While the word "chemical" can sound scary, when it comes to an exfoliant, it's something I very much covet and that can be extremely beneficial, as long as I find what works best for my skin type. As a teenager, I was no stranger to benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, having tried not only a slew of over-the-counter drugstore acne treatments but prescription-grade skincare as well. At the time, I was also going ham on mechanical exfoliants, aka scrubs, which were only aggravating my skin because of how harsh they actually were. I never had much luck, and if I did, I would only see positive results for just a few days or weeks before my acne flared up all over again. Although I still deal with breakouts, the worst is behind me and I now look for products that will help even out texture and speed up skin cell turnover to help with my scarring and hyperpigmentation. I've rounded up some of my top chemical exfoliants I think are worth checking out and that, in my opinion, are fairly priced for what they deliver as well.
The Pixi Glow Tonic* and the Glow Tonic To-Go* are cult classics and with reason: the formula is hands down one of the best formulas I have tried from the drugstore. I love the convenience of the Glow Tonic To-Go which contains 30 saturated pads and is perfect for travelling. With 5% Glycolic Acid, both provide mild exfoliation that is safe for daily use. I've been using these in rotation in my routine for over a year now since first sharing Glow Tonic in this post, and even though I'm trying other toners, I always come back to them because the formula is that good. If you deal with sensitive skin like me, this one is a great option because it contains soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and ginseng. I'm giving these two big thumbs up for the non-irritation factor!
Next up, the Indeed Labs Bakuchiol Reface Pads*. They sound fancy, don't they? I had personally never heard of bakuchiol before: it's been around for a while in skincare and is a gentle plant-based alternative to the oh-so-famed retinol. It's been shown to help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and hyperpigmentation and is great for all skin types, including sensitive, which is great news for anyone who has a hard time tolerating products with retinol. It's also great to treat acne and help maintain skin elasticity. Another advantage over retinol is that it does not increase photosensitivity making it safe to use daytime as well as daily. You get 30 moistened pads per jar, so all you have to do is wipe and discard. I will say that the scent is not pleasurable, it's very strong and I try not to inhale too much of it when applying. But on the other hand, I love how these make my skin look and feel afterward, super smooth and bright so I've come to get used to it. Another good option at the drugstore for anyone looking to try something new!
The Paula's Choice Skin Perfector 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant* is a long-time favourite of mine. Renamed and repackaged since the first time I featured it, this fluid is meant to be used after toning to help smooth your skin's texture with regular use. On top of salicylic acid, it also contains green tea, a powerful antioxidant. Within minutes, I can feel how much softer my skin gets after applying. I will caution that this might not be the greatest option if you have hyper-sensitive skin - mine gets slightly red for a few minutes but this then dissipates so I try using it very lightly. I find this product really helps with pesky milia I sometimes deal with. It's definitely a great resurfacing product I have come to enjoy over the years.
Last but not least, another oldie but a goodie, the Paula's Choice Resist BHA 9*. If you are looking for a treatment that targets problem areas, this one is pretty fantastic. I first shared my love for this product four years ago, and I've used up a handful of bottles since. I will specifically reach for this product and apply a small amount on my post-breakout skin to help speed up cell turnover and reduce hyperpigmentation. With 9% salicylic acid, this is a heavy-duty product that will quickly get your skin from drab to fab again without overdrying your skin. It's definitely a must-have in my skincare arsenal!
There you have it, my top chemical exfoliants recommendations! What are some of your favourite facial exfoliants?
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*Disclaimer: Products were provided and reviewed in accordance with my Disclosure Policy. Some affiliate links provided.