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Acids And Enzymes: Gentle Exfoliation For Sensitive Skin

Pineapple sliced on cutting board

Acids And Enzymes: Gentle Exfoliation For Sensitive Skin

Written By:

Libby Wright

Exfoliating is the secret weapon of skin care. It might already be a part of your routine, but did you know that it’s the go-to for glowing skin? Its function is to get rid of dead cells that can accumulate on the surface of the skin and cause the complexion to look dull. This makes exfoliation a great step to focus on if you want to reveal soft, luminous and even skin. Exfoliation can be broken down into chemical and physical – but even within those categories, there are subcategories. Enzymes and acids make up a group of gentler chemical exfoliants, perfect all skin types including sensitive skin. Ready for a lesson? Let’s break it down.

What Is Exfoliation? 

A quick refresher: Exfoliation is the process of removing those dead skin cells from the surface of your skin using a safe chemical, a granular substance or an exfoliation tool. While we usually discuss exfoliation in relation to skin on the face, it can actually be performed on almost all of the skin on the body — from dry elbows to scaly legs and cracked heels. When that layer of dead skin is gone, the skin underneath looks polished and brighter (since dead skin = dullness). The fresh, glowy skin is then better prepared to evenly absorb any products that are applied afterwards, including moisturizers, serums and self-tanners.

What Are Acids?

If you’re already quite savvy with your product knowledge, you’re probably familiar with some skin care “acids.” There are different types of acids used for exfoliation and their level of intensity varies. The big three are AHAs, BHAs and PHAs, all of which are exfoliating ingredients that work by breaking down the bonds that keep dead skin cells clinging to the skin’s surface. By breaking down these bonds, acids can bring out new, fresher-looking skin. Each type has its own unique benefits: AHAs are water soluble and target dullness, dehydration and signs of aging. BHAs are oil soluble, penetrate deeper into the skin and balance oils (a savior for breakout-prone skin). PHAs are gentle and non-irritating, so they’re suitable for sensitive skin. 

What Are Enzymes?

Enzymes help accelerate chemical processes. You’ve probably heard of enzymes in the context of digestion. They are proteins (usually made in the body) that help break food down into smaller parts so your body can easily digest the nutrients. When it comes to enzymes on the skin, their role is to break down keratin – aka the protein in dead skin cells that makes them stick together on the surface. In that sense, enzymes are similar to acids, but they often feel gentler and less intense on the skin. These tiny molecules (often harvested from fruit like pineapple, pumpkin, cherries and papaya) help to dissolve old fibers in the skin to make way for new ones to be synthesized. Without enzyme activity, you would see a buildup of dead cells and old fibers to the skin. 

So what sets enzymes apart from acids? Enzymes get rid of those dead skin cells at the surface of the skin, but they don’t promote cell turnover for living cells underneath. Think of enzymes as shedding skin that’s already dead, rather than letting it sit on the surface and cause dullness. They exfoliate and brighten the complexion, are generally recommended for use about every 2-3 days and are safe to use while pregnant, though we always recommend speaking to your doctor. 

Acids, on the other hand, penetrate deeper into the skin and accelerate turnover for all of your skin cells, not just the ones hanging out up top. Acids physically turn over the cells which can cause shedding of the skin and allow new skin cells to generate.

So how do you know which type of exfoliant is better for you? Because enzymes don’t penetrate as deeply into the pores, they tend to be less abrasive on the skin. If you have sensitive skin, then sticking to an enzyme-based exfoliant might be the answer. 

Acids can work for various skin types, but you may have to play around to figure out which ones are the best option based on your skin concerns and goals. The forced cell turnover that some acids provide can be game-changing for hyperpigmentation, sun damage and acne.

Product picks second

Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel 5% Arctic Berry Peel & Peptide Illuminating System

Body second

Acids and Enzymes From Eminence Organics

The Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel 5% contains pumpkin, pineapple and papaya enzymes, as well as lactic and glycolic acids. This enzyme peel accelerates the exfoliation process, removes dead skin cells and reduces the appearance of dark spots, fine lines and sun damage. A delicious purée of yam and pumpkin, this exfoliant leaves the skin looking firm and radiant. 

The Arctic Berry Peel & Peptide Illuminating System is another option formulated with both enzymes and acids. This innovative 3-step peel and peptide system is designed to exfoliate and keep skin radiant in between spa treatments. The at-home system is a favorite, with 5-star reviews across the board. One customer, Trina, calls the set “amazing,” continuing in her website review: “Words cannot describe the huge difference in my skin. I have never experienced a more effective at-home product!!!!” Another fan, Abbie, says “My skin looks bright, tight, and my pores are significantly smaller – even my husband noticed. I’m buying it for both my husband and me to use,” and Stacy says “You Need This!” and is even sharing it with friends: “I could not be happier. About a day after using the product, your skin will be glowing. I love it so much, I’ve been giving it to others as gifts.” 

If you’re looking for a toner with enzyme and acid ingredients, our Pineapple Refining Tonique uses both bromelain, a gentle-yet-effective enzyme exfoliant derived from the fruit and stem of the pineapple plant, and polyhydroxy acid (PHA), a mild exfoliant that noticeably renews the feel of the skin while targeting dryness and the visible signs of aging. The combination of both enzymes and acid helps brighten the look of the skin, minimizes the appearance of dark spots, unclogs pores and hydrates the skin.

Are you interested in adding enzymes into your exfoliation routine? Visit your nearest Eminence Organics Spa Partner to find out which ones are right for you.

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