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Chemical exfoliation for breakouts? how a-peeling!

Chemical exfoliation for breakouts? how a-peeling!

When it comes to breakouts, chemical exfoliation can be a major help in clearing and preventing challenges if we know how to use it correctly.

We are joined today by Dermalogica’s Master Instructors, Addie Guenther and Heather Stephens, as they take over our blog and share their expertise on chemical exfoliation. 


Breakouts are a difficulty we face throughout most of our lives that can affect not just our skin but also our emotions. So, we need to know how to clear and prevent them. We’re going to look at why breakouts happen, how exfoliation can help clear and prevent them, and the differences between exfoliating ingredients so we can harness the power of chemical exfoliation to keep our skin smooth, clear, happy, and healthy.

Why do we breakout?

There are a few factors that lead to breakouts. First, a buildup of extra skin cells that clog our pores. Stress, hormonal changes, genetics, and a ton of other potential triggers can cause our body to make more skin cells than we need and dead skin buildup keeps oils trapped in our pores. This is when we often start to feel bumpy texture on our skin. If the clogged pore is open a little it can become dark and discolored, and that’s what we commonly call a blackhead. How does a blackhead become a big swollen breakout? Bacteria. There are pounds of bacteria that live all over our bodies, inside and out. Normally, these bacteria live in harmony with each other but when dead skin cells and oil build up it can lead to an imbalance of bacteria that causes irritation and redness. This irritation causes our body’s immune system to jump in and kill extra bacteria which leads to swollen, pus-filled, painful breakouts.

How can exfoliation help?

If we don’t have a buildup of extra skin cells then we’re much less likely to see breakouts. So, exfoliating, a.k.a. removing dead skin, can stop problems before they start. There are two main types of exfoliation, physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation.

Physical exfoliation scrubs, scrapes, or polishes away dead skin cells. When it comes to breakouts this kind of scrubbing can increase redness, and it can spread excess bacteria.

Chemical exfoliation uses ingredients like acids and enzymes to melt away our dead skin cells. This is not only good for breaking down surface debris, it can also go deeper inside our breakout-prone pores to clear away extra dead skin before it builds up. The two most regularly used chemical exfoliant ingredients can be split into alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA’s).

What ingredients should I look for?

AHAs work to break apart our skin cells so they can shed more easily. Different AHAs have different superpowers like brightening and preventing dark spots or hydrating our skin for extra glow and smoothness.

Lactic acid

This gentle, stable exfoliating ingredient penetrates slowly and predictably into the skin. This means it’s less likely than some other acids to cause irritation. Lactic acid not only eats away at dead skin, it also stimulates hydration leading to smoother, more radiant skin.

Azelaic Acid 

This acid works to reduce the extra skin cells your body might be making and helps to kill the bacteria that leads to breakouts! As if that weren’t enough, azelaic acid also helps to prevent dark marks from forming on the skin.

Mandelic Acid 

Another gentle acid great for sloughing off dead skin. Mandelic acid has also been shown to reduce redness, acne, and discoloration from past breakouts. 

BHAs, like salicylic acid, are a powerhouse in fighting acne. They are attracted to oil so they are drawn into our oily, congested pores to breaks down the extra skin cells that build up inside. They also helps to reduce redness and irritation soothing away painful pimples.

Where can I find these ingredients? Do I need a prescription?

While many chemical exfoliants are available in prescription strength formulas, we can find these ingredients in non-prescription products designed to deliver great results without irritation.


breakout clearing liquid peel

This AHA/BHA peel combines powerful, skin-friendly, chemical exfoliants in an easy-to-use product that quickly clears breakouts, prevents new ones from starting, all while keeping your skin calm and bright. Our powerful formula has all the acids you just learned about to kickstart clearing. In our tests, we found that within 1 week, 95% of users reported clearer skin!

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Just remember to use your most powerful exfoliating ingredients in the evening to avoid irritation from the sun and to make changes to your routine slowly. You can always exfoliate more later but you can’t un-exfoliate your skin. To keep from overdoing it, try using your new peel once a week to start and as your skin builds up tolerance, you can enjoy it more often.

Customisation & Consistency

Your skin breaks out because dead skin cells build up. Chemical exfoliants can melt down the extra cells without spreading bacteria or making redness worse. They can also have extra benefits you won’t find in scrubs. By combining these powerful exfoliating ingredients you can keep your skin clear, calm, bright, and healthy. Make sure to look for products that you can customize to get an extra boost of clearing when you need it and don’t overdo it; consistency is key.

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