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Whether you’re a skincare newbie or a 10-step routine master, you’ve probably heard of chemical exfoliants. These highly effective acids promise to resurface, clarify, and even eliminate acne-causing bacteria. But before we go any further, let’s brush up on chemical exfoliation 101 and how it works. 

What are chemical exfoliants? 

The human body is complex on levels we cannot fathom. For example: Our skin has a self exfoliation mechanism and sheds dead skin cells everyday. However, this process slows down with age. The buildup of dead skin cells can cause clogged pores, acne, dullness, and wrinkles. But don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world; you can supplement your body’s ability to exfoliate by including chemical exfoliants in your skincare routine. 

Chemical exfoliants are found in a number of skincare products, ranging from cleansers to masks. The most popular ones are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA). While AHAs exfoliate the top layer of the skin, BHAs get into your pores and unclog them. Recently, Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA) have also been gaining popularity as gentle, sensitive skin-friendly acids that also promise to clarify your complexion. All in all, these improve skin texture and help with hyperpigmentation.


Now for the big question.

Do chemical exfoliants increase sun sensitivity? 

Since BHAs work by getting rid of all the gunk deep in your pores, they do not make your skin any more sensitive to sun that it already is. In fact, some studies have found that salicylic acid may even protect skin from sun damage


AHAs, on the other hand, work by exfoliating the top layer of the skin. In the process of doing so, AHAs like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and tartaric acid can increase UV sensitivity and hyperpigmentation from the sun. This is why the FDA generally recommends wearing sunscreen when using products containing AHAs.

How can you minimize sun damage while using chemical exfoliants? 

Whether you exfoliate or not, everyday sunscreen is the ultimate non-negotiable in any skincare routine. In case you need a refresher, sun exposure can lead to a myriad of skin concerns — from hyperpigmentation and premature aging, to skin cancer. As we mentioned, regular exfoliation can leave skin more vulnerable to damage, so it’s even more critical not to skip daily sunscreen.

For starters, choose a mineral or chemical sunscreen that suits your preference. If you’re looking for a lightweight, fuss-free formula, our Resting Beach Face SPF30 Sunscreen Serum is both hydrating and protective. If you’re on the sensitive side and prefer mineral SPF, Rose From Above SPF35 Sunscreen Base does a good job of soothing and smoothing too. Meanwhile, for your body needs, our Oh My Bod! SPF50 Sunscreen Lotion has you covered. This body moisturizer with SPF sinks in so easily that putting on doesn’t have to feel like a chore. 


Other things you can do to protect your skin from sun damage is save your exfoliants for your nighttime skincare routine so you’re not exposed to the sun. But don’t worry, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. What is important is — yep, you guessed it — wearing SPF in the day time. On top of this, you could even consider wearing a hat when outdoors, or covering up when possible. 


Remember, acids can be highly effective and powerful, but it’s up to you to use them wisely. That means practicing caution and putting on sunscreen, so you don’t wreck your skin barrier or welcome unwanted sun damage.


Happy exfoliating!

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