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Beginner’s guidebook to chemical exfoliation

Chemicals on the face sounds scary, right? But chemicals are all around in the food that we eat to the organic products that we apply. It’s just science and it is completely alright to apply chemicals given that you know which is the right chemical for your skin. We truly believe that everybody can do with a bit of chemical exfoliants now and then to achieve that healthy glow. If you have never used chemical exfoliant then this is the right place to get all the deets that you will ever need!

What is chemical exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliation is a process that eliminates dead skin and impurities present on the outermost layer of the skin. This leads to a firm and smooth skin tone. Chemical exfoliants go deep within your skin to subtract all the elements that could be a hurdle to smooth and bright skin. They are also the gentler version of physical exfoliants which are mainly granular to eliminate the dead skin and impurities. The major chemicals used for chemical exfoliation are Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA), Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA), and Poly-Hydroxy Acids (PHA). Using chemicals sounds scary but if you use just the right acid with the right concentration then it might turn out to be a fairy angel for you! Let’s learn more about these chemical exfoliants.

What are the types of chemical exfoliants?

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Chemical exfoliation is majorly done by three main acids- AHA, BHA, PHA. The difference between them is mainly in the penetration level that each acid provides and tolerance depending on the skin type. Let’s briefly look at what these acids are:

1. Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

AHA is usually derived from plants and fruits and is gentle on your skin if you begin with a low concentration. They work by breaking down the ‘glue’ that holds the dead cells and impurities on the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). Along with their exfoliating properties, they are also a great humectant, which means they will pull moisture from the environment to hydrate your skin. This makes them a great choice for anyone with dry, normal, and sensitive skin. Some of the AHAs are Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Malic Acid, Tartaric Acid, Citric Acid. If you’re a beginner then you must start with the lowest concentration of around 2-5% and use it twice a week. Once your skin has adopted the ingredient well, you can include it in your daily use. 

    For beginners, Sublime recommends the Deconstruct Beginners Exfoliating Serum that has 5% Lactic Acid along with probiotics and Hyaluronic Acid, making it perfect for beginners.

    This is an image of Deconstruct Beginners Exfoliating Serum on

    2. Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA)

    BHA are oil-soluble acids and so it is easier for them to penetrate deep within your pores, sit with the oil present in there and snatch out all the dirt that may be clogging your pores. They are also very efficient in killing bacteria. This makes them a great pick for those with oily, acne-prone, and normal skin types. Salicylic Acid is the most known BHA. For beginners, it is recommended to start using it twice or thrice a week and then build it for daily use.

      For beginners, Sublime recommends Suganda BHA Exfoliating Serum that has 2% Salicylic Acid and is paired with Centella Asiatica that is known to soothe your skin and heal sun damage, cuts, and open wounds.

      This is an image of Suganda BHA Exfoliating Serum on

      3. Poly-Hydroxy Acid (PHA)

      PHA is more like a younger and milder sister of AHA. Their molecular size is greater than AHA and BHA so it cannot penetrate much into your skin. This makes its actions mild and so a great choice for those who are just introduced or want to begin with chemical exfoliation or have sensitive skin types. It also works great for those with Rosacea, Redness, and Eczema.

      To understand more about which exfoliant suits your particular skin concern, read here!

      What are the benefits of chemical exfoliation?

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      Where do we even start! Chemical exfoliation is like a sword that everyone must have to keep their skin healthy. Here are some of the facts that will help you understand why we believe in chemical exfoliation:

      1. Regulates oil production

      Certain exfoliants like BHA are oil-soluble which means they can regulate oil production by eliminating the excess of oil and other external factors that might irritate your skin and lead to excess oil production. Those with oily skin know the trouble that excess oil brings ( *cough* overgrowth of bacteria *cough*) but exfoliants can easily troubleshoot these additional skin concerns that make your life a living hell.

      2. Minimises the appearance of pore

      Chemical exfoliants allow your skin to breathe by extracting impurities and excess oil from your pores. Hence, it helps in refining your skin’s pore size. .

      3. Fades pigment

      Acids are great melanin inhibitors. Those with acne scars and sunspots or even hyperpigmentation can benefit by using chemical exfoliants. Majorly AHA comes in handy for this particular purpose. 

