Why everyone’s talking about liquid exfoliators

Lightweight and clear, liquid exfoliators look nothing like their traditional skin resurfacing counterparts – and they are fast gaining momentum. Here’s why.

Experts explain why liquid exfoliators are making a name for themselves as the next generation of skin-resurfacing products.

Mechanical v chemical: The difference between traditional and liquid exfoliators

The goal of all exfoliants is to remove dead skin cells from the outer layer of the skin to encourage skin cell turnover, overhaul dullness and reveal a refined complexion.

Classic mechanical exfoliators are usually a cream or gel blend, dotted with rough particles like micro beads, walnut shells or coffee granules.

Skin care expert and product developer Fiona Tuck says mechanical exfoliators work by “using literal mechanical force to push off dead skin cells”.

Liquid exfoliators substitute physical exfoliant particles for skin-clearing chemical ingredients like acids or enzymes.

“These chemicals gently loosen, dissolve or smooth away dry, dead skin cells,” explains Fiona.

Mechanical exfoliator devotees swear by the “scrubbed-clean” feeling of particle-based exfoliants, and Fiona says this stimulation can leave the skin “feeling invigorated after use”.

While liquid exfoliants don’t offer that same physical sensation, their advantage is that they offer a gentler exfoliation experience, making them more suitable for those prone to skin sensitivity.

“The abrasive nature of physical exfoliators can create micro trauma on the skin surface for some people,” explains Fiona.

“Whereas liquid exfoliants tend to be milder and are often combined with additional skin hydrating and soothing ingredients.”

Understanding the acids and enzymes used in liquid exfoliants

Hydroxy acids are a common star ingredient in liquid exfoliants thanks to their skin surface-clearing capabilities.

The Wellness Group aesthetic nurse practitioner Madeline Calfas explains that most liquid exfoliators contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic or lactic acid.

“AHA-based exfoliants are ideal for ageing, thickened skin, or skin that has a lot of sun damage,” says Madeline.

Beta hydroxyl acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid also tend to feature in liquid exfoliants designed to address acne and skin congestion.

Then there are enzyme peels, derived from fruits and vegetables like pineapple, papaya, kiwi or pumpkin.

“Enzyme exfoliants are the gentlest and therefore suitable for most skin types,” says Fiona.

Madeline suggests applying liquid exfoliators at night to avoid any sun sensitivity and to stringently follow application and frequency directives.

“More is not better – AHAs and BHAs are effective in small doses,” advises Madeline.

Written by Sharon Hunt.