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On June 9th, in a worldwide first, the state of Illinois (USA) accepted an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act which would prevent the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic microbeads by the end of 2019. The change has come after recent studies showed that the synthetic plastic particles were not being filtered out of waste water by sewerage facilities and were causing serious environmental damage to aquatic ecosystems. It was originally thought that these tiny beads, found in cleansers, body scrubs and even toothpaste, were safe but as new research becomes available microbeads, along with cosmetic companies, are being put under the microscope.

When news outlets began reporting on the environmental dangers of synthetic microbeads and the story went viral across social media networks, some people were shocked to learn that their cosmetics contained plastic particles called polyethylene. Why do companies use microbeads instead of natural substances like walnut shell powder? The answer actually makes a lot of sense. Synthetic microbeads are perfectly smooth and spherical which makes them reasonably gentle on the skin, as opposed to the irregular and jagged edges of ground shells or seeds (such as peach pit) which can be natural alternatives.

Even with the smooth surface of a microbead, scrubbing can still be harsh and cause microscopic tears in the top layer of your skin. These small tears allow bacteria to enter the skin and can result in irritation and breakouts. There is no doubt that scrubs feel good to use and claims like ‘deep cleansing’ and ‘blackhead reducing’ sound appealing, but unfortunately scrubs cannot clean pores, and more often than not, scrubbing the skin is doing more harm than good.

The good news is that there is an alternative to scrubs which is actually more effective and safer for your skin. Chemical exfoliation has been making a splash over the last ten years with treatments going from acid peels only available in a dermatologist’s office, to creams and lotions that you can pick up at your local chemist. There are some factors to take into account when selecting a chemical exfoliant, but if you get your hands on one that ticks all the boxes, your skin will be on its way to being in the best shape ever.

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Types of Chemical Exfoliants:

There are two main types of chemical exfoliants available: AHA and BHA. AHA, or Alpha Hydroxy Acid, can be derived from plant sources, or even milk in the case of lactic acid, but 99% of AHA’s used in cosmetic products are synthetically produced. In concentrations of over 4% and in a base with an acid pH of 3 to 4, AHAs work to break down the bonds that hold skin cells together, meaning that dead cells are turned over quicker as healthy cells make their way to the surface. This is a very safe process for your skin and as long as you don’t overdo it, you will find that your skin feels smoother, looks more even toned and wrinkles can even be reduced when dead cells that have built up are removed. The most common AHAs are glycolic and lactic acid.

BHA or Beta Hydroxy Acid, also known as salicylic acid, works in the same way as an AHA, however it is oil soluble which means it can penetrate and exfoliate the lining of the pore to reduce blackheads and whiteheads. BHA, which is a derivative of aspirin, is also an effective anti-irritant and has anti-microbial properties making it perfect for those who have acne prone skin. If you suffer from clogged pores and blackheads then BHA is the most effective way to reduce them, although those sensitive to aspirin should check with their doctor before trying a salicylic acid product.

Finding an AHA or BHA product that meets the requirements for it to be effective – over 4% concentration for AHA, less than 2% concentration for BHA and an appropriate ph level base – can be a difficult task, especially as this information is often not available on the product label. Online resources such as beautypedia.com can be a good starting point if you are thinking of trying a chemical exfoliant.  It is also important to use a high quality sunscreen every day to protect the newly exposed healthy cells from damaging UVA and UVB rays. Once you find the right chemical exfoliant for your skin, you’ll never look back, and just think, you’re also doing your bit for the environment.

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AHAs to try:
Olay Regenerist Night Resurfacing Elixir
MD Formulations Vit-A-Plus Night Recovery
Go-To Skincare Exfoliating Swipeys

BHAs to try:
Philosophy Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment & Moisturiser
Smashbox Photo Finish More Than Primer Blemish Control Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (the Holy Grail of exfoliants!)

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