What chemical exfoliants are safe for dry/sensitive skin?

Chemical exfoliants clear out dead skin cells and can soften the skin (as opposed to physical exfoliants–body scrubs and cloths—which can further irritate dry skin). The term “chemical” makes this process sound intense, but the exfoliation happens on a near-invisible level. Lactic acid is an effective chemical exfoliant, and “it tends to be less potentially irritating than something like glycolic acid,” says Dr. Hope Mitchell, a board-certified dermatologist. “Most people can handle lactic acid; it tends to be more gentle than glycolic acid. It’s a great, great choice when you’re looking for softening and exfoliating, and/or have someone with sensitive skin.” For skin that’s broken, cracked, or flaky, chemical exfoliation helps clear and soften the rough, dry skin.

Chemical exfoliants are safe for dry and sensitive skin, depending on the percentage. The higher you go, the more risk of irritation can occur. A common misconception is thinking a product with a higher percentage of an exfoliant means a product will be more powerful, but it often makes dry skin conditions worse. Ditto scrubbing with a loofa like there’s no tomorrow: often, aggressive scrubbing does more harm to the skin than good.

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Dry Skin

Skin that's losing more moisture than it's able to maintain.

Also Called

Dehydrated skin, xerosis

Looks Like

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Frequently Found On

Arms, legs, feet, hands

Learn More: Dry Skin