The ABCs Of Exfoliants: Acids, Enzymes, Scrubs And More For Mature Skin

Want a layer of dry, dead skin cells dulling your complexion? Didn’t think so. Grab your favorite exfoliant—stat!
BY Sarah Lim
| Last updated Apr, 2023
Exfoliants_Acids, Skincare Enzymes, Scrubs and More for Mature Skin

Exfoliating is such a fleeting process, yet it makes the most significant impact in record time (which is excellent news for us impatient folks—and when it comes to glowing skin, who isn’t a little impatient?). Exfoliating and using skincare enzymes on YOUR skin helps encourage a brighter, more even complexion by removing dead skin cells. While the skin will shed dead skin cells on its own, this process naturally slows down as we age, similarly to collagen production. The result is tired, lackluster skin, which can enhance the appearance of aging.

Fortunately, exfoliating can stimulate cellular turnover for smoother skin. Exfoliating may even help increase collagen production in the skin, giving you a more youthful appearance.

There are different types of exfoliants. And it’s crucial to pick the right one for your skin type for the best result. From skincare enzymes to acids and scrubs, here’s everything you need to know about exfoliants for mature skin!


acids as exfoliant

Skincare acids are used as chemical exfoliants, meaning you won’t find any harsh scrubbing materials here like you would with a sugar or salt scrub. However, if the idea of using a chemical on YOUR face seems alarming, don’t worry! Chemical exfoliants can actually be much more gentle than the “apricot scrub” you used to use!

Skincare acids exfoliate your skin by dissolving dead skin cells, while physical exfoliants such as coffee or nutshells actually scrub the dead skin off.

The most common exfoliating acids are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs are typically best for drier skin and can be natural or synthetic. (For example, glycolic acid, an AHA, can be derived from sugarcane or can be made in a lab).

AHAs can get rid of the dull, rough skin to promote cellular renewal. BHAs, on the other hand, can be more beneficial for oily skin, as they contain salicylic acid, a natural acne fighter. BHAs can also get deeper into the skin than AHAs can and are anti-inflammatory.

PHA, or polyhydroxy acid, is less common as a skincare acid but becoming more popular. PHA can be better for people with really sensitive skin. If YOU can’t tolerate AHA and BHA, PHA could be for you. PHA can provide the benefits of AHA without harshness.

Acid exfoliants can be good for those with dry, mature skin, combination skin types, and those with oily skin who tend to suffer from irritating breakouts.

Skincare Enzymes

Enzyme as Exfoliant

Skincare enzymes are another type of chemical exfoliant and are often derived from foods. They work similarly to AHAs and BHAs in that they break down dead skin tissue. The difference is that they contain proteolytic enzymes, which help break down protein in dead skin cells to dissolve them.

Some examples of skincare enzymes include bromelain, pineapple, papain from papayas, pomegranate, and pumpkin (you might see these on a label as pomegranate fruit extract or pumpkin extract). The benefits of skincare enzymes are that they’re more gentle than scrub and can be better for sensitive skin.

However, suppose YOU haven’t seen skincare enzymes go mainstream yet. In that case, there’s a reason—enzymes can be finicky in regards to their environment. And they need to be transported and stored in cool, dark places to protect the integrity of the ingredients. In addition, some skincare enzymes can also irritate sensitive skin. Also, it’s challenging to know which ones will bother your particular skin until you try them.

Enzymes can be great for sensitive skin, but some people may find them irritating. So it really depends on your unique skin type and which enzyme you try!


Scrub as Exfoliant

Physical scrubs are one of the most popular types of exfoliants. They physically scrub away dead skin cells instead of relying on a chemical reaction. However, while people often feel they’re getting a result with exfoliating scrubs, the truth is that some of these scrubs can be too harsh for mature skin.

Some physical exfoliants you may see in a product include sugar, coffee, salt, nutshells, and even oatmeal. Ingredients such as oatmeal and sugar (anyone else thinking of cookies?) tend to be more gentle on skin, while nutshells and salt tend to be harsher.

Harsh physical exfoliants can undoubtedly do more harm than good. Large ingredient particles—think chunks of coffee beans or nut shells—can be particularly damaging to the skin, causing micro-tears and compromising the skin’s natural protective barrier. The result can be dry, red, sensitive skin.

When choosing a physical exfoliant, be careful which one you choose. Exfoliants can be suitable for all skin types. Still, you need to ensure the physical exfoliant grain is small enough to be gentle on your skin. And you don’t need to make an actual scrubbing motion to experience the benefits. Instead, just gently massage your skin and then rinse with lukewarm water.

If you suffer from acne, chemical exfoliants may be better for you, as even more gentle types of physical exfoliants can irritate acne.

General Guidelines on Using Exfoliants

General Guidelines on Using Exfoliants

It’s important to use YOUR exfoliant of choice properly to see the benefits. Whether you’re using skincare enzymes or a physical exfoliant, keep these best practices in mind when exfoliating your skin:

• You Don’t Need To Exfoliate Every Day

Dry, mature skin types can BENEFIT from exfoliating once or twice a week at most, while normal or oily skin types may benefit from up to three times a week.

• Always Listen To Your Skin

If an exfoliant is drying, irritating, or makes your skin burn or sting, discontinue use.

• Don’t Forget To Exfoliate Your Neck

Keep your “neck” looking young and supple by exfoliating it just like you do your face!

• Remember That The Goal Isn’t To Strip The Skin

YOU need to protect your skin’s natural barrier instead of stripping it, which can lead to premature aging.

• Never Exfoliate Damaged Skin

If the skin is broken (such as with acne or a wound) or sunburned, you should never exfoliate, even with a gentle exfoliator. If you use an exfoliating brush, never combine it with other exfoliants. In general, exfoliating brushes can be too harsh on the skin. But if you choose to use one, don’t combine it with a physical or chemical exfoliant.

Download The FREE Checklist On The No-No Skincare Ingredients To Always Avoid!

What are some of YOUR “favorite go-to exfoliators”? Let us know in the comments below! And download our free checklist on the no-no skincare ingredients to always avoid in your products!

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