Many new Dermatica customers have skincare routines that already have glow-boosting exfoliating acids. But is it a good idea to combine them with your new formula?

AHAs, BHAs and PHAs may help improve the appearance of skin conditions like acne, melasma and hyperpigmentation, but introducing powerful prescription ingredients like retinoids will deliver better results, and using both can cause irritation.

Let’s break down the types of exfoliating acids, their benefits and whether they can be used alongside your Dermatica formula.

What are exfoliating acids?

Exfoliating acids include AHAs, BHAs and PHAs, and they’re commonly found in over-the-counter skincare products. They work by breaking down dead cells on the top layer of your skin, resulting in a radiant complexion and improved appearance of many skin concerns, including acne and hyperpigmentation. BHAs also help unclog pores for people with acne or blemish-prone skin.

Here’s our guide to the three acid types:

AHAs: Alpha-hydroxy-acids
What are they? Natural acids that are typically derived from milk and sugary fruits and are water-soluble.
Common AHAs used in skincare: glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid.
What they do: AHAs are chemical exfoliants that break down the top layer of dead skin cells, increasing cell turnover and making way for a new generation of fresh cells, and potentially brighter-looking skin. For anyone looking to help their skin look fresher or more dewy, this is your best option once they are used in moderations.
Choosing your AHA: Lactic and mandelic acids are the most gentle while glycolic is typically harsher so if you’re a beginner then start with one of those, choose the lowest strength (this will appear as a percentage) that you can find. Look out for washes or toners that you can rinse off immediately after use rather than absorb into the skin to prevent side effects. These shouldn’t be used daily while you’re starting out either, and particularly if you’re using a retinoid in your routine. Both can cause irritation together, so it’s important to allow your skin to adjust beforehand.
Can all skin types mix AHAs and Dermatica? Generally speaking, if you have very sensitive skin or suffer from rosacea then it’s probably best not to try and combine the two. Additionally, if you have dry skin then your skin might not tolerate the two together.

BHAs: Beta-hydroxy-acids
What they are: Oil soluble acids
Common BHAs used in skincare: Salicylic acid.
What they do: BHAs exfoliate on the skin’s surface as well as the pores. They help to unclog pores, so are often considered a good option for those wanting to target acne, blackheads and milia.
Can all skin types mix BHAs and Dermatica? BHAs are milder than other types of acids, so are more suitable for all skin types. If you’re using a retinoid based treatment, this exfoliates so there’s no need to combine the two, otherwise they may cause irritation. However, if you really want to mix them together, we recommend waiting for your skin to adjust to your Dermatica formula before adding in gradually.

PHAs: Polyhydroxy Acids
What they are: Natural acids that are derived from fruits, they fall under the AHA family but are much larger molecules by chemical structure.
Common PHAs used in skincare: Gluconolactone and lactobionic acid
What they do: PHAs are chemical exfoliants that work on the skin’s surface to shift dead skin cells. Because they are larger than AHAs, they are unable to penetrate further into the skin, and cause less irritation than other chemical exfoliants.
Can all skin types mix PHAs and Dermatica? Early evidence suggests that PHAs could be a good alternative for those with sensitive skin, rosacea or eczema who generally are easily irritated by, or cannot tolerate AHAs and BHAs. However, we recommend being careful and watching how your skin tolerates it if you do decide to try it, as studies are still in early stages and need further research.

What are the potential side effects of using exfoliants alongside your Dermatica treatment plan?

The most common side effects when using exfoliants with your Dermatica formula include redness (in lighter and olive skin tones), inflammation, stinging and peeling as they start to exfoliate your skin. Some customers experience the same symptoms of irritation when they start their Dermatica formula too, as the active ingredients also have exfoliating properties. This makes it tricky to work out whether it’s the acid or your new treatment plan that’s causing the irritation.

A few rules of thumb to follow here:
– You should only use acids once your skin has started to pass the retinisation process from your treatment, which generally takes a few weeks once you have settled on the dosage that you are taking.
– If you’re interested in adding an acid to your routine, opt for low contact washes or toners that you can rinse off the skin after you apply them, rather than acids that are left on the skin. This reduces the amount of time it’s in contact with your skin, which will reduce the potential for irritation.
– Go slow. Like your Dermatica formula, it can take time to adjust to a new acid exfoliant. We recommend applying it at a different time to your treatment too, so the best time to try it is in the morning (as your Dermatica treatment is applied in the evening only).
– Don’t apply it every day: start using it once a week, and gradually build it up to twice or three times a week from there.
– If you experience any irritation, strip the acids out of your routine and allow your skin to normalise before gradually bringing it back in. If there’s still irritation, take a break from your Dermatica treatment for a night or two and gradually introduce that back.

Is there any other type of exfoliation that I should avoid while on my Dermatica journey?

Yes, physical exfoliation. Mechanical (or physical) exfoliation is physically scrubbing or brushing away the top layer of skin cells. When using retinoids you should avoid the use of any mechanical exfoliation, so that’s things like loofahs, grainy scrubs and cleansing brushes.

Why? Well, physical exfoliation can impact the dull, dead skin cells on the epidermal layer, which can lead to clogged pores and bacteria build-up, making the situation worse in the long run in some cases.

Can I use exfoliating acids with my Dermatica formula?

The pro advice? Remove the other chemical acids first (so that’s any AHAs, BHAs or PHAs), if irritation continues then stop using the retinoid, allow your skin to normalise and then gradually introduce the retinoid back in.

If you’re still unsure and you’re a Dermatica customer, feel free to check in with a member of our dermatology team at any time through your dashboard. They can advise you on your unique needs, and give you personalised advice that’s tailored to your formula and your journey.