After reading and watching some emphatically positive reviews of several different peeling swabs on some of my favourite K-beauty blogs and YouTube channels, I decided I simply had to try them for myself. I ordered a few different types on eBay (which is where I order most of my Korean and otherwise Asian skincare and makeup) and the It’s Skin “Clear Skin” Peeling Swab was the first to arrive.
What Are Peeling Swabs?
I’m sure some of you are currently wondering. A peeling swab is a comically oversized cotton swab, saturated with liquid that contains one or more acids that exfoliate the skin. The acids used include AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids). I’ll be linking a currently-under-construction post here soon for you to learn more about just what those are and the differences between them. Some peeling swabs contain both, while others focus on just one or the other. This will depend on the intended purpose. Many also contain hydrating and moisturising agents, such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which are supposed to combat any drying effects from the exfoliation.
What’s In This One?
Water, alcohol, lactic acid, tromethamine, dipropylene glycol, glycerin, butylene glycol, methylpropanediol, salix alba (willow) bark extract, origanum vulgare leaf extract, chamaecyparis obtusa leaf extract, lactobacillus/soybean ferment extract, cinnamomum cassia bark extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, portulaca oleracea extract, carica papaya (papaya) fruit extract, trehalose, sodium hyaluronate, allantoin, erythritol, glycereth-26, citric acid, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, sodium citrate, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, hydroxyethyl urea, disodium EDTA, ethylhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol, fragrance.
If you’d like to know more about any of those ingredients, I’m compiling a running glossary of every ingredient I come across in every product I review on this blog, which you can find by simply clicking here and via the “Ingredient Glossary” link at the top of the page.
The main ingredients of interest are lactic acid, glycerin, sodium hyaluronate, glycolic acid, salicylic acid and “fragrance”. I’m putting that last one in quotation marks out of frustrated cynicism, because companies get away with listing all sorts of unpleasant things as “fragrance”, so there’s really no way for us to know by reading the ingredients list what exactly that one is. Lactic acid, glycolic acid and salicylic acid are our exfoliating acids (the first two being AHAs and the last, a BHA) and these are excellent choices. The packaging boasts 8% AHA (which is quite impressive) and 0.5% BHA (which is meh), as well as hyaluronic acid, for a “glowing effect”. Although I’m not quite sure how they expect this ingredient to produce radiance, it is one of the two skin-hydrating ingredients in this product, with the other being glycerin. These are both excellent hydrating agents, but it is important to note that because these draw moisture from the deeper layer of the skin (the dermis, also called the dermal layer, which contains collagen, blood vessels and nerves), they should be added along with oils and/or emollients so that the moisture isn’t then lost through the upper layers of the skin. Once you’ve drawn moisture up into the epidermal layers (the skin you can see), you want to keep it there. This product doesn’t contain oils or emollients, so adding hyaluronic acid and glycerin here is really only going to dehydrate the skin even moreso than this product would have if they’d left them out. Points lost, there.
Did It Work?
In order to properly test out this product, I chose to forego my usual nightly chemical exfoliants for a full week — and I’m still feeling guilty for the state my poor skin was in by the end of those seven days. I had plenty of clogged pores across my nose, cheeks, chin and forehead and a nice (ugh) layer of dead skin built up. My skin is very dry, so these are things that happen quite quickly for me. I cleansed my skin using my current favourite micellar water, the Garnier one for all skin types, wanting to avoid any extra exfoliation that might alter my results. I then applied a hydrating toner (the Skinfood “Royal Honey Essential Toner”), as I always do before exfoliating and went to town on my poor (heh), congested skin. I also always allow a good 20min for chemical exfoliants to sit on my skin and do their magical thing before applying anything else on top (or touching my skin, at all) and generally find this yields better results. However, when I excitedly rushed over to my bathroom mirror to marvel at the change in my skin… Nothing.
Nothing had changed. My skin felt to the touch like it still had that layer of dead skin coating it and my pores were unimproved. I decided to check again in the morning, as perhaps it needed more time, but even then, there was no perceptible improvement in my skin, whatsoever. I squinted at my pores, my nose less than an inch from the mirror, looking for any sign of clearing or shrinkage, but found none. My skin was every bit as clogged and coated as it had been before I’d used the damn thing. With an exasperated sigh, I reached for my beloved Cosrx “Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Cleanser” and embarked upon my mission to save my skin from the damage of the past week. Several products later, it was dramatically clearer and smoother and on its way to being back to normal. But notably, none of the products I used claimed to have anywhere near the concentration of acids that the It’s Skin “Clear Skin” Peeling Swab does.
Later that day, I also tested out this product on the long-suffering Mike (Carer-man Extraordinaire), who has oily, acne-prone skin. Unfortunately, we were both quite disappointed to see that his results (or rather, lack thereof) were no different to mine.
Why Didn’t It Work?
I would speculate that the most likely reason that this product did not work for me lies in its formulation. Acid treatment products, like any other skincare product, must be formulated precisely in order to live up to their lofty claims. Products must be formulated to have the right pH, salts, oils/emollients and even viscosity for their ingredients to work, at all. Perhaps this product contains ingredients at levels that are inhibiting the activity of the acids the packaging boasts?
Despite my disappointment in this product, I will be trying other brands of peeling swab. I particularly look forward to trying the Yuripibu “Yoon Dermaline Marine Complex Exfoliator”, which is the most widely and highly recommended peeling swab I’ve come across. In the meantime, if you have any exfoliating products to recommend, I would love to hear about them, so I can add them to my ever-growing list of new products to try!