derived from sugar cane, milk, grapes, and citric fruits.
The focus of AHAs is minimizing the appearance of fine lines, uneven skin tone, large pores and mild hyperpigmentation, including age spots and scarring.
AHAs exfoliate the skin to encourage more evenly pigmented skin cells, and skin that is smoother and softer in appearance.
The most common type of AHAs include:
Unlike other fruit-derived AHAs, lactic acid is made from lactose in milk. It works by increasing ceramide production in the skin's protective barrier, working to prevent congestion and improving water retention while smoothing the appearance of pigmentation.
It works particularly well to treat sun-damaged skin and is notable for being the gentler option of the chemical exfoliants.
Lactic acid is our most beloved acid in the KLUR range; we believe it is one of nature’s most effective acid options for a range of skin types. It features in our current product range and we will continue to incorporate it into new formulations as the KLUR skincare offering expands.
The most common type of AHA, glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and has the smallest molecular size of the AHAs, meaning it can penetrate more deeply into the skin.
In addition to exfoliation activity, glycolic acid also stimulates the production of collagen and elastin so, with consistent use, glycolic acid can improve signs of premature aging.
While glycolic acid can accelerate skin healing, it’s important to know it heightens the skin’s sensitivity to the sun so daily SPF protection is a must.
This AHA is best suited to normal and combination skin - sensitive skin types may find it too disruptive.
As you may have guessed by the name, this type of AHA is derived from citrus fruits.
The exfoliating properties of citric acid help smooth skin tone and clear pores and it’s also considered a pH adjusting ingredient. This AHA plays a role in supporting healthy skin barrier function by helping maintain an optimum pH level.
It also has astringent properties that address excess oil and prominent pore concerns.
BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) - Clearing acne-prone and oily skin
You may recognize BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) by its more common name, salicylic acid. Unlike AHAs, BHA is fat-soluble, meaning it can dissolve the oil in congested pores which makes it particularly well suited for oily skin types prone to breakouts and large pores.
BHA is typically used in exfoliation or cleansing products to treat acne, whiteheads, blackheads, and cysts. It’s also an anti-inflammatory which means it can reduce the swelling and redness associated with acne.
PHA (Polyhydroxy Acids) - Sensitive skin types to treat aging concerns. The more recent emergence of PHAs (polyhydroxy acids), known as the second generation of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), is a promising one.
For those with sensitive skin who find other chemical exfoliants too strong, PHAs offer an excellent alternative as gentler acids. They work to slow down the cosmetic signs of aging and unlike AHAs, they don’t increase the skin’s sensitivity to sun damage.
PHAs possess both exfoliant and humectant properties, meaning they remove dead cells from the skin surface while binding water molecules to the skin - helping to keep cells hydrated.
The most common PHAs include gluconolactone, galactose, and lactobionic acid.
Usually derived from plants and fruits, enzymes are proteins that have two primary uses in skincare - exfoliation and anti-inflammatory properties.
Enzymes work to exfoliate the skin by breaking down the keratin protein of the dead skin cells of the outer layer of skin, revealing a smoother complexion.
Enzymes have a unique point of difference from chemical exfoliators. They demonstrate exfoliation activity without disrupting the skin’s pH level, making them less likely to inflame, irritate or damage skin than some chemical exfoliators.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of the more common ingredients for enzyme exfoliation.
The mix of enzymes found in pineapple extract is collectively known as bromelain. Not only does bromelain help to gently exfoliate the skin, but it’s also known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits. Pineapple extract helps improve the skin hydration levels too.
Pumpkin enzymes help soften the skin to reduce the look of fine lines, balance oil production, and boost collagen. With a small molecular structure, pumpkin enzymes can break down debris deep within the pores, helping minimize breakouts and prevent whiteheads and blackheads from forming.
A skin exfoliator and brightener, pomegranate addresses hyperpigmentation, minimizes oiliness, promotes hydration and possesses antimicrobial properties. Due to its impressive antioxidant properties, pomegranate also aids in repairing skin damaged from environmental factors like UV exposure.
In the process of physical exfoliation, also known as mechanical exfoliation, dead skin cells are manually removed with a skincare tool or an ingredient. Some of the most gentle, natural physical exfoliation ingredients include biodegradable grains include:
Used for centuries in traditional skincare rice, rice powder is a type of flour made from finely milled rice. It’s a gentle yet effective exfoliation choice, especially well-suited to sensitive skin.
Rice powder helps increase hydration as it has a chemical structure similar to the ceramides found in our skin. Ceramides are lipids that help form the skin's barrier and help skin retain moisture.
It also brightens skin tone, smoothing the look of hyperpigmentation and assists in the removal of excess sebum from the skin.
Containing the properties of flavones, glycosides, phenolic acids, and amino acids to benefit skin, bamboo powder offers gentle microdermabrasion properties. The fine texture of the powder means it removes dead skin cells without damaging the surface of the skin.
Bamboo is cut, sun-dried, then mechanically ground to a fine powder making it an eco-friendly choice for skincare, as bamboo is the most readily renewable plant resources on the planet.
Multi-fiber Powder Exfoliants
For a customized experience, consider an exfoliation powder which incorporates the benefits of several biodegradable grains.
Skin Soil is a multi-fibered powder which includes refined botanical grains such as brown rice powder, rosehip seed powder, and MSM powder. The addition of Skin Soil to any cleansing gel transforms it into a low-friction enzymatic exfoliating paste.
Choosing an exfoliator based on small, biodegradable grains delivers gentle, effective exfoliation without irritation. It is a kinder choice for the planet too, free of micro-plastic beads that have been found to disrupt delicate marine environments after they are washed down the drain and into waterways.
Opting for an eco-friendly exfoliant is a simple first step towards creating a more conscious skincare routine that can have a positive, long-term impact on our ecosystem.
Incorporating regular exfoliation into your routine will have a transformative effect on your skincare results; supporting optimal cell turnover to promote softness, uniform texture, and suppleness of the skin. It will also help other products penetrate the skin more effectively, thus benefiting your entire routine.