Enzyme Exfoliants Are The Key To Safe Exfoliation For Sensitive Skin
When it comes to exfoliation, granular scrubs (perhaps even – god forbid! – a certain apricot scrub that shan’t be named) often spring to mind. Meanwhile, the skincare savvy typically turn to AHAs or BHA chemical exfoliants to shed those dead skin cells. The more initiated among us may even be privy to the sensitive skin gem that is PHA exfoliation.
However, there’s a lesser-known exfoliant on the block; an enzyme exfoliant. Suitable for all skin types (including those with dry and sensitive skin), enzyme exfoliation is a viable alternative to physical or chemical scrubs.
Here’s everything you need to know about using an enzyme exfoliant.
What are enzymes?
Enzymes are biological molecules that act as catalysts, prompting or speeding up reactions in the body that wouldn’t otherwise happen. The human body produces enzymes to speed up reactions during processes like metabolism or digestion.
What is the difference between chemical exfoliation and enzyme exfoliation?
A type of protein, enzyme exfoliants aren’t technically chemical exfoliants, sitting in their own class. Chemical exfoliants (think glycolic, lactic, salicylic, and gluconolactone acids) work to dissolve the ‘glue’ that holds your skin cells together, thus promoting skin cell turnover.
Whereas, enzyme exfoliants contain proteolytic enzymes (typically derived from fruits and vegetables like pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin) which work to break down the keratin protein that binds the superficial layer of the skin. Much like their role in the digestive process, enzyme exfoliants literally digest the dead skin cells on your face, resulting in smoother, brighter skin. As enzyme exfoliants exclusively break down dead skin cells, there’s much less chance of over-exfoliating in comparison to chemical exfoliants, making it a gentle alternative for those with sensitive skin.
What types of enzymes are used in an enzyme exfoliant?
Enzyme exfoliants generally use one of three main types of protease enzymes. Papain (sourced from papaya), bromelain (extracted from pineapple or kiwi fruit), and Cucurbita pepo (also known as pumpkin enzymes).
How often can you use an enzyme exfoliant?
Due to their gentle nature, enzyme exfoliants can be used up to once every two days, however sensitive skin types should stick to once or twice a week.
The best enzyme exfoliants on the market
Keen to start using an enzyme exfoliant? Here are our Albert Review approved selections.
1. Grown Alchemist Enzyme Exfoliant
One of the gentlest exfoliating masks on the market, the Grown Alchemist Enzyme Exfoliant stars papain enzymes from papaya which combines with an amino complex to eat away at dead skin cells, smoothen skin, and reduce the appearance of fine lines with continued use. Meanwhile, ficin enzymes derived from figs work with omega-3 fatty acids to nourish and condition the skin.
Combining bromelain and papain enzymes – from pineapple and papaya respectively – with finely ground apricot seed powder, the Kiehl’s Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub uses a mixture of enzymatic and physical exfoliants to leave you with softer, smoother skin. The physical component of this facial scrub means it’s best for those who want a more intense scrub and don’t have sensitive or irritated skin.
For a gentler take on exfoliation, the Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel is a safe bet, using papain to gently exfoliate the skin as it cleanses while grapefruit extract works to remove impurities and excess sebum.
4. Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment
A blend of papaya, pumpkin, and pineapple enzymes team up with lactic acid in this intense exfoliant which works to break down dead skin cells on the skin’s surface while unclogging pores. A combination of vitamin A, C, and E, as well as aloe vera and honey soothe and nourish the skin.
Working to exfoliate without causing irritation, the Ella Baché Revealing Fruit Enzyme Exfoliant utilises salicylic acid and papaya and pineapple fruit enzymes to unclog pores and break down keratin protein to remove dull surface skin. Oat brand, rice brand, and liquorice extract soothe and refine the skin.
6. Sand & Sky Australian Emu Apple Enzyme Powder Polish
Soothing and brightening, the Sand & Sky Australian Emu Apple Enzyme Powder Polish contains a powerhouse team of papaya fruit enzymes, anti-inflammatory quandong and davidson plum, nourishing botanical oils, and vitamin C and antioxidant-rich emu apple, riberry, and pepperberry. The resultant formula works to dissolve dead skin cells, provide antioxidant protection, and brighten complexion without stressing the skin.
Where do the enzymes in enzyme exfoliants come from?
Most enzyme exfoliants used in skincare contain enzymes derived from fruits and vegetables like papaya, kiwi, pumpkin, and pineapple.
How does an enzyme exfoliant work?
Enzyme exfoliants contain proteolytic enzymes which work to break down the keratin protein that binds the superficial layer of the skin. Much like their role in the digestive process, enzyme exfoliants digest the dead skin cells on your face, resulting in smoother, brighter skin.
Is enzyme exfoliation suitable for sensitive skin?
Enzyme exfoliants can be a gentle alternative to chemical exfoliation for those with dry or sensitive skin types. As enzyme exfoliants exclusively break down dead skin cells, there’s much less chance of over-exfoliating in comparison to chemical exfoliants.