There’s a fine, fine line between effective exfoliation and too much exfoliation. (Finer than the fine lines that we’re trying to minimize here.) Finding that line can be a challenge, since it’s so fine and its location varies so much from person to person.
Some people do best with little to no exfoliation. Others like to use multiple acids, use them often, and see a lot of success. My friends Tracy from Fanserviced-B and Kerry from Skin and Tonics come to mind. Yet others can’t handle that but want a bit more than the minimum. (Me.) If you’re looking for a milder alternative to common chemical exfoliants, polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) might be right up your alley. Let’s check out my personal introduction to these so-called next-gen AHAs: Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream!
The product featured in this post was provided for my consideration by a Fifty Shades of Snail sponsor.
PHA 101; PHAs vs AHAs
PHAs have been touted as “the next generation of alpha hydroxy acids.” The effects of properly formulated PHA products are similar to those of comparable AHAs: improved skin texture, tone, clarity, and firmness, and reduction in hyperpigmentation and other visible signs of UV damage.
The key difference between PHAs and AHAs lies in the molecule size. PHA molecules are substantially larger than AHA molecules, which means that they penetrate more slowly and less deeply than AHAs. (Don’t even think about making a dirty joke here.) The slower and more shallow penetrationehehehe reduces the potential for irritation, but it also means that PHAs are more effective at surface issues like fine lines and hyperpigmentation, while AHAs are slightly better for deeper issues like firmness, according to a 12-week study referenced in a 2004 paper. PHAs are also more humectant than AHAs, making them possibly more beneficial for dry and/or dehydrated skin.
The 2004 paper I referenced above also claims PHAs are “compatible with sensitive skin conditions such as rosacea and atopic dermatitis,” but I am not giving medical advice, so I will leave that between you and your dermatologist.
What I do find especially promising are claims from multiple sources that PHAs are particularly compatible with skincare routines containing retinoids like my beloved Curology tretinoin. I’ve cut way back on my AHA usage to prevent thinning out my skin too much, so I was excited to try a product that might let me get a little more regular exfoliation into my routine without going over the top.
Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream Review
The PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream came to me in a big box of products I agreed to accept from Swanicoco last fall. I’ve had this product in my routine for about two and a half months now.
Purpose: Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream is a chemical exfoliant that claims to gently smooth skin texture and brighten skin tone.
Best suited for: Normal, dry, and/or sensitive skin types.
Do not use if: You are sensitive to fatty alcohols, vitamin E, stearic acid, or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: At the last or second-to-last step of your evening skincare routine, apply a thin layer of product. Gently massage into skin and let dry fully. Do not rinse off. (Need help putting your products in order? Read this post!) And make sure to use sunscreen during the day to prevent additional UV damage from the potential photosensitizing effects of the exfoliation.
Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream ingredients: Vaccinium angustifolium (blueberry) fruit extract, gluconolactone, glycerin, caprylic/capric triglyceride, niacinamide, 1,2-hexanediol, neopentyl glycol diheptanoate, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, cetyl alcohol, potassium hydroxide, lactobionic acid, hydroxypropyl bispalmitamide MEA, stearic acid, behenyl alcohol, sorbitan sesquioleate, tocopherol, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) water, centella asiatica extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, juglans regia (walnut) seed extract, allantoin, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, polyacrylate-13, polyisobutene, polysorbate 20, polyacrylamide, C13-14 isoparaffin, laureth-7, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, macadamia integrifolia seed oil, argania spinosa kernel oil, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, pelargonium graveolens oil, rosa damascena flower oil
Notable ingredients: The key exfoliator in the Coco Peeling Cream is gluconolactone, but it also contains lactobionic acid, another PHA that one study compared to glycolic acid and found gentler and safer for skin overall. The 10% PHA concentration is within the range I’ve seen used in various studies of PHA effectiveness as a skincare ingredient, so that’s good.
I haven’t found any specific and credible sources for the effective pH range of PHAs, but since they are so similar to AHAs, I’m guessing that the pH range should be fairly close. The pH of this cream, according to my strips, is just a titch over 4, so it should be able to work without being too extra for exfoliation-sensitive skin.
Besides the exfoliants, which also have antioxidant properties, this cream contains the usual mix of antioxidant/anti-inflammatory extracts. I appreciate that its base is an extract rather than plain water. Even if the extract is fairly weak, it’s still possibly a little more beneficial than water alone.
