How To (Safely) Use Liquid Exfoliants in Your Routine

Using a liquid exfoliant isn't as scary as it seems – here's everything you need to know!

Exfoliating is a crucial step for getting rid of dead skin cells and restoring a healthy-looking complexion. While we love physical exfoliants for their instant results, using a physical scrub also requires rubbing at the skin, which can aggravate it, especially if you have angry breakouts or sensitive skin. Chemical exfoliants can simply be swiped on, working their magic without disrupting or damaging your complexion. Adding this step to your routine is the quickest and most effective way to get long-lasting glowing, smooth and even-toned skin!

Related article: Exfoliation Explained: Physical vs Chemical

What's a chemical or liquid exfoliant?

Liquid or chemical exfoliant is an umbrella word given to a category of ingredients, including the famed AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids) and PHAs (polyhydroxy acids). While they may each work slightly differently, these ingredients perform the same basic function: exfoliating skin by dissolving the glue-like substance that binds dead cells to our skin, revealing softer, smoother, more youthful-looking skin beneath. In short, here's what chemical exfoliants can do for your skin:

  • Gently but effectively smooth rough skin
  • Help unclog pores and clear breakouts
  • Minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Brighten and even out skin tone

How do you use a chemical liquid exfoliant for beginners?

After patch testing, start by applying an exfoliant once a week and note your skin's response. Then, increase its frequency as your skin becomes used to it. Every complexion is unique and it could take time to determine the strength and frequency of use that works best for your skin. Always follow the directions on the label and remember to be gentle!

What step in skincare is exfoliating?

You should apply your exfoliant after your cleanser and toner (if you use a toner) and before applying serums, treatments or moisturisers. When using an exfoliant during the day, remember to always follow with an SPF rated 30 or above!

STEP 1: Cleanse and tone
STEP 2: Using your fingers or a cotton pad, apply the exfoliant to your face and neck. Do not rinse.
STEP 3: Follow up with the rest of your skin care routine, and remember to apply your moisturiser. During daytime, always follow with an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.

Our Top Liquid Exfoliant Picks!

1. COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

Best for: Blackhead-prone skin.

Got stubborn blackheads or clogged pores? Look for a formula containing BHAs, such as salicylic acid, as these ingredients are oil-soluble, making them better able to deep-dive into pores and clear out pore-clogging debris.

The K-beauty alternative to popular BHA product, the Paula's Choice BHA Liquid, is this liquid exfoliant from COSRX. Packed with 4% Betaine Salicylate (BHA) to clear out pore problems, together with Niacinamide that helps with pore size, this liquid exfoliant is a tried-and-true product loved by many.

2. Krave Beauty Kale-Lalu-Yaha

Krave Beauty Kale-lalu-yAHA Nudie Glow Australia

Best for: All skin types looking to smoothen and brighten skin.

No frills, simple formula, but still gets the job done! Starring 5.25% Glycolic Acid (AHA) to smooth out skin texture, brighten and fade the look of discolouration, Krave Beauty's kale-lalu-yAHA is a little stronger than most Korean exfoliators, but still gentler than most Western brands. Psst, it's also known as the Korean dupe of Alpha-H's Liquid Gold!

3. By Wishtrend Mandelic Acid 5% Skin Prep Water

Best for: Acne-prone skin.

If you're not sure about using potent AHAs like Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid is considered to be among the gentler forms of AHA. Regardless, it’s still an effective ingredient for reducing redness, lightening dark spots, and controlling clogged pores! Mandelic Acid is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, making this exfoliant from By Wishtrend ideal for acne-prone skin.

4. CNP Laboratory Invisible Peeling Booster

Best for: Sensitive skin types.

Shed dead skin cells the K-beauty way with this gentle exfoliant! PHA gently removes dead skin cells without irritating sensitive or acne-prone skin, while Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) Complex and Allantoin helps keep skin soothed and maintain moisture for long-lasting hydrated skin even after exfoliating.

5. Anua BHA 2% Gentle Exfoliating Toner

Best for: All skin types, including sensitive skin.

Gentle yet effective, this all-rounder is perfect for unclogging pores, exfoliating dead skin cells and evening out skin tone. Enriched with 2% BHA, together with 6 types of Ceramides, Hyaluronic Acid and Panthenol to keep skin moist, hydrated and protected from damage after exfoliating.

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