An acid face-off

by Kate Lee

I've been scared of acids for far too long. I tried them only at the beginning of the year and I have never looked back. I've used both Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Baby Facial and The Ordinary AHA + BHA Peeling Solution. These two brands may have fundamentally different brand stories to offer, but they do have one product in common: a wash-off chemical exfoliant that combines both alpha hydroxy acids, AHA, (glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric acids) and a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA (salicylic acid). Both contain sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer, a smaller molecular weight hyaluronic acid that can sink deeper into your skin. 

There are obviously differences between the two brands fundamentally. Drunk Elephant has a more luxe appeal (and price tag) and stands by a natural ethos in producing their skincare products. This isn't to say they are all-natural, because they make a definitive stance on clinical efficacy and understand that "all-natural" promises can also be lackluster or even harmful to your skin. They steer clear of the "suspicious 6" in their products: silicones, chemical screens, sensitizing colorants or perfumes, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), essential oils, and drying alcohols. They have a full "ban" list as well, that you can find here. The Ordinary, on the other hand, is just one of the brands under the parent company, Deciem. It prides itself on allowing consumers to curate a skincare routine that works for each individual by isolating compounds into separate products. This scientific "a la carte" approach to skincare means that their products are extremely affordable. 

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As you can see, Baby Facial is packed with plant extracts that help to nourish skin. It's got antioxidant powers from a blend of matcha, milk thistle, and apple. It contains natural moisturizers from passionfruit seed oil and marula oil. Pumpkin ferment aids in gentle exfoliation while the lowkey superstar ingredient, prickly pear cactus extract, relieves inflammation associated with acid use. Studies have shown that when combined with yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also included in the Baby Facial formula) prickly pear cactus extract inhibits the activity of cytokines and cyclooxygenase (COX-2). These are important players in your immune system's inflammatory response. Having the cactus and yeast in the Baby Facial formula lets you use a chemical peel with less risk of irritation. Baby Facial also has skin-identical ingredients, like phytosphingosine, glycerin, and sodium PCA, which mimic natural moisturizing factors or stratum corneum lipids. Skin-identical ingredients help keep the skin moisturized.

The Ordinary's AHA + BHA Peeling Solution, however, takes a more streamlined approach to the chemical peel. While still delivering potent exfoliating ingredients, their aim isn't to wow you with a never-ending list of proprietary plant blends. Along with black carrot, they include pro-vitamin B5 to moisturize the skin while also acting as a pretty great anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant. Pro-vitamin B5 is extremely useful for wound healing by promoting fibroblast (the cells that produce collagen) proliferation. Tasmanian pepperberry is used to reduce the inflammation associated with acid use, with studies showing its ability to also inhibit the inflammatory response. It "dims" the inflammatory cascade by inhibiting the release of cytokines. Aloe is included to soothe skin just like in Baby Facial, and glycerin and arginine are incorporated as skin-identical ingredients to naturally moisturize skin. Arginine is an amino acid that's crucial in hair keratin and skin collagen, so this is a wonderful ingredient to have in a chemical peel.

While the two offer an at-home chemical peel product, they are providing two unique experiences. If you're more into an immersive plant-based experience, try Baby Facial. It doesn't smell like anything and comes out like a grainy beige cream. The Peeling Solution looks very much like blood (it will stain if you're not careful) and smells like cranberries. It's a great option for the budget-conscious. Baby Facial retails for $80, while you can get the AHA + BHA Peeling Solution for $7.20.