Acids v.s. Enzymes – Which chemical exfoliator should you use?

“I don’t want poreless, glowing skin”, said no one ever. 

And to achieve that, exfoliation is one essential step you should never skip in your skincare routine. If you’re on #teamexfoliation, you would have already known the importance of regular exfoliation and the differences between physical and chemical exfoliators. 

If you’re still clueless, just remember that exfoliation is THE magical cure to a myriad of skin problems such as acne, dullness, rough texture and even lines and wrinkles. Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating but it defo helps to improve all the above skin woes.


While most people are familiar with mechanical exfoliating beads, many are still confused about acid peels and enzymatic exfoliators. While both exfoliate at the chemical level, they do so in slightly different ways. 

Here’s the chemical facial exfoliator cheatsheet you never knew you needed for poreless, glowing skin!

1. What is acid exfoliation:

Acid exfoliation uses acids to dissolve dead skin cells with a pH level that’s lower than skin pH. It works by denaturing the proteins to break the bonds between skin cells and loosening up dead skin cells so that they can be easily sloughed off to unveil brighter, smoother and healthier-looking skin.

Found in fruits and even dairy, acids penetrate deeper into the skin to promote premature cell death which leads to forced exfoliation, and accelerate turnover rate for all your skin cells, including the skin cells underneath the existing dead skin cells. 

Types of acids

AHA: Includes glycolic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, mandelic acid, and malic acid. These are water-soluble and target the skin’s surface layers to improve texture. Glycolic acid can even stimulate the synthesis of collagen within the dermis skin layers. 


In essence, it can improve skin issues such as wrinkles, uneven skin texture and pigmentation.

BHA: Usually refers to salicylic acid. They are oil-soluble, which means they can penetrate to the deeper layers of the skin to unclog pores and eliminate acne-causing sebum. 


Recommended for those who are on the oilier side of the skin spectrum and struggle with acne, blackheads and milia seeds.

PHA: Similar to AHAs and they are water-soluble. However, they have a larger molecule size, meaning they don’t penetrate as deeply and are less prone to irritation than AHAs. They’re especially beneficial for those who find other acids too harsh for their skin.


Suitable for all skin types, even those with very sensitive skin, to harness the resurfacing powers of PHAs to improve dry, itchy skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea.

2. What is enzyme exfoliation:

Enzymes are a natural alternative to acid exfoliation. They are biological molecules found in fruits, usually proteins, to digest dead skin cells. It works by speeding up the rate of chemical reaction on the skin to break down keratin (i.e. the protein in dead skin cells).

However, they do not cause premature cell death to boost cell turnover rate for the living cells underneath. They simply accelerate the shedding of existing dead skin cells.

Types of enzymes:

  • Bromelain – Found in pineapple juice as well as the pineapple stem
  • Actinidin – Exists in kiwi, pineapple, mango, banana, and papaya
  • Papain – Found in papaya


Enzymatic exfoliation can be especially beneficial for those with dry, sensitive, and mature skin types. They are great for an overall exfoliation to smoothen rough texture, brighten skin tone, and allow more efficient product penetration while still maintaining the skin’s natural barrier. 

3. When to use which?

For makeup removal of any skin types, try ést.lab ActivCalm Makeup Removal Wipes

Infused with high quality goat’s milk which is a source of lactic acid, it acts as a gentle exfoliator to achieve a brighter and smoother complexion while hydrating and nourishing the skin, keeping it soft and supple.

For breakouts, try ést.lab PurClear Anti-Acne Serum.

Contains BHA (advance salicylic acid) to fight breakouts, control sebum production and minimise pores. On top of that, it utilises a Water Shuttle Technology to reduce discomfort from skin dryness due to its unique time-release ability to release water capsules and keep the skin hydrated for up to 12 hours. 

Use this as a spot treatment to target the oily T-zone and on areas that are prone to acne clusters.

For uneven skin texture, try ést.lab LumiWhite 10% PHA Resurfacing Glow Serum.

Contains a high percentage of PHA (gluconolatone), as well as Kakadu Plum which boasts the highest level of vitamin C of any natural food in the world to improve rough texture, lighten hyperpigmentation and brighten dull skin. 

Great for use as a daily serum after cleanser and lotion. It helps to instantly smoothen skin texture, improve clarity, boost radiance, refine pores and minimise breakouts dramatically in the most gentle, soothing way, even for sensitive, irritated and reactive skin. 

For dull skin, try the new ést.lab LumiGlow Enzyme Cleansing Pods.

Formulated with pineapple extract which contains bromelain enzymes, together with 3 other superfruits (Mango Extract, Georgia Peach Extract, and Lemon Extract) that are exceptionally rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants to cleanse, exfoliate and nourish the skin to prevent rough, flaky and lacklustre skin. 

Perfect for daily cleansing AM and PM! The LumiGlow Enzyme Cleansing Pods gently melt away any makeup, sunscreen and impurities embedded within the pores to cleanse the skin without stripping the skin off its natural moisture. These cute waterless pods are manufactured with the freeze-dried technology which makes them super lightweight and travel-friendly!

For dark spots and hyperpigmentation, try Estetica’s Enzymacid Facial.

Regular facials are a must to deep cleanse and clarify skin imperfections. Opt for our Enzymacid Facial to restore maximum radiance to your skin. This is an advanced multi-action peeling treatment that uses 5 technologies to dramatically improve your skin quality:


– Mechanical action with immediate removal of superficial layers and dead skin cells with high grade Carica papaya to smoothen and brighten the skin

– Instant chemical action of Lactic Acid to improve skin smoothness with a brightening effect

– Long-lasting biological action over several weeks to stimulate production of new collagen and elastin fibres in the dermis and encourage tissue renewal

– Revitalising action with Glycolic Acid to promote skin cell regeneration 

– Stabilised lightening action on dark spots and hyperpigmentation with Vitamin C which suppresses melanin synthesis to prevent the formation of pigmentation

There you have it, the ultimate chemical exfoliating cheat sheet for dewy, glowing complexion! 

Technically, there is no one option that’s better than the other. What’s more important is to choose one that’s suitable for your skin type and will yield the best results for your skin.


In good hands,