The right chemical exfoliant or retinol can keep skin looking plump and healthy, advises Lizzie Johnson, co-owner of Houppette, Greenville. “[Exfoliants] include a variety of acids that trigger the sloughing of dead skin cells,” she says. “Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, works in the layer beneath the surface of the skin to activate new skin cell production, increase collagen and neutralize free-radical damage” while also sloughing away dull skin. We put about a dozen products to the test. Here are our staff favorites.
Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($134, at Sephora) also includes tartaric, lactic, citric and salicylic acids combined with soothing herbal extracts to speed up exfoliation without irritation. Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble beta hydroxy acid, which means “it can penetrate skin’s surface more deeply to not only encourage exfoliation but also aid in decongesting pores and regulating oil production,” Johnson explains.
KaramMD Skin’s Trifecta ($260, at karammdskin.com) includes a rinse, vitamin C serum and anti-aging cream that uses time-released retinol. “Many patients have difficulty with tolerance for the redness and inflammation that can happen with retinol when it’s used in full concentration at one time,” says brand founder Amir Karam, M.D. His Illuminate cream releases it slowly, “allowing skin to adjust” and avoiding side effects that might dissuade patients from continuing retinol use.
An alpha hydroxy acid (AHA),Natura Bissé Diamond Glyco Extreme Peel ($295, at Houppette) is water soluble and works at the surface to “slough away dead and damaged cells to reveal newer skin cells,” Johnson says.
Delaware-based brand Mint + Needle’s Mini Peel Pads ($50, mintandneedle.com for locations), are presoaked with salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids to mildly exfoliate skin’s surface while unclogging pores and preventing breakouts.