Exfoliation for Dry Skin

If you suffer from dry or very dry skin, many exfoliants can be a no-go, leaving skin drier and more irritated than before. However, research has shown that daily exfoliation is vital to remove dead skin cells and reveal soft, smooth, radiant-looking skin. AHA exfoliants in particular are really beneficial for dry skin – the secret is choosing the right texture and concentration. Read on to learn how AHAs work and discover the best AHA for your skin.

Which Exfoliant is Best For Dry Skin?

At Paula’s Choice we have two types of leave-on exfoliant: BHAs and AHAs. BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) is ideal for oily, blemish-prone skin because it exfoliates inside pores and helps prevent breakouts. AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid) is recommended for sun-damaged and normal to dry skin because it exfoliates the skin’s surface while helping it hold onto more moisture.

What is AHA?

AHA stands for Alpha Hydroxy Acid, but don’t let the word ‘acid’ fool you. AHAs are much gentler than traditional scrubs or cleansing brushes. There are several types of AHAs, but two of the most effective and well-researched are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Products containing glycolic acid and lactic acid are most effective in concentrations between 5% and 10%.

Discover the different types of Alpha Hydroxy Acids:

  • Glycolic acid
    Glycolic acid occurs naturally in sugar cane and has the best track record of all the Alpha Hydroxy Acids. It is the most researched AHA and studies show that glycolic acid, together with lactic acid, demonstrates the most impressive results for all ages and skin types.
    Glycolic acid is special because of its small molecule size which enables it to easily penetrate through the top layers of skin and reveal healthier-looking skin. Glycolic acid also has the ability to hydrate skin and to ‘teach’ skin to retain its natural moisture. When used in concentrations of 5% and upwards, glycolic acid can also improve firmness and resilience while lessening other signs of sun damage. A number of Paula's Choice exfoliants contain glycolic acid.
  • Lactic acid
    Lactic acid can be derived from milk and works more or less the same as glycolic acid. But it acts more slowly because its molecular size is slightly bigger, reducing its ability to penetrate the skin’s top layers. Lactic acid at a 2% concentration hydrates skin, from 5% upwards it starts to work as an exfoliant - a 5% to 10% concentration would be best for a skincare product with exfoliation as its main goal.
  • Malic acid
    This AHA occurs naturally in apples. The molecules of malic acid are bigger than those of glycolic and lactic acids, but are still able to exfoliate skin and benefit from antioxidant properties. Malic acid at a concentration of 1% to 2% is sometimes added to AHA exfoliants containing glycolic acid and lactic acid, enabling exfoliation in different layers of skin.
  • Tartaric acid
  • Tartaric acid appears in grapes (and hence red wine). The molecules of tartaric acid are slightly larger than malic acid and twice as big as glycolic acid.
    Tartaric acid can function as an exfoliant when used at the same concentrations as glycolic acid or lactic acid and can enable exfoliation in different layers of skin. But tartaric acid is mostly used to help other exfoliants stick to the right pH range. This is essential to optimise an exfoliant’s effectiveness.
    Resist Anti-Aging Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA consists of a combination of the 4 above mentioned Alpha Hydroxy Acids, enabling this treatment to exfoliate different layers of skin.
  • Citric acid
    Citric acid is found in a variety of different citrus fruits. In concentrations of 10% and higher it can work as an exfoliant, but it is seen to be more irritating as it has a low pH of 2.2.
    In a lot of skincare products, you will find citric acids used in small proportions as an antioxidant. They are also used to adjust pH levels, ensuring formulas keep to a pH level which is efficient and gentle on skin.
    Some AHA products claim that they contain citric acids that work as natural exfoliants. That’s all very well, but there is no research proving that these kind of extracts are able to exfoliate skin.
  • Mandelic acid
    This AHA is not used as often as the other AHAs because there is less research to prove its effectiveness. But mandelic acid shouldn’t be underestimated. As the AHA with the largest molecules, it is able penetrate the skin more slowly - good news for people with sensitive skin.
    Research has shown that mandelic acid can stimulate skin to produce more oil, which is not ideal for people with oily or combination skin, but could be beneficial for those with dry skin.
    Research on using mandelic acid as a peel involved concentrations of 20% to 40%. But concentrations for regular skincare are still unknown.

Paula's Choice AHA Exfoliants

At Paula’s Choice we offer a choice of six AHA exfoliants that differ mainly in texture (fluid, gel or lotion) and concentration (between 5% to 10%). Which one you choose will depend on your skin type and personal preference, although it is fine to use more than one.

  • Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant
    This creamy, hydrating lotion contains 8% AHA for effective exfoliation and soothing plant oils to hydrate and nourish skin. This product is particularly suitable for very dry skin.
  • Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant
    Our original AHA exfoliant is suitable for all skin types. This lightweight gel absorbs quickly and is ideal for layering with other products in your skincare routine.
  • Resist Anti-Aging 5% AHA Exfoliant
    Part of our Resist anti-ageing collection, this barely-there exfoliating lotion contains 5% AHA and a range of advanced antioxidants, peptides, ceramides and other replenishing ingredients to help skin look younger. This exfoliant is ideal if you suffer from wrinkles, uneven skin tone and loss of firmness.
  • Resist Anti-Aging 10% AHA Exfoliant Weekly Treatment
    This powerful AHA exfoliant has a unique delivery system to tackle more advanced signs of ageing, as well as restoring dry, rough and dull skin. Designed for weekly use, it can be alternated with any other Paula’s Choice exfoliant.
  • Resist Anti-Aging 10% AHA Exfoliant Advanced Treatment
    This advanced treatment contains a blend of 4 different AHA’s, with their own powerful properties, and 0.5% BHA to soothe skin. You can use this exfoliant as often as your skin needs to improve dull skin, signs of aging and brown spots. The bottle comes with a pipet for precise dosage which means little goes a long way.
  • Resist Anti-Aging 10% AHA Bodylotion
    Don’t limit the use of an AHA exfoliant to your face - they also offer the same great benefits for your body. Our 10% Body Lotion is a creamy exfoliating lotion that softens dry, rough skin and helps combat keratosis pilaris.

Now that you know how AHAs work and the benefits that they offer for dry skin, why not add one to your skincare routine? If you would you like to learn more about exfoliants or are new to exfoliating we recommend reading Everything you need to know about exfoliants and exfoliating.

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