A while back I started noticing that some big name beauty vloggers like Jaclyn Hill, James Charles, and Desi Perkins were all using products from a brand I was unfamiliar with, Sanitas Skincare. They all said that Sanitas came highly recommended to them by their estheticians, so I was interested in giving them a try.
Their best selling and highest rated product are the Brightening Peel Pads. These pads are a twice-weekly treatment meant to tone and smooth your skin’s texture all while clearing pores of bacteria and impurities. The blend of alpha hydroxy acids claims to exfoliate dead skin cells and encourage cell renewal to correct damage and prevent future acne from forming. Here’s what I thought and what the science says:
Lactic and Glycolic Acid
Glycolic acid is the most common of all the alpha hydroxy acids. Glycolic acid peels advance desquamation and thinning of the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of the skin). By exfoliating the top layer of the skin, glycolic acid peels smooth the skin, quicken the rate of cell turnover (which is reduced by up to 7% every ten years), decrease small wrinkles, and increase the fibroblast proliferation of collagen.
Lactic acid, extracted from milk but usually found in synthetic form in most cosmetics, is another popular AHA, but unlike glycolic acid, it is primarily used in out-of-office treatments. One source of lactic acid is in LacHydrin, a prescription drug FDA approved to treat (surprise!) dry skin, not signs of aging, although the latter is also assisted with LacHydrin use. The fact that LacHydrin does both makes it an excellent recommendation for post-menopausal women, who often experience dry skin and signs of aging. For anti-aging treatments, glycolic acid is usually preferred to lactic acid because it has a smaller molecular structure, which allows it to easily and efficiently penetrate the skin, and also because glycolic acid increases the thickness and firmness of the skin, but lactic acid does not.
Despite popular belief, it seems that lactic acid and glycolic acid do not cause skin dryness or irritation; rather, it is often the formulation (i.e., the other ingredients) of the AHA treatment that is the source of discomfort, as found in a previously mentioned study by Yu et. al. A second Baumann-cited study found that transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is not altered by application of AHAs. In fact, AHAs are humectants that increase the ability of the skin to hold onto water, as evidenced by the fact that lactic acid is the main ingredient in LacHydrin, an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of dry skin. One probable reason AHAs are commonly blamed for dry skin and irritation is that stronger peels, such as the deep phenol or medium depth trichloracetic acid (TCA) peels, often cause skin sensitivity and irritation. However, typical strength glycolic and lactic acid peels are actually considered “superficial,” usually without many of the side effects of medium and deep strength or laser treatments.
Salicyclic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that is used to cleanse and exfoliate the skin. According to Dr. Heather Brannon, M.D., a family-practice physician with a specialty in dermatology, salicylic acid is also reported to improve signs of aging including wrinkling, roughness, and mottled pigmentation of photodamaged skin with at least 6 months of daily application.
According to DermNetNZ, salicylic acid works by softening keratin, a protein that forms part of the skin structure. This helps to loosen dry, scaly skin, increasing cell turnover and effectively renewing the skin. It is often used in acne treatments to cleanse and to prevent clogging of the pores.
When salicylic acid is used in combination with other treatments, it is often to allow the other formulation’s ingredients to penetrate the skin more effectively.
Hamamelis Virginiana, better known as witch hazel, is a plant found in North America that has been traditionally used to soothe skin irritation and inflammation (Mosby’s Handbook of Herbal and Natural Supplements). It’s got a lot of anti-abilities: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antioxidant. It’s also been shown in studies with animals to have a vasoconstrictive effect, making it beneficial to people with varicose veins (Archives of Dermatology). It is anti-inflammatory because it contains tannins, which has astringent properties and binds and precipitates proteins (NYU Medical Center, Cornell University). The tannins are removed in the distillation process for commercially available witch hazel extract, but it’s still believed to have soothing properties.
In a double-blind study with 41 people, researchers found that a 10% solution of distilled witch hazel helped to treat inflammation in UV-erythema. However, it wasn’t as effective as 1% hydrocortisone (Journal of the German Society of Dermatology). Another study testing UVB-erythema when included in an after-sun lotion found similar results (Dermatology). And the proanthocyanidins in it were found to have soothing and anti-inflammatory effects, while also reducing transepidermal water loss (Phytochemistry). In studies with rats, it’s been shown to reduce adjuvant-induced paw swelling (Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology). And other studies have found a reason to think that witch hazel might help atopic dermatitis (Archives of Dermatology).
And in a comparison study with 28 other herbs and plant extracts, witch hazel was found to have the best free-radical scavenger products against the cytotoxicant peroxynitrite (Phytotherapy Research). In studies on mouse skin, it was found to have antioxidant effects (Journal of Inflammation). One study done in vitro hypothesized that witch hazel polyphenols work with cells in a very particular way as an antioxidant. By creating prooxidative challenges, the extract causes an endogenous detoxifying reaction (Chemical Research in Toxicology). So, the tannins essentially kickstart your internal detoxifying system. Still, some studies suggest witch hazel is not the most effective antioxidant out there, saying green tea extract, for example, is better (Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry).
I can understand why the Brightening Peel Pads from Sanitas Skincare come so highly recommended by skincare professionals — they really get the job done! I use these pads twice weekly and there is a noticeable difference in the texture of my skin. They irritated my skin a bit initially but with continued use and a heavy moisturizer that went away fairly quickly. I would definitely recommend this to those who are struggling with texture.