Learn your AHAs from your BHAs
Exfoliating toners have become a bit of a buzzword in beauty over the last few years, but it's easy to be confused about what they actually are.
First up, you need to get the idea of an exfoliator as a beaded cream you rub over your face out of your mind. Those are scrubs, and they are completely different to what we're discussing here. On top of that, these products also vary from regular toners which are usually perfumed waters.
Exfoliating toners are liquid exfoliants which look like the aforementioned waters but have active ingredients in them to help get rid of dead skin cells. These are acids in the form of AHAs and BHAs and which you go for will depend on your skin type.
"Because of irritation, you start damaging skin, breaking collagen down, hurting the skins' repair process - manual scrubs when they are gentle... can be a nice extra cleansing step... but they don't help your skin do what it would do normally if we didn't have sun damage or specific skin disorders, like oily skin, or blemish prone skin," Paula Begoun of skincare brand Paula's Choice explained to Cover Media. "Then you would end up having skin cells that don't come off normally.
"So that's where AHAs - and the two where the most research has been done is glycolic acid and lactic acid - and BHAs, salicylic acid have the most amazing properties to absorb in and allow skin to do what it would do normally. Because it's not the problem of built up layers just on the surface, it's a bit deeper down than what a manual scrub can reach."
AHAs tend to be good for most skin types, although if you have sensitive skin you probably won't be able to handle them. BHAs are particularly good for people who suffer with oiliness or spots, and this is because as well as being an exfoliant it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Paula calls salicylic acid one of the "unsung ingredients in skincare" because it makes skin smoother, helps it heal, build collagen and reduce redness, but on top of that it can help deal with clogged pores - which contribute to spots and acne.
"It's lipid soluble so it can absorb into a pore. A pore has a skin cell lining and one of the things that happens with clogged pores or acne is the skin cells build up and choke off the pore lining. So the BHA absorb into the pore, shed those thickened linings and start opening up the pore so oil can get out better," she explained. "The last thing is it also has anti-bacterial properties, so we can kill the bacteria that causes acne. That makes BHA a fascinating ingredient for skin, particularly normal to oily, blemish prone, sun damaged skin."
Paula's Choice offers a range of BHA exfoliants and other products, and the line is available in the US and across Europe. Other notable offerings include Aveda Botanical Kinetics Exfoliant, Estee Lauder Perfectly Clean Multi-Action Toning Lotion/Refiner and Ren Clarimatte Clarifying Toner.