Gentle Exfoliation For Sensitive Skin

Generally, I avoid harsh acids like the plague. My sensitive, frail skin time and again has been burned and sensitized by strong acids so I typically opt for physical exfoliants, like this one from Tammy Fender (LOVE) or the Ayuna Essence (which I review down below). BUT last night, fed up with the persistent little clogged bumps on my cheeks and forehead, I decided to give the AHA/BHA REN Ready, Steady, Glow AHA Daily Toner a go (gasp!).

At first, I was scared, fearing the worst. The REN toner is the type of product, usually sent to me by a PR rep, that sits and collects dust in my bathroom cabinet never to see the light of day. But reading up on the product ingredients piqued my curiosity. While the ingredient list reads like a tongue twister, most of the ingredients are surprisingly naturally derived. And there are no harmful ingredients, like parabens, petrochemicals, sulfates, synthetic colors, synthetic fragrances, synthetic AHA/BHAs or phthalates.

So, after seeing this I decided to give it a go.

I first used the Ayuna Essence exfoliating gommage peel and followed it with the REN Ready, Steady Glow toner. The results: I woke up the next morning with the SMOOTHEST skin ever. No irritation, no redness, no inflammation breakouts, nothing – except smooth, bright, decongested skin. I’m still stunned, but also ready to recommend this exfoliating duo to all my sensitive skinned ladies out there!

Read on below for my in-depth review of the Ayuna Essence and the REN Ready, Steady, Glow Daily AHA Toner.

Ayuna Essence

What is it: An exfoliating gommage used without water to remove dead skin cells and refine skin texture

Best for:
Rough texture, dull, dry skin

Skin type: Normal, combination – not for super sensitive skin 

Ingredients: Lemon fruit water*, Olive fruit oil*, cellulose, Oleic Erucate, Glutamic acid, propandiel, Behenyl alcohol, Glyceryl stearate, Water, Aspartic Acid, Lactobacillus ferment**, sodium hydroxide, sodium steroyl, glutamate, gluconolactone, squalene, glycerin, lactobacillus**, sodium levulinate, soybean oil, fragrance***, sodium anisate**, xantha gum, citric acid, coconut fruit extract**, tocopherol, beta-sitosterol, squalene.*52 percent of Organic ingredients, **Natural and Probiotic Preservatives, ***Natural Essential Oil-based Fragrance (Gurjum Balsam, Holy Wood, Myrrh, Chamomile, Rosemary, Buchu)

How to use: This exfoliating gommage peel applies as a creamy paste. Wait 2-5 minutes, then gently rub/massage product in a circular motion causing the product to roll off the skin and release an oil finish.

Review: I waited too long to remove this mask – 10 minutes or so. This caused the mask to dry too much, which made it very difficult to rub off. I ended up having to wash the remaining off with water.

As I massaged the mask off, the micro-granule feel created a fine abrasion stimulating blood flow to my skin. My cheeks turned a little pink from all the rubbing. A small amount of oil was left on my skin after I finished rubbing the peel off.  My skin was smooth, silky, and decongested skin immediately after using!

While I loved the results after one use, one thing to note about this product is that it contains sodium hydroxide; this ingredient in high concentrations has been found to be a skin sensitizer. I personally, did not experience any sensitization from using this product one time, but I would be sure to use this product sparingly (no more than 1x a week) to make sure you don’t over sensitize your skin. This ingredient kind of reminds me of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), another popular skincare ingredient that is highly alkaline, like sodium hydroxide, and used as an exfoliant in skincare masks, like May Lindstrom’s The Clean Dirt. Both ingredients if used too frequently, can dry out and sensitize the skin.

Overall, I liked this exfoliant, but while it worked really well for me this one time, I have to tread lightly with alkaline ingredients like sodium hydroxide. And the price does seem a tad painful.

Texture: Applies creamy, paste-like; dries to a tacky rubber

Scent: Subtle herbal scent, barely noticeable

Available here.


REN Ready, Steady Glow AHA Daily Toner 

What is it: A daily AHA/BHA exfoliating, brightening toner

Best for: Sensitive, congested, acne-prone, skin

Skin type: All skin types

– Aqua (Water)

Sodium Lactate: fermented lactic acid

– Lactic Acid: alpha hydroxy acid, promotes cell turnover, derived from milk, plants

Heptyl Glucoside: sugar derived surfactant that cleanses skin and also reduces inflammation and itchiness.

Potassium Azeloyl Diglycinate: derived from azelaic acid, AA is found in grains and produced by yeast, brightens skin tone, antioxidant, reduces production of keratin, reduces inflammation.

Triethyl Citrate: citric acid – found commonly in citrus fruits, provides gentle cell turnover

Glyceryl Caprylate: derived from vegetable oils, like coconut

– Salix Nigra (Willow) Bark Extract: BHA

Benzoic Acid: derived from berries, pH adjuster and preservative

– Mandarin Peel Oil, Orange Flower Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Tangerine Peel Oil

– Heptanol: exfoliating, brightening benefits

– Parfum* (Fragrance): non synthetic fragrance

How to use: After cleansing, saturate a cotton pad and swipe across skin. Follow with hydrating components of skincare routine.

Review: This review may be a tad premature, since it takes about 30-days to see the true benefits of exfoliating/brightening acids, BUT I just couldn’t help myself. I used this toner last night and am so impressed by (a) the fact that my uber sensitive skin tolerated it and (b) my skin appeared less congested the next morning!

This is the first acid toner I’ve been able to use in YEARS that hasn’t broken me out or irritated my skin!!! (Jumping for joy!)

The scent is a tad strong, but I don’t mind the citrus oils; they help promote brightening and cell turnover, so I’m okay with them.

I’m also very impressed by the ingredients in this toner! It’s nontoxic and safe for sensitive skin! Winner in my book.

The product says that you can use this morning and night, but I’m starting out slowly and just using it at night.

Texture: Liquid

Scent: Strong citrus scent

Available here.

Written & Photographed by Amy Chang, founder + editor