      4. Evens out skin tone

      With rising pollution, we all face dull, textured, and dry patches. However, chemical exfoliants can help you even out your skin tone. It’s simply by putting two and two together since chemical exfoliants help in eliminating dead skin, dirt, and excess oil.

      5. Diminishes fine lines and wrinkles

      Chemical exfoliants trigger the cells to increase the cell turnover when it exfoliates the outermost skin layer. This allows your skin to slow down ageing by diminishing fine lines and wrinkles.

      6. Unclogs pores

      Every type of chemical exfoliant has its way to exfoliate but it eventually leads to eliminating all the unwanted substances off your skin. This unclogs pores and gives you that brightening effect you’ve been looking for!

      7. Prevents Acne

      Chemical exfoliants make the skin a less desirable space for bacterial overgrowth or dirt to settle on by putting off the pH for a while and also its mode of action.

      What is the ideal way to begin with chemical exfoliation?

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      It starts with understanding your skin type and concerns. Matching the skin type with the right chemical exfoliant is a major flex and also the most important step to note for beginners. Let’s look at some common skin types and concerns that might be of your match. We can’t cover personalised recommendations and that is why we push you to visit a dermatologist before beginning with chemical exfoliation. And of course, nothing must go on your face without patch testing as a precautionary measure.

      1. Dry and dull skin

      Your skin not just needs hydration but also gentle exfoliation. If you use a harsh chemical or high concentration of chemical exfoliants then it might create micro-tears, damage to the skin barrier, redness, and even worse, acne. Nightmare, right? To you, we’d say that stick to AHA and start with the lowest concentration i.e. 2-5%. AHAs not just exfoliate but also act as a good humectant to plump up your skin. Do not use it every day since you don’t know if your skin really needs to be exfoliated every day and if it can tolerate AHA every day. Use it just in your PM routine, twice a week, and build it up once your skin is tolerant to it. If you do it any other way then you might experience burns.

        Sublime recommends Aminu The Multitalented Overnight Peel whose 95% ingredients are natural. It is a powerful AHA peel with Peptides to nourish and lift your face just at night. We love products that work while we catch on to our beauty sleep!

        This is an image of Aminu The Multitalented Overnight Peel on

        2. Oily and acne-prone skin

        Those with this skin type, know what headache blackheads, whiteheads, and clogged pores could be. But they can be gently removed by using a BHA like Salicylic Acid. Salicylic Acid can penetrate deep within your pores, since they are oil-soluble, to eliminate the dirt, trapped hair, excess oil that forms a grim in your pores and dulls your skin. Start with the mildest concentration of Salicylic Acid and apply twice a week when you’re beginning with it. Let your skin be familiar with this ingredient after which you can use it in your daily skincare routine.

          Sublime recommends Deconstruct Pore Control Serum that has 2% Salicylic Acid and 3% Niacinamide. Perfect for beginners with oil skin.

          This is an image of Deconstruct Pore Control Serum on

          3. Sensitive and inflamed skin

          Those with sensitive skin types need to be careful of what they’re putting on their face since they have little to no room to experiment with their skin. Start with a mild exfoliant like PHAs that have a larger molecular size compared to AHA, BHA and hence are gentler on skin. You must also ensure to begin with a low concentration and even resort to short contact therapy which means you let the exfoliant rest on your skin only for a short while.

            Sublime recommends Daughter Earth AHA BHA PHA Exfoliating Cleanser that has Coco Glucoside, Kaolin Clay, Sweet Cherry, Strawberry, Sugar Cane. This is a perfect cleanser after your skin has had an eventful day!

            This is an image of Daughter Earth AHA BHA PHA Exfoliating Cleanser on

            4. Fine lines and textured skin

            This skin concern is due to a lack of cell turnover and a disrupted skin barrier. To undo this, you can pick any AHA like Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid. AHAs can increase your skin cell turnover and also act as a humectant. To rejuvenate your skin barrier, you do need moisture. So pick a product that can nourish and exfoliate the dead skin.

              Sublime recommends Dr. Sheth's Gulab & Glycolic Toner. It has Rose extracts, Glycolic Acid, and also Calendula to nourish and repair your skin.

              This is an image of Dr. Sheth's Gulab & Glycolic Toner on

              What are some important notes to remember when you include chemical exfoliants in your routine?

