Difference between Acids Vs Enzymes – Which is the Best Exfoliator?


If you have been on the search for bouncy, juicy skin, know that you are not alone. Regular exfoliation is considered a vital step in achieving perfect skin. Exfoliation helps to slough off dead skin cells and reveal fresh, healthy skin underneath. There are plenty of exfoliants available on the market; physical exfoliants, chemical peels, enzymes, acids and many more. One of the hot topics trending on the internet about skincare is ‘acids versus enzymes’, or ‘enzymes versus acids’ Which is the best Exfoliator? If you are reading this then you are probably curious too.

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The Difference between Acids and Enzymes

Let’s start with the similarities. Both acids and enzymes exfoliate the skin on a chemical level, however, they do so in a different manner.

Firstly, enzymes are molecules that are found in fruits and breakdown the keratin in the dead skin cells. They get rid of the top layer of the skin without promoting cell turnover. Think of it as a buffer for your skin. Enzymes slough off the dead skin cells, making your skin smooth but they do nothing for cell turnover.

To summarize, enzymes;

  • Offer gentle skin exfoliation to reveal soft skin underneath.
  • Make your complexion brighter over time (with regularly use).
  • Are amazing at soothing inflamed skin.

On the other hand, acids penetrate into the skin at a much deeper level, they also, eliminate dead skin cells and promote cell turnover. Furthermore, Acids allow the new skin cells to regenerate quickly.

As per double-board certified surgeon Melynda Barnes, here is the main difference between the two: “Imagine that there is glue between skin cells, keeping them together, Enzymes break down that glue, which allows the dead skin cells to be removed or exfoliated from the skin.” “Acids work by triggering cell death in older skin cells and promoting new skin cells to grow. This results in older cells sloughing off and newer skin cells taking their place.”

To summarize, acids;

  • Come in a lot of treatment specific options for; hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, dull skin, open pores, etc.
  • Are amazing at keeping your skin looking youthful.
  • Work miraculously against pimples and give you clear skin.

Main Types of Enzymes

Below are the most common enzymes you can find in skincare products;


  • It is typically found in pineapple juice and pineapple stem.
  • Bromelain is the main reason pineapple is known to have skin-beautifying properties.
  • It works as an amazing anti-inflammatory agent and is known for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties.


  • Actinidin enzyme is found in kiwi, mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana.
  • It gets rid of dead skin cells as well as the dirt that sits on the top of the skin.
  • It is also one of those enzymes which work amazingly well as a moisturizer and keeps your skin supple.


  • Typically found in papaya.
  • Papain is known for removing damaged keratin off your skin which is mainly the reason behind small bumps that form over your skin.
  • It works miraculously well to give you a smooth skin texture.


  • Ficin is most commonly found in figs and works well for removing scars, and pigmentation.
  • It also makes your skin visibly softer and smoother.

Who should Use Enzymes?

It is important to understand that enzymes are very gentle on the skin, they will not penetrate deep into your pores. So, if you have sensitive skin, enzymes are your best friend.

Moreover, you can easily incorporate enzymes into your daily skincare routine. They are not only found in exfoliators but also in cleansers and masks. Enzymes typically work for all skin types, however, people with oily, acne-prone, sensitive and combination skin can benefit the most from these products.

Who should Use Acids?

When it comes to acids there are a lot of options that cater to people of all different skin types. For instance, lactic acid is a very gentle acid and suitable for nearly all skin types. Whereas, glycolic acid can work wonders for certain people but can cause skin irritation in others. AHAs work best for unclogging the pores and controlling excess oil on the skin. Basically, there is something for everyone.

Whether you are dealing with hyperpigmentation, active acne, clogged pores, oily skin, there is acid for you. A dermatologist can help you choose the best one for you and your skin type. People with extremely sensitive skin shouldn’t use stronger acids on their own without consulting a skin specialist. If you have a very specific skin concern, then acids are the way to go.

Main Types of Acids

Below are the most common acids you can find in skincare products;

Salicylic Acid

  • This is one acid which can be easily found in a drug store as well as high-end products.
  • Salicylic acid works amazingly well as anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne and is a wonderful exfoliator.

Glycolic Acid

  • Glycolic acid works amazingly well for people who are struggling with acne and oily skin.
  • It reduces dark spots, pigmentation, fine lines and skin texture (with regular use) over a significant period of time.

Hyaluronic Acid

  • It is an amazing skin-nourishing ingredient that attracts and retains moisture in your skin.
  • The acid strengthens the skin barrier and makes your skin smooth, moisturized and plump.
  • Great for those that suffer from dry skin.

Lactic Acid

  • It is an alpha hydroxy acid that is derived from milk and exfoliates your skin very gently.
  • Lactic acid works best for people with sensitive skin as it is a very mild exfoliating agent.
  • It removes both hyperpigmentation and fine lines.

Ascorbic Acid

  • This acid essentially vitamin C and we all know the miracles it can do for our skin. It is an amazing antioxidant.
  • Ascorbic acid suits all skin types.
  • It can come in mists, serums, creams which contain this ingredient.
  • It is one of the easiest acids to incorporate into your skincare routine.

Citric Acid

  • As evident from the name, it is derived from fruits.
  • It is an amazing antioxidant and works wonders for treating early signs of aging.
  • It is readily available in many skin care products, and can be found in both drug store and high end products.

