Acids Too Strong For Your Skin? Try Enzymes Instead

Have you spotted the word ‘enzymes’ on skincare products in the recent past and wondered what things that help with digestion and stuff are doing in your skincare? Don’t let the scientific-sounding word scare you off, because if gentle exfoliation and brightening of skin is what you seek, then enzymes can become your new best friend.

So, what are enzymes exactly? These are essentially substances that act as catalysts to enhance a particular chemical process in living organisms. Humans produce enzymes in the body during processes such as digestion or metabolism. Plants and fruits produce enzymes too, and these are the ones finding their way into our skincare products! 

A good example is this: ever notice how when you eat pineapple you get that tingly sensation in the mouth? That is the enzyme bromelain from the fruit breaking down the protein in your mouth as you eat it!

But how do these work in skincare? We spoke with Dr Akber Aimer, director of aesthetic medicine at Maya Medi Spa, Bangalore for some answers. He explains, “When it comes to skincare, enzymes cause a skin reaction where they help loosen the ‘glue’ or the keratin protein, that bonds dead skin cells to the top layer of the skin, thus causing it to exfoliate and be washed off easily,” says Dr Aimer.

Types Of Enzymes & Enzyme Products In Skincare

Fruit-based enzymes commonly found in skincare products include papain from papaya, bromelain from pineapple, amylase and maltase from banana, catalase from passionfruit, and lycopene from guava and also tomatoes, among others. 

One can also choose from enzyme cleansers, gels, peels and more available in the market or opt for an in-clinic treatment with a reputed dermatologist for best results. Maya Medi Spa too, offers enzymatic peels as part of their in-clinic treatments as well as home care, specifically the ZO Skin Health Enzymatic Peel that contains papain and bromelain enzymes. Dr Aimer says, “I personally use this from head to toe, including my heels when they need some extra love and exfoliation.”

Enzymes Versus Acids

The job of enzymes in skincare does sound similar to that of acids, doesn’t it? And while acids, too, can be found in natural, plant-based products—such as apple cider vinegar, lemon, and even glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) naturally occurring in sugarcane—these tend to offer a more intense exfoliation than the average fruit enzyme. AHAs and BHAs and other acids are more potent when compared to enzymes and could therefore cause a certain degree of irritation to the skin as they penetrate more deeply into the skin.

So, do enzymes win over acids then? “Enzymes aren’t necessarily better than acids, but they are better suited to certain skin types. Also, since they are a gentler option to exfoliate and brighten the complexion, enzymes can work well for those with sensitive skin, dry, mature skin and also pregnant women who need to avoid certain acids in skincare” he says. 

“The downside, of course, is that enzymes don’t work very effectively to dissolve oil and treat overall pore congestion, so for those issues, one would need to use products formulated with salicylic acid,” points out Dr Aimer.

Take note that enzyme-based products could have enzymes as the main ingredient or also formulations that combine these with acids and other exfoliating ingredients for a more effective result for the skin. So if you’re ready to try these out…

Here are our picks of enzyme-based skincare products that you can try:

1. Wishful Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub


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One of the more popular enzyme scrubs out there, this gentle, yet powerful exfoliating scrub is infused with a combination of pineapple and papaya enzymes that gives smoother, glowing skin in seconds. The scrub consists of a combination of fruit extracts, acids, and soft exfoliants, and its lightweight, milky texture gently buffs away dead skin cells and impurities for visibly radiant skin. 

2. Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant Face Scrub

A rice-based powder exfoliating scrub, this activates upon contact with water, releasing papain, salicylic acid and rice enzymes to polish the skin by removing dulling surface debris. A skin brightening complex of phytic acid from rice bran, white tea and licorice also helps balance uneven skin tone while a blend of colloidal oatmeal and allantoin helps calm the skin. 

3. Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser

Another powder-based cleanser, this is a 2-in-1 cleansing foam and exfoliator that deeply but gently cleanses. When mixed with water, the fine-grained powder transforms into a soft foam. A collection of enzymes works together to remove dry and dead skin, makeup, pollution and other impurities from pores leaving it revitalized, deeply cleansed and smooth. It is ideal for oily and combination skin and helps clear out blackheads as well.

4. ZO Skin Health Enzymatic Peel

This peel provides enzymatic exfoliation to remove dead skin cells and helps smooth uneven, rough textured skin, reduce flakiness, revive dull-looking skin, improve visible signs of sun damage and also replenish moisture within the stratum corneum, i.e., the outermost layer of the skin. Papain and bromelain enzymes and glycolic acid (AHA) provide enzymatic and chemical exfoliation to remove dead skin cells, while diglycerin, kukui seed oil and safflower seed oil replenish hydration and lipids for skin barrier restoration and reinforcement.

5. iSClinical Warming Honey Cleanser


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A luxurious warming face cleanser, formulated with pure honey, royal jelly, and propolis, it effectively cleanses and gently exfoliates the skin. Specially formulated with green tea extract and papaya enzymes, this cleanser helps nourish and boost exfoliation, leaving the skin looking and feeling smooth with a single warming face wash. 

6. Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel


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This non-abrasive cream exfoliator is infused with natural fruit enzymes to gently smooth and clarify tired, lacklustre skin. This rinse-off exfoliator gently dissolves dead skin cells without abrasion. Infused with the natural enzymes from Papaya and Pineapple, the mild cream formula purifies and protects whilst leaving skin looking and feeling smooth, revitalised and radiant.

7. Aminu Vit B Enzyme Scrub for Sensitive Skin



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A potent blend of nourishing micro-nutrient complex, minerals, AHA-rich caviar, lime and resurfacing papaya and pineapple enzymes, and natural silica grains work together to visibly brighten skin, correct uneven skin tone, and clear clogged pores. Vitamin B acts as an anti-inflammatory, skin-brightening, and energising agent, and aids the healing process of the skin. 

8. Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel


A refreshing, deep cleansing face wash for oily and combination skin types, this face cleanser is infused with papaya and grapefruit. It helps remove excess oil, does away with dulling surface impurities, and leaves your skin looking bright and fresh. For an exfoliating, deeply purifying effect, you can also leave the cleansing gel on as a face mask for 1-5 minutes before rinsing it off. 

Looking to read up more on how to decongest your skin? Then maybe read this article we did on grime-extracting products to unclog your pores.

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