How to use Chemical Exfoliants in your skincare routine

On Sundays, we exfoliate…

Hello! I hope everyone is doing well in these unprecedented times. I have to be honest with you; as an introvert who is currently solo self-distancing, I’m actually ok. I very much enjoy my own company and, as cliché as it may sound, this time alone has really helped me figure out what I want in life and where I’m heading. I’ve cooked, I’ve read and I’ve been writing to my heart’s delight and surprisingly not watched as much Netflix as I thought I would. As a passionate skincare junkie, of course this time has allowed me to indulge in well thought out routines, rather than haphazardly patting a million serums on my face. A couple of weeks ago, I shared my Sunday routine on Instagram and explained how Sundays evenings are reserved for an exfoliating regime. I chose Sundays because I really love starting a new week with radiant, glowing skin and I feel that exfoliation (especially acid exfoliation) is practically instant (if not overnight) gratification.

A bit of background information before I share my entire routine with you. Skincare aficionados who are well versed with nerdy skincare talk (and by that I mean my fellow ‘grammers who often have enough knowledge to rival dermatologists!) will know the numerous benefits of exfoliation. However, each time I mention the word ‘acid’ to my non-skincare pals, my heart sinks each time I see their eyes widen with fear and when I hear them say’ ouch, that sounds…dangerous’. Therefore, I hope my guide to exfoliation serves to encourage you to incorporate acids in your skincare routine.

What is exfoliation exactly? It refers to the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Our skin naturally sheds these skin cells to make room for renewed, fresh cells approximately every 30 days  but you can speed up the process by external means (and in that way, get glowing skin!) This can be achieved in a myriad of ways. If you’re using a granular substance or a tool for this, it’s called physical exfoliation. If you favour a leave-on product usually an acid, then this known as chemical exfoliation. There’s nothing scary about acids, in fact their ability to resurface skin and prevent clogged pores means that you are rewarded with a radiant complexion and fewer breakouts. Additionally, there are well-documented long-term benefits as exfoliation is said to increase collagen production and hence minimises the appearance of fine lines as well as to combat hyperpigmentation.

By now, I hope that you’re sold on the perks of having exfoliating acids as a staple in your skincare routine. This does come with a few caveats and there are some rookie mistakes I made when I initially started my skincare voyage. I really would like to save you from such major skincare disasters, mainly over-exfoliation. Acids are wonderful but you must never go overboard with them. Start slow once a week. Incorporate one in your routine according to your skin type (the different types of acids merit a dedicated post of their own, but in short, lactic acid is more gentle making it the go-to acid for dry, sensitive types, glycolic acid is a robust acid but fantastic for older skin types and salicylic acid is great for those with oily and acne prone skin). I firmly believe in being intuitive when it comes to picking your products and if you notice a little bit of irritation, do listen to your skin and scale down. Do not be tempted to copy anyone’s routine (skin guru or not!). I learnt this the hard way, layering three acids in a single routine, morning and night and my skin rebelled, all raw, red and irritated . Weekly exfoliation is my personal sweet spot, which I stumbled on purely by trial and error. I do use Tretinoin (Vitamin A, I promise I will elaborate on this fabulous, transformative ingredient in another post!) and this certainly sensitises my skin. My preference therefore lies with lactic acid based products, which I mentioned is more suited to sensitive skins. Recently though, I’ve started using a gorgeous and effective 10% glycolic acid based product from Monastery Made, which I discovered in Boxwalla (one of my favourite subscription boxes of all times, I’ve written about my first box here and how I’m enamoured by their curations). Without further ado, here’s a typical ‘exfoliation day’ evening routine.

