Skincare Confessions: I’m scared of actives! (well, I WAS)

So it’s been over three years now since I started slathering layers of product on my face like an elaborate wedding cake, and I feel much more savvy when it comes to what I choose and why. I’ve learned what ingredients I like, and what makes my skin happy. I’ve overcome the desire to buy every k-beauty item I see. While I’m no expert, at least I’m not totally green in the world of skincare anymore.

But even though I happily type away at this blog, sharing my knowledge with others who are excited to learn as I was years back, I was always hiding this secret that I was too ashamed to ever confide in anyone about, a smoldering coal wrapped in a towel and shoved into a corner of my soul that I hoped no one would ever come across.

I was terrified of actives.

In other words, topical exfoliants like Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I have an all-natural approach to things. Maybe it’s because both have the word acid in it and the idea of putting acid on skin sounds frightening. Whatever it is, I’ve read long threads on Reddit and beauty blogs about actives and heard many bloggers I respect sing their praises. I even bought a Mizon AHA product. It sat on my shelf next to the rest of my skincare collection. I felt like it and I were circling one another but would never draw close.

I always felt really ashamed of this, because I knew actives were the next best step I could take in developing my routine. But I felt like a skinny, underdeveloped kid standing on the diving platform, too afraid to jump.

On a recent trip to visit a dear friend who also loves skincare, all that changed. My first bottle of Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting AHA Gel Exfoliant is in the mail, and I’m really excited to add it to my routine. If it wasn’t for my friend’s patient explanation and sharing her own products, I’d still be stuck in my fear of actives. But the way she explained how they work — as well as what she used on me — wiped that right out.


Me and the Bee.

Paulabee, as I call her, jumped on the k-beauty train last year and has developed a routine that I was fascinated by. Her skin not only glows but has a clarity, and I’ve never seen her look so lovely. I did share some of my own interest to her to begin with, but she quickly developed her own robust routine, and now it was time for me to learn from her!

Her routine features a lot of Cosrx products, which any k-beauty fan knows are beloved for their effectiveness and their excellent price point! You can get it through Memebox and Wishtrend, and Sokoglam just started carrying the line as well ( I did a guest review for them on the Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch which you can read here!), which makes it much easier to get your hands on. Paulabee uses three products from the line: The AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner, the BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, and the AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid. I won’t go into the details of those products here, as I am very new to them and can’t speak about them with the confidence that a user like Paulabee can! However, I can say that I saw the most important thing one can after sampling her routine with these products: Results.


The day after the Cosrx routine. No makeup needed!

So what do these actives do to result in such healthy glowiness? They clean up the skin cells you shed (millions a day), which can make your skin look dry and flaky if they aren’t removed. These exfoliants not only hydrate dry skin, but they can also improve the appearance of wrinkles, firm the skin, and amp up its production of collagen, which the body produces less of as you get older. The advantage of chemical exfoliants versus physical exfoliants is that you can avoid the possibility of making microtears in the skin with the former. Funny enough, these “acids” are actually gentler on the skin. Ha!

AHAs are known as a better choice for dry skin since they help to get these skin cells going on their merry way. BHAs are better at degunking your skin, and are typically the weapon of choice for oiler, acne-prone skin. BHAs can be drying, so proceed with care if you are a dry type and try these out.

Even after finding a good result with Paulabee’s Cosrx products, I decided I wanted to try the Paula’s Choice 8% AHA Gel because I have a really good history with products that contains green tea extract, and since I do have sensitive skin I thought the chamomile it contains could also be soothing. I will post my results as I use it to you all can see!

I chose not to go with a BHA just yet for a few reasons. I don’t have acne-prone skin, blackheads, and enlarged pores, and I avoid anything that could dry out my skin. However, BHAs also have anti-inflammatory properties, and since I do often have redness I may add one in in the future if I find something that may work for my needs. I did just get over my fears, so even though I am okay with using these products now I’m not quite confident enough to go layer-crazy yet (I’m sure it won’t be long).

If you want to learn more, the Reddit sub SkincareAddiction has a terrific write-up on AHAs and BHAs and their differences. If you use either or both, I’d love to hear what works for you!





5 Comments Add yours

  1. jimmyinpa says:

    They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and that picture of YOU just says it all – such wonderful, clear, glowing, healthy skin!!

    And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that your friend, Paulabee, is right there with you – lovely skin as well!

    I think it’s wise to approach anything called an “active” with a healthy amount of respect and caution. After all, these products can – and do – react with your skin.

    So, I don’t blame you for starting slowly and with just one active. But, I have no doubt that you’ll be experimenting with BHAs and maybe even Vitamin C in the future as well. I’d absolutely say that Vitamin C is something that is really good for getting that AB glow!

    In my experience (actually less than yours with AB), I have found that a few drops of Hada Labo Gokujyun Lotion, either mixed with, or immediately following an active like AHA (or Vitamin C) is a great way to acclimate one’s skin to these sorts of things. I’ve had some bad experiences with actives myself, but never when I used the HL Lotion with them.


    1. colettebennett says:

      Ahh, that’s a great tip with the Hada Labo lotion Jimmy! Thanks for that, I have it so I am going to try it out! 🙂


  2. Crickett says:

    I, too, am afraid of actives. It was with HUGE trepidation that I finally cracked open that COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid sample. But I confessed my fears on the Reddit AB sub, and somebody said something along the lines of, “Teenagers have been using those Stridex pads with wild abandon for years.” That struck a chord with me. Because yeah, teenagers also use that horrible St. Ives bullshit scrub, and they listen when people tell them that if it stings, it’s doing good work on their skin (I’m looking at you, Bonne Bell 10-0-6 and Sea Breeze), but I also know adults who use the Stridex because of its actives and don’t decry those pads nearly as much as the other things I mentioned. I had to make an order from a new (to me) website and wanted to get that free shipping, so I ordered a full size of the power liquid. As long as I’m careful, I think I’ll be okay. And the photo I sent you recently shows that my usage of that sample has not, in fact, caused all of my skin to fall off. So, baby steps.


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