 Mandelic Acid

  • Mandelic Acid has the largest molecule out of all the AHAs.
  • It is very gentle and suitable for people with sensitive skin.

Tartaric Acid

  • Found in various plants and fruits.
  • If you have textured skin, tartaric acid can be your best friend.
  • Do a patch test before using it all over your skin as some people can have an allergic reaction to it.

Malic Acid

  • Malic acid fights the bacteria and gets rid of acne on your skin.
  • It also cleans out the pores and helps treat excess sebum production.

Oleic Acid

  • Oleic Acid is another one that’s great for people with dry skin.
  • It is typically found in almond and olive oil and intensely moisturises your skin.
  • However, it is not so great for people with oily and acne-prone skin.

Lipoic Acid

  • This acid is known as a universal antioxidant that is both fat and water-soluble.
  • Lipoic acid is an amazing ingredient to add to your anti-ageing skincare routine.
  • It fights free radicals and eliminates the signs of ageing.

Enzymes versus Acids – Summary

Both enzymes and acids are amazing skin exfoliators that can work wonders. Enzymes only work on the surface level and dissolve dead skin cells while acids penetrate deep into the pores and offer deep exfoliation.

Enzymes are more suitable for sensitive skin while acids work wonders for congested skin and are an amazing treatment for specific problems like hyperpigmentation, marks or skin congestion. Moreover, with acids, you can find a lot more options and land on something specific to your skincare needs. Whereas, all enzymes are fairly similar. It is important to visit a skin specialist to see which product is suitable for your particular skin type and concern.

FAQs – Acids versus Enzymes

Is an enzyme an acid?

  • Essentially, enzymes are proteins that are made up of amino acids.

Are fruit acids enzymes?

  • While both fruit acids and enzymes are used for exfoliation. They both are very different.
  • Enzymes are a naturally occurring substance that exfoliate dead skin cells while acids are extracted from fruits and react with all skin cells to promote cell turnover.

Are enzymes a chemical exfoliant?

  • Yes, enzymes are a type of chemical exfoliants. However, they are much gentler than AHA exfoliators.

Can I use an enzyme cleanser daily?

  • It depends on your skin type.
  • People with oily and acne-prone skin can use the cleanser daily but people with dry and sensitive skin should only use it twice a week.

Are fruit enzymes exfoliating?

  • Yes, fruit enzymes exfoliate the skin by removing the topmost layer of dead skin cells.

What is the best exfoliator?

  • There are a lot of amazing exfoliators available in the market.
  • What suits one person might not suit you and vice versa.
  • Therefore, it is always best to visit a skin specialist to find the one that meets your needs.

What is the difference between enzyme and peel?

  • Chemical peels contain a combination of intense acids that remove the topmost layer of the skin, penetrating deeper layers, giving you a deep cleanse. They include ingredients like salicylic acid, beta hydroxy acids, glycolic acid, lactic acid and other kinds of alpha-hydroxy acids.
  • Whereas, Enzymes are very gentle in comparison and are made from fruits such as; pomegranates, pumpkins, pineapples, papaya and more. It is easy to incorporate enzymes into your skincare routine.

Do enzyme face peels work?

  • Yes, enzyme face peels are amazing for all skin types.
  • They gently exfoliate the skin and give your skin a healthy glow.

What do enzymes do on the skin?

  • Essentially, enzymes break down the dead keratin protein in the topmost layer of the skin and give you softer, smoother and healthier skin.
  • Over time, it diminishes the scars and gets rid of pigmentation.

Are enzyme scrubs good?

  • Yes, they can work wonders, provided that you choose the one that fits your unique skin type.

Is lactic acid a good exfoliator?

  • Yes, lactic acid is an amazing exfoliator for all skin types.
  • It helps to fade pigmentation, smooth out fine lines, skin texture and give you an even-looking skin.

What is the difference between enzyme and hormone?

  • An enzyme is a selective catalyst that accelerates metabolic reactions.
  • A hormone, on the other hand, is a chemical, generally released by a cell or a gland that affects other cells.

Do enzyme cleansers exfoliate?

  • Yes, enzyme cleansers gently exfoliate the skin and reveal fresh, glowing skin underneath.

How often should you use enzyme powder?

  • All skin is different and reacts to products differently.
  • It is best to visit a dermatologist and get a skincare routine that will suit you best.
  • Generally speaking, people with oily and acne-prone skin can use enzyme powder daily and people with dry and sensitive skin types should limit the use to twice a week.

What is the best facial cleanser?

  • There are a lot of amazing cleansers available in the market.
  • Only a dermatologist can tell you which one will suit you best.

Are enzymes good for acne?

  • Yes, enzymes work wonders for people struggling with acne.

Should you exfoliate every day?

  • It is best to limit the exfoliation to once or twice a week instead of doing it every single day.

What is the best enzyme peel?

  • This question can only be answered by a dermatologist if they have a close look at your skin.
  • After analyzing your skin needs, they will be able to recommend a cleanser that will suit you best.

Are enzyme peels bad for your skin?

  • No, absolutely not. Enzyme peels work wonders for your skin.

Which acid peel is best for hyperpigmentation?

  • Different things suit different people.
  • Generally, lactic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, kojic acid, salicylic acid and enzyme peels are considered to be best for hyperpigmentation.


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