Chemical Exfoliators Favorites: Peeling Gels, Enzyme Wash, Actives

In terms of exfoliators, chemical exfoliators are more up my alley. There are 3 different types I like to use:

  1. Peeling Gels
  2. Water-activated Enzyme Powder
  3. Actives

Peeling Gels

Peeling Gels are usually an enzyme based product that loosens the top layer of your skin. Then by physical friction, the product reacts and balls up with the debris. So in a sense peeling gels are half chemical and half physical exfoliators.

My very first experience with peeling gels was IASO White Peeling Gel and it was AMAZING! I had no idea how something so gentle can leave my skin so clean and smooth! I never  thought there was skin underneath my usual icky oily skin; it was so soft and smooth! It was as if it was a baby’s butt! I literally could not refrain myself from touching it because if you have problematic skin like mines, it seems untrue.

It was years ago when I first tried it. At the time I was only able to buy it from my local Korean beauty store which was ridiculously expensive for a broke college student. So I made it my quest to find a cheaper equivalent when I finished with my life-changing IASO Peeling Gel. I ended up finding Cure Natural Aqua Gel. Cure is very popular in Japan. They advertise as the top exfoliator sold in Japan where one is sold every 12 second. If that is really true, that is pretty impressive. Years later I have used an array of peeling gels. Cure is the most gentle of all the peeling gels I have tried. The label tells you that it is gentle enough to be used every day!What makes a good peeling gel is really a matter of personal preference. I personally want the gentlest peeling gel because I love being outdoors. Because peeling gels remove the top layer of your skin, your skin becomes much more sensitive to environmental damages such as the sun and wind. Whenever I use stronger peeling gels, I have to make sure I would not be outdoors the next following days. If not, I would get either sun (even with sunscreen on) and wind burn (I live in a very windy place year round). Plus I use peeling gels quite often so I do not have as much debris on my skin to clear out.

Stronger peeling gels do a have place in my skincare regime; basically whenever I neglect my skin and allow debris to build up or when I wear heavy makeup. I found Korean branded peeling gels are stronger than other ones I have tried. IOPE, Missha and Skinfood are a couple of brands that carries peeling gels I enjoyed using.

There are major cons of peeling gels

  •  You have to use it on completely dried clean face,
  • As satisfying it is to see the grime that rubs off, it is rather a time consuming to rub it off
  • It has a tendency of leaving a residue on your face. I find that sometimes an hour later when I scratch my face, I would sometime rub off more the grime. Not particularly good timing if I am already outside the house.

To use: Peeling gels are a gel you put on a dry clean face. After applying you are to rub the product in. That is when the oils and dead skin react with the product and balls up.

Water-activated Enzyme PowderWater-activated Enzyme Powders are my newest love in the exfoliating department. These powders usually have papain, bromelain, or lactobacillus enzymes to basically eat away the top layer of your skin. As aggressive as that sounds, these enzyme-activated powders are rather gentle. These enzyme are naturally found in food. I used these enzymes quite religiously in the past in my DIY facial masks using papaya, banana, pineapple and yogurt.  Skincare companies has tailor these enzymes in a powder form that makes it much more convenient than messily slathering food on our faces. It has made my bathroom cleaning so much easier; no more food particles stuck in my drain and rotting away heh. It also fits into my skin cleansing routine better as well. I love to be able to go from my double cleansing without having to wait for my skin to be completely dried (like for peeling gels) to use the powder. In fact I can do my whole routine in the comfort of my shower. If you have yet to use enzymes in your skincare, you are most definitely missing out. Not only they remove the outer debris layer, they also have brightening effects. It gives your skin such a smooth canvas without drying it out or leaving any residue.

I used both Toswoong Enzyme Powder Wash and Papa Recipe White Flower Clear Up Enzyme Powder Cleaner so far and love both. Towsowoong powder grandules are larger in size so when I rub it on my face it gives me a slight manual exfoliation as it melts. As far as I can tell, both results are pretty similar. The Papa Recipe White Flower Clear Up Enzyme Powder Cleaner ingredient list seems more impressive but I do not see any difference between the two. Both use papain as the their enzyme.

Toswoong Enzyme Powder Wash: (Zea Mays (corn) Starch, Sodium Lauroyl Aspartate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Sodium Palmitate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Titanium Dioxide, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Methylparaben, Alcohol Denat, Perfume, Maltodextrin, Papain, Badger Oil)

Papa Recipe White Flower Clear Up Enzyme Powder Cleaner: Zea Mays (Corn) Starch, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Water, Sodium lauroyl glutamate, Loess, Sorbitol, Cellulose Gum, Papain, Allantoin, Niacinamide, Epigallocatechin Gallate, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Nelumbium Speciosum Flower Extract, Iris Versicolor Extract, Leontopodium Alpinum Extract, Lilium Candidum Flower Extract, Jasminum Officinale (Jasmine) Flower Water, Freesia Refracta Extract, Rosa Centifolia Flower Extract

 As amazing as they are to use in the shower, I highly do not recommend storing it in your shower. Any type of moisture will activate the powder wasting your product. I made the mistake of leaving the cap open when I was showering and loss a good portion of the product due to it being activated with steam and random water splashes. I am pretty clumsy so I can even imagine dropping the whole bottle while showering rendering the whole bottle useless.

To use: Pour a small amount of powder in your wet palm (a small amount goes a long way). Then rub your hands together to form a lather. Massage directly onto your skin. Then rinse with warm water. *I personally like to leave the lather on for a minute or two before rinsing; allowing the enzyme to do its magic.


Actives (also known as acids) are products that contain an useful amount of AHA and/or BHA. Truth be told, actives are something I am still working on. If used properly, they sound like the magic exliir for beautiful skin.

AHAs exfoliates the top layers of skin.AHA are great to help treat flakiness (often due to dry skin types), sun damage and lessen fine wrinkles.Common A HAs are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, mandelic acid, or tartaric acid.

BHA exfoliants penetrate oil so it can exfoliate where AHA cannot, meaning into the pores. That means it can degunk your not-so-sightly pores and treat acne. So if you have oily or acne-prone skin, you might want to consider BHA instead of, or in addition to AHAs.The most common BHA is salicylic acid from willow bark.

You can use both AHA and BHA so you can benefit the effects of both. However please add to your routine one at a time and finding your tolerance for each individual product before introducing another exfoliant. And SUNSCREEN! Although AHA is the one that makes skin photosensitive, my rule of thumb is if you exfoliate you must wear sunscreen. If not, you will reverse the benefits of exfoliating and increase your risk of sun damage. 

I am rather new to actives but I found two products that seems to soften my skin and help reduce the apperance of my pores without irritating my skin. Let’s Cure Pure Skin Basic Exfoliator and CosRx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner are products that contain both AHA And BHA. I like that it contains both so it’s not as time consuming. It may not be as effective as products that contain only of one of the ingredients but the lower content is agreeable to my skin currently. I will update on the future when I up my “active game” 😇

To use: Apply to dry clean face with cotton pad before applying anything else. 

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