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              It is important to be mindful of what you’re applying to your skin, especially if we’re talking about acids in our skincare routine. Acids on the skin are not as scary as they sound to be. Just a few notes here and there that you must keep in mind while beginning with chemical exfoliation. Here’s the list of notes that will come in handy for all you beginners!

              1. Do not leave it on for too long

              Chemical exfoliants can do their job in just a few minutes and it does not need you to keep it for more than 5-10 minutes if you’re using it as a face mask or peels. Having said that, you can find chemical exfoliants in toners or serums as well. In that case, they are formulated to sit well on your face overnight and not irritate your skin. This point is specifically for those who use chemical peels or chemical exfoliant-based face masks that are designed to do their job in just a few minutes.

                For beginners, you can also opt for short contact therapy when you’re introducing a product to your skin. In this, you apply the product for 5 to 15 minutes and wash it off. Once your skin builds tolerance, you can use the product as it is meant to be used.

                2. Do not use it every day from Day 1

                Sometimes we focus way too much on our skin concern and just want to rush in through the healing process. But if you do so with chemical exfoliants then you might just add to your skin issues. As a beginner who just wants bright and glowing skin asap, you need to understand that your skin is an organ and it needs its time to heal. So introduce chemical exfoliants gently and slowly. Build from twice a week to thrice a week and if necessary then daily usage.

                3. Do not use a concoction as a beginner

                Since your skin has never experienced chemical exfoliants, you need to introduce them slowly and gently. A concoction can do more harm than good to your skin since your skin can be overwhelmed. This can also lead to increased sun sensitivity and fragile skin.

                4. Pick the right exfoliant according to your skin

                Not all chemical exfoliants are meant for you. It depends on your skin type and we cannot stress enough the importance of picking the right exfoliant for your skin. It can be tricky and hence we recommend visiting a dermatologist to begin this process. Once you circle down to a particular product, don’t forget to patch test before you dig in!

                5. Do not skip sunscreen

                Chemical exfoliants can make your skin sensitive to harmful sun rays and other external stressors.  This is because it exposes a fresh layer of skin by exfoliating the previous outermost dead skin layer. It is advisable to use chemical exfoliants only in your PM routine and include a high SPF in your AM routine. There is no excuse to skip sunscreen even otherwise!

                6. Follow it with a moisturiser

                Once the exfoliants do their job on your skin, your skin is now more receptive. Your skin barrier may be put off the balance since chemical exfoliants are acidic in pH. To maintain your skin barrier, it is essential to slap on some moisturiser. This is often understated but maintaining your skin barrier can take care of your major skin concerns so after using actives or exfoliants, one must never ever skip a good moisturiser.

                  Sublime recommends Suganda Rosehip Moisturiser that is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids due to the presence of Rosehip oil, Hyaluronic Acid, and Niacinamide.

                  This is an image of Suganda Rosehip Moisturiser on

                  What happens when you over-exfoliate?

                  This is an image of Signs of Over-Exfoliation on


                  As a beginner, you must be vigilant that you are not over-exfoliating. When you over-exfoliate, it will disrupt the skin’s microbiome since the pH will be too low for the healthy organism to thrive on your skin. Once the healthy organisms are wiped off your skin, your skin barrier will crash too. This is just perfect for the external stressors and pathogenic organisms to attack your skin. Here are some signs that indicate over-exfoliation:

                  • Your skin will burn after applying chemical exfoliants or in hot weather
                  • You will observe dry skin patches
                  • Your skin will turn red immediately after exfoliation due to inflamed pores
                  • You will experience flaking of the skin

                  If you observe the above symptoms then immediately splash water and ice your skin. You can also use a basic moisturiser and cut all actives from your routine for a while. Our pick would be the Rovectin Aqua Barrier Concentrate, which will help repair your skin. You must also visit a dermatologist since over-exfoliation can make your skin vulnerable to more damage.

                  This is an image of Rovectin Aqua Barrier Concentrate on

                  Watch the video below, to know more about chemical exfoliation for beginners.


                  Chemical exfoliation is a great addition to keep your skin glowing and healthy. As a beginner, it is necessary to understand your skin type, skin concern, and what can be the right product for your skin. It can help tone your skin, even out, brighten, and even fade pigments. If you take care of a few notes that we’ve mentioned here, then chemical exfoliation can help you achieve those skin goals!

                  -Divya Salvi

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