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Stronger isn't always better and discomfort doesn't mean your skincare is 'working'! Today I'm talking though products that are gentle on my skin but still give me the results I need...
Another option is to take traditional exfoliants and use concentrations and added ingredients or mediums that are going to offer a less-intense feeling on the skin. The Then I Met You Birch Milk Refining Toner* | £31 | full review | is criminally underrated in respect of the former. This is a light, milky, surprisingly-hydrating toner with a gentle concentration of glycolic acid, lactic acid and gluconolactone (your PHA). They're formulated at skin-friendly concentrations in a hydrating base of rosewater, glycerin and obviously birch milk. This doesn't even feel like an exfoliant on the skin but leaves it soft and smooth and gives it a lovely glow. In the former category, we have the Sunday Riley UFO Ultra-Clarifying Facial Oil* | £68 | full review. This contains 1.5% salicylic acid, which is a little lower than the 2% maximum you can formulate with in the UK and EU. This chemical exfoliant is oil-soluble, so it's actually kind of genius to put it an oil base, which is going to be gentler on the skin than a water-based formula. This clarifies and decongests my skin with zero irritation - I love using it once or twice a week. If you want the spot-fighting power of salicylic acid but you find it can be a little harsh for your skin: give this a go.
The first product I'm going to discuss is long gone, but I kept hold of it to discuss it specifically in this post! It's the Sachi Skin Triphala Pigmentation Corrector* | £65.58 | full review. What's great about this is that it's gentle so is great for sensitive skin but can also be used in conjunction with stronger actives if you're looking for something uniquely compatible. It's formulated with lots of antioxidants (protecting the skin from free radical damage), including the titular triphala and silymarin, which are specifically great at targeting uneven skin tone. We also have microalgae as an antioxidant, a peptide that can prevent hyperpigmentation from occuring in the first place and also niacinamide to help prevent excess pigment from transferring through the skin, making it great if you often find that dark marks spread beyond the original spot. I really do recommend this for sensitive skin if you have residual dark marks from previous acne or melasma or even sun damage.
Something a little stronger (if your skin can handle it) that's still gentle for what I was expecting given the type of product it is and the ingredients is the Paula's Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster | £37 | full review. This combines two powerful actives: azelaic acid and salicylic acid, as well as licorice root to support its work. Then we have glycerin and allantoin to soothe and hydrate the skin whilst the actives work their magic. Of course salicylic acid is your pore-penetrating BHA exfoliant, but azelaic acid is fantastic for redness but also improving the appearance of hyperpigmentation (as is licorice root, in a very gentle way). All-in-all this is a brilliant formula for before, during and after breakouts or even if you have acne, it can work as a semi-regular part of your routine. This is one of the strongest products in this post, but given what it is; it's surprising that this is so non-irritating for me.
I also wanted to shout out the Youth to the People Vitamin C + Clean Caffeine Energy Serum* | £59 | full review. This is formulated with a bunch of Vitamin C derivatives; whilst they don't have the same scientific backing as pure-form ascorbic acid, they are a lot gentler and I like formulas that use numerous forms and add in other sources of antioxidant goodness to boost up the results you'll experience. This is a wonderfully-gentle Vitamin C with a hydrating base that still works, giving my skin a glow and also harmonising its overall tone.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a gentle retinoid I personally really enjoy, even as someone who generally goes for the big guns. If you often struggle to find retinoids that don't cause you irritation or dryness, maybe check out the PSA Skin Midnight Courage Rosehip and Bakuchiol Retinol Night Oil | £37 | full review. This is a retinoic acid ester so don't let the 2% confuse you: it's probably around about a 0.2% concentration that your skin is going to receive as retinol and the oil base makes it feel nice and gentle on the skin, plus it's going to counteract any potential dryness. The retinoid gets a gentle boost from antioxidant rich oils, so you're getting the most benefit for the least potential irritation.
What are your favourite gentle actives?