what the hell did you just say?
Calm down, mate. It's fine. Let's breathe. It'll be cool. We're just talking about chemistry. Nothing scary about chemistry is there? Biochemical warfare comes through as an obvious exception, sure. But on the whole, while there are some risks involved with given kinds of synthetic ingredients, not all of them will bring you a slow death (or fast death - whatever you're into).
It's a message we've said before: natural does not mean 'safe', processed does not mean 'satan.' At very least not in any Indo-European languages. Truly, an overwhelming amount of the scientific evidence on so-called 'hazardous' products point to their relative harmlessness. And while we know that everyone once said that about lead, and like we ourselves have voiced, 'it's sometimes better safe than sorry', we acknowledge that some of our readers are just the kind cheeky risk takers who would love this post. So, we're writing it.
Still not a fan? Yeah, we don't blame you. That wasn't much of an up-sell if you're already convinced anything not directly from nature need not bother coming near your face ever, ever again. But fear not, babe. Scroll down for our bit on plant-based exfoliants and get your toofufu fix the mother earth type way. Right. On we go.
what are chemical peels, actually?
First off, let us clarify. We're not talking about facial peels that are done in a dermatologist's office, although those are fairly similar. Read this piece from Refinery29 by legendary skin guru Rene Rouleau, if you'd like to find out more.
Right, so, we're talking about at-home chemical peels. It sounds like a nightmare. A bit like that time you and your best friend shared a box of 'warm blonde' hair dye that turned your natural highlights into a flat colour so orange you had to change it to black just to get rid of it. True story. But at-home peeling isn't like that. We once read that to get to the heart of peels, you need to forget everything you've ever been told about them. Stop the flashing of images of toxic waste being poured into the Joker's vats. Stop reliving Samantha Jones' horrible pre- book launch choices. Let go, like your yoga teacher wants you to in savasana.
'Cause actually, chemical peels done at home with mild products are just deep exfoliants. That's it. The same way you use apricot kernels (ouch, btw) to remove dead skin and debris from your face two-to-three times a week? Like that, but with more efficiency.
why do we need them?
Your skin is like a ghost. When it dies, it wants to stick around to deal with some unfinished business. Mostly this business involves blocking your pores and roughing up your face. Exfoliating is the ghostbusters of the beauty world. Not only can it help with pores and smoothness, it's also been said to help with redness, and hyper-pigmentation.
Now, you can use physical exfoliants like we mentioned above, and those will certainly help. But you need to realise, is that scrubs are only as effective as you are at using them. The exfoliation doesn't work just because you've slapped some small particles on your face. You really need to make sure you're gently rubbing these over all the necessary areas to get the benefits. There's a bit of elbow grease involved, you see.
Chemical exfoliants are different because the work comes from the reaction between the formula and your skin on a chemical level. There is no scrubbing involved, and so the results are consistently effective, provided you lather the cream or gel onto the full surface area of your face.
k. how do you get involved?
Two choices. AHA's or BHA's. AHA stands for 'alpha hydroxy acid', while BHA then obviously stands for 'beta hydroxy acid'. They both work the same way - by ungluing the bonds that bind dead skin cells together - but they have different formulations that make them more or less suitable for a given skin type.
AHA's are water-soluble, and are best suited to dry skin types because it's also a baller moisturiser. BHA's are oil-soluble, and work to remove the excess oils associated with an oily skin type, and problem-prone skin. BHA's also work on both the surface and deeper layers of skin, whereas AHA's only penetrate the surface, making BHA's a dab hand at unclogging pores. You can learn more from our gal, Paula of Paula's Choice, over here.
AHA options: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% (vegan, cruelty-free), Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant (vegan, cruelty-free), Beauty Without Cruelty, Skin Renewal Lotion (vegan, cruelty-free), Gaia Organics AHA Mature Toner (vegan, cruelty-free).
BHA options: The Ordinary Salicyclic Acid 2% Solution (vegan, cruelty-free), Paula's Choice Clear Regular Strength 2% BHA Exfoliant (vegan, cruelty-free), Benzac Skin Refining Mask (vegan, NOT cruelty-free), Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum (vegan, cruelty-free).
Warnings: Because you're exposing new skin when you've used either a BHA or AHA, you need to make sure you wear an SPF during the day to stop from damaging your gorgeous face. K?
alternatives (natural exfoliants)
If you prefer to keep things au natural, you'll need to exfoliate very carefully, making sure to cover the entire surface of your face with a gentle massage. Good options are anything with a slight grain, but be careful - some have said that apricot and walnut kernels and their like are too harsh on the skin, creating micro-tears that cause inflammation.
Try Lush's Herbalism, Ocean Salt, Angels On Bare Skin, or Dark Angels (vegan and cruelty-free). Then there's Natraloe Facial Scrub (vegan, cruelty-free), and SKOON. Papaya & Pineapple Enzyme Exfoliating Mask (vegan, cruelty-free).
As of April 2017, we've committed to informing you of all possibly-harmful ingredients in anything that appears on the site. We'd like our readers to make an informed decision about where they spend their money, and we want to do as much as we can to make that possible. Here are the potentially-dangerous ingredients mentioned in this post.