Vitamin E is known to be quite comedogenic for some people, so if you have a sensitivity to it, definitely patch test first. I doubt there’s much in the cream, but better safe than broken out and angry, right?
Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream is a soft, thin cream with a very faint fresh/citrusy(?) scent and a hint of the stretchy-chewy texture that I associate with snail creams.
The feel of the cream when applied is interesting. It starts out soft but stiffens up slightly as it’s spread out, leading to a little bit of drag on my skin if I’m applying a very small amount and requiring me to use more cream than I need to if I want to avoid the drag. I don’t worry that much about rubbing and tugging causing premature wrinkles, but I do prefer products that apply more smoothly.
I also prefer products that dry down well. The Coco Peeling Cream dries to a shiny finish, but without any oily or heavy feel. It can be sticky, however. Kevin, my friendly and handsome Swanicoco contact who has great skin, advises massaging the product in thoroughly to reduce the sticky finish. This does work but is more labor-intensive than my lazy self enjoys. Instead, I generally let my Coco Peeling layer dry and absorb for about 30 minutes, then add a very thin layer of a super lightweight moisturizer on top. (The best one in my stash for this is Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream.) The final layer kills off any stickiness completely.
The other reason I prefer to add a final moisturizing layer after the PHA cream is because I don’t always find the Coco Peeling Cream moisturizing enough for my (mostly normal but sometimes skews dry) skin on its own. I think this could work as a standalone moisturizing step for fully normal or oilier skin types, but my skin often felt as if it needed something more after a couple of hours. Kevin did point out that emulsion can be used under the cream, but I’d rather save the moisturizers for after an active.
Kevin’s recommendation for pre-PHA steps were a first essence, toner, and emulsion. He suggested that too many layers under the Coco Peeling Cream could interfere with penetration, which makes sense. My routines are generally more elaborate, but my sheet masks after serums tend to leave the surface of my skin feeling quite bare, and I had no issues applying this product as a post-sheet mask step.
But does it exfoliate?
Because I can be a little too enthusiastic with actives, near the beginning of my time with the Coco Peeling Cream, I spent a week using it every single night. For my skin, this was apparently not the smart thing to do. I do dumb stuff so you won’t. My neck definitely showed the effects of overexfoliation, and my face started to take on that thin and glassy look. Take things slow with this and any other chemical exfoliant, please. While my skin is a little more prone to overexfoliation thanks to daily tretinoin, it is something we should all try to avoid.
So, yeah, anyway, it exfoliates! It exfoliates more than I thought it would, clearly!
My sweet spot with this product is every other night. At that frequency, I found the Coco Peeling Cream kept my skin soft and smooth and noticeably increased my skin tone’s evenness and brightness after a few weeks. I also had a moderate amount of grits falling out of my face on a regular basis, indicating that the Coco Peeling Cream was keeping my pores clear even in the absence of other exfoliation. After a few weeks, I did add my COSRX BHA back in on my T-zone only to deal with stubborn nose pore issues, but for AHA-like effects, I was very pleased with the Swanicoco PHA cream.
The one major gripe I have with the Coco Peeling Cream is the fact that it’s a cream. I like my actives in liquid or serum form so that I can apply them as close to bare skin/as early in my routine as possible. Applying an exfoliant as the last step feels counterintuitive to me, like drinking cold soup or wearing fingerless gloves. Still, people seem to like gazpacho and fingerless gloves, and the cream format of this exfoliant didn’t prevent it from working, so ultimately, that’s fine.
I had some minor complaints with the consistency, feel, and finish of the product, but none with its effectiveness. For me, Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream does what it’s supposed to do and does it more than I thought it would, considering how much the mildness of PHAs is played up compared to AHAs. I’m happy with it and will keep it in my stash until I’ve scraped out the last drop.
1 – This should be taken off the market, or this failed at its one primary job.
2 – Caused me some problems or doesn’t work very well; would not buy again.
3 – Meh. Neither great nor bad.
4 – Pretty good. Worth rebuying.
5 – I’ll never be in the market for a replacement unless this one is discontinued.
Where can I buy Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream?
Swanicoco PHA 10% Coco Peeling Cream is currently available at KoreaDepart. I’m also keeping an eye out for this product and will update if it becomes available at more retailers I’m familiar with!
Intrigued by chemical exfoliation? Check out my other acid reviews here.