Ever since I'd started watching Dr. Neal Schultz's DermTV YouTube channel, I've vowed to replace all my manual/physical exfoliating products with a good chemical exfoliant I could use regularly. Dr. Schultz and many other dermatologists/ skincare experts seem to agree that while physical exfoliators (scrubs containing granules/ particles such as walnut or apricot shells, silica crystals and so on) are quite irritating to the skin, causing teeny tiny tears in its surface, chemical exfoliants (products containing fruit acids/enzymes/retinoids) provide all benefits of exfoliating such as removal of dead skin cells, diminishing the hyperpigmentation and stimulating collagen production, without causing any damage.
I will say that this makes quite a bit of sense to me, plus, having more acne-prone skin, I was often recommended to use products containing some sort of chemical exfoliating agent. Which is why I purchased these two very different chemical exfoliants: M.D. Forte Glycare II For Oily Skin ($19-24 for 2 oz./60ml) and Paula's Choice 2% BHA Gel For All Skin Types (now called Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant, $18.95 for 3.3. oz./100ml).
Let's talk about M.D. Forte Glycare II first. It's a clear liquid that contains mostly water, alcohol, glycolic acid and eucalyptus oil, and that should have been my first warning sign; both alcohol and essential oils are known irritants, so this not only stings, but also stinks. Secondly, Glycare II supposedly contains 20% glycolic acid (alpha hydroxy acid), which is one of the highest concentrations I've come across in a non-prescription product. However, I've said 'supposedly' - I've also found some information that in fact it's a 20% concentration of 'glycolic compound', which acts more like 8% concentration of your normal glycolic acid. I was also unable to find any information on the pH level of this product, which is something that affects the effectiveness of the acid on your skin. As you can surely deduce, I'm not too smitten with this - I don't feel like it did anything good to my skin such as the promised reduction in oil production or diminished imperfections, and using it is certainly unpleasant.
Paula's Choice 2% BHA Gel is a clear runny gel containing salicylic acid (beta hydroxy acid) with some antioxidants such as grape seed extract and green tea extract. It's fragrance, paraben and oil-free and claims to calm redness, build collagen, unclog and diminish enlarged pores and create radiant, clear, even-toned skin. Generally, BHAs are preferrable to AHAs for people with acne-prone skin, because BHAs not only exfoliate the top layer of your skin, but are also capable of penetrating the pores and loosening the debris collecting there. I can personally vouch that the Paula's Choice BHA Gel did in fact work a lot better for me than the MD Forte Glycare, whether it's because one contains BHA and the other AHA or because the former is just a better formulation all around. Paula's Choice BHA Gel was gentle enough for me to use every night (and my skin is rather sensitive too), didn't feel drying at all, seemed to fade some of my hyperpigmentation marks and somewhat helped control my breakouts. The pH level of 3.2-3.6 also guarantees the effectiveness of the acid. My only gripe with the gel is that it feels incredibly sticky on the skin, no matter how much or how little you use; on top of that the bottle tends to spill when travelling, but that's been improved on since I bought mine. All in all, I wouldn't necessarily repurchase this exact same product from Paula's Choice, but I might try her BHA liquid next time I'm on the market for a chemical exfoliant.
I hope this has been somewhat useful, at least to those of you whose skin might be similar to mine. Speaking of skincare, I will be posting an update on my fight with picking very soon, and I've also recently been to a dermatologist and wondered whether you, my lovely readers, wanted to hear about my experience. Other than that, please let me know in the comments your favorite exofliants, be it chemical or not!