When it comes to keeping your face clean and fresh, it's all about finding the right set of products and skin-care regimen for your type of skin. For instance, oily versus dry skin types will need different sets of products, and those with sensitive skin should be extra careful about strong doses and rough textures.

In general, there are two categories of chemical exfoliants: AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acid).

"Both are cell turnover agents that are used to diminish fine lines and wrinkles, firm, hydrate, smooth, and even skin tone," says Dr. Sonia Batra, MD, a dermatologist in California and co-host of the television show "The Doctors."

Here's the difference. "AHAs are derived from fruit and milk sugars and are best for normal to dry, sun-damaged skin, while BHAs are preferred for normal to oily skin because they work on and within the skin to unclog and minimize pores," she says. BHAs also have calming properties that can make them better suited for sensitive skin, as well.

Here are a few exfoliants to choose from, as well as some natural, DIY sources for soft, glowing, blemish-free skin.

Glycolic Acid

"Glycolic acid has the smallest molecules of the AHA’s, which allows it to easily penetrate the upper layers of the skin and break down the bonds between damaged skin cells," she says. Use glycolic acid on mature, sun-damaged skin to remove dead cells and to stimulate collagen production. This will help combat aging effects.

"Start with a smaller concentration (about 5%) twice a week and gradually increase dose and frequency," she says. Plus, be mindful when out in the sunshine. "The skin’s sensitivity to the sun increases when using glycolic acid, so be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen during the day," she says.

Lactic Acid

"Lactic acid is another AHA that is best for ridding your face of the dull, dead outer layer of skin. Because it is a larger molecule, it cannot penetrate the skin as deeply, making it less abrasive and a better AHA for sensitive skin," she says.

If you find your skin gets too irritated from rougher exfoliants or ones with stronger ingredients, a nice tame lactic acid containing product will be much safer.

Salicylic Acid

If you get a ton of flare-ups and hormonal acne, salicylic acid is your best option. "BHAs such as salicylic acid are best for inflamed or acne-prone skin due to its ability to neutralize breakout-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation," she says. Body washes containing salicylic acid are great for breakouts on the back, chest, or even butt, she says.


"Like topical exfoliants, retinol boosts collagen production within the skin, helping to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and discoloration from sun-damage," she says. However, there is a difference between retinol and other exfoliants: "retinol is a derivative of vitamin A and does not belong to the same family as AHAs and BHAs because it does not rid the skin of dead skin cells," she says. If you have super dry, dead skin, especially in cooler climates, you'll need a different product to freshen and soften skin.

Natural Exfoliants

Get this: there are a couple of natural exfoliants easily found in your kitchen that can have the same effect as some skincare products. Talk about saving money! Yogurt and lemon are great, in particular.

"Yogurt contains lactic acid, which is the same found in skin care products with AHA- just at a much lower concentration. This makes it gentle enough to use on all skin types," says Batra. Combine yogurt with honey and ground oatmeal to create a great DIY hydrating facial.

What's more, "since AHAs are derived from fruit sugars, lemon and other citrus contain the same AHAs found in skin care products. Fruits like papaya, pineapples, pumpkin, and pomegranates also contain AHA and can be used as a mild alternative to rid the skin of dead cells," she says.

Just remember to wash off any citrus products from the skin prior to sun exposure, as they contain a chemical called psoralen which can greatly increase sensitivity to light and cause sun damage. And wear sunscreen!!!

About the Author

Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, author, and certified health coach. She writes for various magazines, such as Bustle, SHAPE, Men's Health, Women's Health, Health, Prevention, POPSUGAR, Runner's World, Reader's Digest, and more. She is also the author of 5-Minute Energy with Simon & Schuster. She can't resist a good sample, a killer margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. Beyond magazines, she helps grow businesses through blogging and content marketing strategy. To read her work or inquire, please visit her website: isadorabaum.com.