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When to Use Enzymes, Acids, or Both?

Exfoliation has many benefits for the skin. Shedding dead skin cells helps regulate cellular production, brightens skin’s complexion, and gives a more youthful appearance. Using hydroxy acids, enzymes, or a combination of both will give you superior exfoliation results. Let’s talk about the differences and when we should combine them! 

BiON Skincare

Contribution by Andrea Matczyszyn

Andrea has contributed many articles to Lipgloss + Aftershave. Andrea is BiON Skincare’s Licensed Esthetician and Director of Sales & Product Education. In this role, Andrea manages incoming orders and provides support to our licensed professionals on a day-to-day basis. She also attends trade shows to be there hands-on for our customers and to provide education and recommendations on how to use our products. As a big believer in BiON Skincare and our mission, Andrea supports our family-owned and operated business by holding herself to the same level of customer service standards that our customers have come to know over the past 20+ years of being in business.

Andrea has held an Esthetician license for over 9 years now.  She attended esthetics school right here in Lincoln, NE at College of Hair Design in July 2011, graduating in December 2011. After graduation, she moved to Colorado where she quickly became the Lead Esthetician at her first esthetics job. After a few years in Colorado, she moved back to Nebraska to be closer to family and has been working in the business industry since. Passionate about skincare and its ever-changing world, Andrea is excited to be able to work with so many different licensed professionals around the world to help grow and learn from each other.


Hydroxy acids are commonly used in lower concentrations for at-home exfoliation but are available in higher concentrations for professional treatments. Because they are penetrating further into the skin, hydroxy acids tend to be more aggressive on the skin and can cause short-term stinging or flushing of the skin. The two main hydroxy acids used in skincare are AHA’s and BHA’s. 

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

Alpha Hydroxy Acids are sourced from citrus fruits, sugar cane, sour milk, bitter almonds, and apples. They exfoliate by penetrating into the skin and dissolving the dead skin cells on the epidermis. Because they are penetrating deeper into the skin, they promote cell turnover for all skin cells, both living and dead. AHA’s primary job is to exfoliate the skin, but it also works to lighten hyperpigmentation and discoloration, promote collagen production and blood flow, and is effective for improving the appearance of surface-level fine lines and wrinkles. Generally, most skin types can tolerate the use of a mild strength AHA in home-care products. 

Grande Cosmetics Pout

For professional products, chemical peels are most commonly used as an acidic exfoliation option. The type of AHA used is based on skin type and skin condition. For example, Glycolic Acid works great to treat oilier skin types and acneic and congested skin. Mandelic Acid, on the other hand, is much gentler and is appropriate for more sensitive or drier skin types or for treating stubborn hyperpigmentation and acne scarring. Beta Hydroxy Acids, exfoliate by lifting away dead skin cells and unclogging buildup (sebum and dead skin cells) in pores. Salicylic Acid is the most used BHA. It works by penetrating into the pore and pushing congestion and dead skin cells up and out of the pore and is most commonly used to treat acne and congested skin conditions. 


Enzymatic exfoliation is an efficient option for all skin types and is often used with or without steam in professional facial treatments. Being derived from fruit, enzymes often create an aromatic experience for the customer as well as treat their skin concern and provide remarkable exfoliation. Fruit enzymes such as pineapple, pomegranate, and pumpkin exfoliate by “digesting” or breaking down the protein/keratin bond between dead skin cells and the outermost layer of the skin. This provides better product penetration and leaves the skin looking smooth and healthy. Unlike acids, enzymes do not force cell turnover. This means, they simply remove the already dead cells from the epidermis. 

Types of Enzymes

Pineapple enzyme is naturally antibacterial which makes it a superior choice for treating acne. Pomegranate works to treat dull or drier skin types. It is an excellent choice for treating more sensitive skin types. Pumpkin enzyme is the “Mack Daddy” choice for anti-aging. The pumpkin enzyme itself is packed full of antioxidants and vitamins and provides brightening benefits for the skin. Although enzymes are most commonly found in professional exfoliation masks, they can also boost other skincare products such as facial scrubs, cleansers, and chemical peels.

When To Use Acids vs Enzymes

Now that we know how both acids and enzymes work with the skin, when is it beneficial to use a combination of them? A way to benefit from both acids and enzymes is to use an enzyme mask that has a lower percentage of AHAs or BHAs added to it to boost the enzyme mask. Many times, this gives the client a more comfortable form of exfoliation than traditional chemical peels and is also more appropriate to use during the summer months when clients will be out in the sun more. Combining enzymes and acids benefits the skin by allowing the dead skin cells to be digested but also promotes the renewal of living cells as well. 

Many times, this is a less aggressive and more hydrating way to exfoliate the skin and has less downtime than using acids alone. Another way to incorporate both enzymes and acids into a professional treatment would be to first do an enzyme mask and then remove it. Then do a chemical peel that is appropriate for the client’s skin type and concern. Performing an enzyme mask first, allows the chemical peel to penetrate further into the skin since the first layer of dead skin cells will already be removed. It is always good to check your state laws to see if this type of dual exfoliation is allowed in your state. 
No matter which exfoliation option you choose, it is guaranteed that your client will walk confidently with a smoother texture and a brighter complexion. Exfoliation is essential for all skin types and should be done on a regular basis, whether that is a retail scrub, cleanser, serum, or regular visits to their skincare professional. Explore BiON Skincare’s exfoliation options on our website!

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