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A Complete Guide to Chemical Exfoliation for Acne
Skincare, Featured

A Complete Guide to Chemical Exfoliation for Acne

If you haven’t noticed, chemical exfoliation is really having a moment. You’ve likely heard us and every other beauty outlet talk about acids but maybe you still aren’t sure how they can help your skin. We understand your confusion. Without understanding their benefits, it can be hard to fathom why someone would voluntarily put an acid on their face.

To put it simply, acne-fighting acids help clean out pores and stimulate exfoliation. This is essential for anyone with acne but also aging, texture and hyperpigmentation concerns. Chemical exfoliation helps products reach deeper layers of the skin, whereas physical exfoliation (manual scrubs) only address surface layer issues. It may not seem like it but chemical exfoliation is actually much better than physical exfoliation for acne-prone and sensitive skin because it causes less irritation to skin's surface.

It’s important to note, using acids and chemical exfoliation causes an increase in sun sensitivity. If you are going to include this step in your skincare regimen, you MUST also use a daily SPF.

When looking at Glo’s lineup of acids that help treat and prevent acne, there are four categories that help in every stage of acne:

  • Category 1: Acids to help resolve current acne and prevent new acne
  • Category 2: Acids to help treat post-acne side effects
  • Category 3: Acids for overall skin health
  • Category 4: Acids in Professional Treatments


There are two major types of acids that help treat and prevent acne: Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta-Hydroxy Acids (BHA).

  • AHAs are best used to stimulate exfoliation and improve skin’s texture and pigmentation. They are commonly found in smoothing and brightening products because of their ability to penetrate the uppermost layers of the skin and break up any dead skin cells that reveal clear (and younger!) looking skin.
  • BHAs are different than AHAs because they are oil-loving. This is especially important for the majority of acne sufferers as excess oil and acne go hand-in-hand.
    • Salicylic Acid: One of the absolute best acne-fighting ingredients available because of its smaller molecular size that allows it to penetrate through oil all the way down into pores, where acne symptoms begin.


Even after active acne clears, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) or the discolored shadow marks still remain.

  • Azelaic Acid: Helps treat hyperpigmentation (whether caused by acne or not) by stopping the enzyme that increases excess melanin production. Azelaic Acid also fights the growth of bacteria in the follicle, which as we know, can lead to clogged pores.
  • Gallic Acid: Similar to Azelaic Acid, Gallic Acid helps brighten the skin by inhibiting melanin-producing enzymes. Additionally, this acid also offers antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial benefits, promoting an overall brighter and smoother complexion.


Now that we’ve covered the true acne-fighting acids, let’s take a look at some other important acids that don’t exfoliate but still play a key role in overall skin health.

  • Hyaluronic Acid: Famous for its ability to attract and maintain up to 1000x its weight in water. Everyone should use Hyaluronic Acid because it prevents transepidermal water loss and provides protection from free radical damage caused by environmental aggressors.
  • Ascorbic Acid: A key ingredient in Vitamin C serums, this acid protects from UV radiation, improves skin elasticity, stimulates collagen synthesis (reduced wrinkles), heals wounds and suppresses skin pigmentation.


Many acids are only available up to certain concentration levels for consumer purchase. If acne does not respond to over the counter products, a higher concentration may be necessary and must be administered by a licensed esthetician or dermatologist. In addition to the top acids previously discussed, Glo offers several professional chemical exfoliation peels that contain additional acids that assist in the exfoliation and acne treatment process.

  • Malic Acid: Another AHA with a larger molecule than Glycolic and Lactic but can also exfoliate on its own. However, it is most commonly used alongside other AHAs for multilevel exfoliation.
    • Found in: Pro 5 Exfoliant
  • Mandelic Acid: The largest AHA molecule, making it ideal for sensitive skin. Because of its molecular structure, it absorbs much slower and causes less of a disruption. Mandelic Acid is also ideal for deeply pigmented skin because of its non-irritating nature. Additionally, Mandelic Acid contains antibacterial properties that help control oil and prep skin for (professional) extractions.
    • Found in: Pro 5 Exfoliant and TCA Clinical Reveal Peel

Is chemical exfoliation part of your skincare routine? We would love to hear about your results in the comments!

October 22, 2018