As with any of my evening skincare routines, I kick off with a double cleanse. You can use any oil/balm product of your choosing to firstly melt off grime/makeup/sunscreen. Once you have a clear canvas, you’re then actually cleaning your skin with gel/milk based second cleanser. I suggest checking that none of your cleansers contain any acids just so that you don’t overdo it. My absolute favourite duo right now is the I’m From Fig Cleansing Balm and Sioris Cleanse me Softly Milk Cleanser, two gorgeously effective products hailing from the K-Beauty realm. Double cleansing was actually pioneered by Korea so it makes total sense to rely on these two stellar product for this step. I’ve spoken about the I’m From Fig Cleansing Balm in a previous post (read my full review here) and it’s a delightfully textured sherbet balm that melts in contact with your skin, emulsifiers and rinses off completely clear. Oh and it destroys makeup (including eye makeup) and sunscreen effortlessly. The delicate, fruity scent is just a bonus. Sioris is a brand very much aligned to my skincare preferences, small batch and ultra focussed on ingredients freshly harvested in nature. I consider Sioris to be the perfect marriage between my two loves K-beauty and Green beauty and a brand overview is imminent. This milky cleanser has a deliciously naturally fruity, somewhat citrusy scent and leaves my skin very clean but so hydrated and baby soft. I transitioned to milky cleansers last year and although it took a while to get used to, my skin now loves them. I’m a bit of cleansing addict and I don’t treat this step as purely functional. To me, cleansing needs to be sensorial and I spend quite a bit of time every evening, gently massaging my skin and totally revelling in these decadent textures and scents. I invite you enjoy this step, and slow it dowwwwn.

After rinsing off with lukewarm water, I generously mist my face while it’s still damp. I’m currently obsessed with (as is everyone else!) the Sioris Time is Running Out Mist, a gorgeous 3-in1, bi-phase mist intended to function as mist, a toner and serum. As the weather gets warmer and my routines get more minimalist, I can totally see myself using it on its own post cleansing and calling it a day. This derni-cri mist boasts 78% organic fruit water (green plum or yuja, always in-season) to deliver the burst of my hydration parched, lockdown skin is craving and three sensational oils (macadamia oil, jojoba oil and sunflower oil) provide long-lasting nourishment and moisture.

Now, let’s move onto the star of the show, the exfoliation product. I usually use a leave-on product, which I don’t wash off (I’ve struggled to find anything more glow inducing than the Sunday Riley’s Good Genes- lactic acid version. Sadly in the UK, we can’t get this, it is instead formulated with glycolic acid) However, I received the XX Rose Glycolic Gel* from Monastery Made when it featured in April’s Boxwalla and it contains 10% Glycolic acid in a base of soothing rose water. It’s a gel that can be used as a leave-on product however the best results I get are as a flash mask left on for 10 minutes. Also, I’m more accustomed to unscented (i.e. bo-ring!) acids and this one reminds me of being in a rose garden and I absolutely love that this usually boring step has transformed into a lush experience. I do sometimes get touch of tingling but when I wash this off, I’m rewarded with the most insane glow. It’s definitely one of those products you want to use before a special event to bestow you with a radiant complexion.

I follow this up with more generous misting with Sioris Time is Running Out Mist and then slather my face with a nourishing concoction of Earthwise Beauty Yasuni Balm (a masterpiece of a balm which I have reviewed here in detail), the affordable Simply Pure Hydrating Serum from Superdrug ( on it’s own, it’s somewhat boring but cocktailed with an oil, it is superb. It contains ceramides, fatty acids and glycerol as well as niacinamide. It’s a product I will ALWAYS have around and costs less than your Starbucks latte) as well as 5YINA Lucent Summer Beauty Oil * (also  another Boxwalla curation. See Lavanya does really have impeccable taste). Contrary to its name, I have been using this all year long and it’s quite the perennial favourite for me. I do agree that it is a lightweight oil that absorbs beautifully and will be loved by oilier skin types but I find that this calms down any inflammation I have overnight and even as a dry-skinned type, it has a special place in my routines. You don’t need to use the same cocktail of products (I do love playing mixologist with my skincare) but as long as you choose a nourishing serum, your skin will be happy.

You definitely don’t need to be using the same products outlined in this routine. I often rotate products myself, but in essence it begins with a gentle double cleanse with no actives, followed by hydration, then an acid of your choice and topped up with a nourishing oil or balm or moisturiser (or all three if you’re a skincare maximalist like me!). You could easily incorporate your acid in a daytime routine but make sure you follow up with sunscreen, it’s always SPF50 for me. In fact, all your morning routines should be punctuated with sunscreen regardless! This winning formula I’ve outlined works for me and I recommend it to everyone but especially if you are just venturing into the world of acids!

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