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We’d wager you’re already pretty familiar with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) – two key exfoliating ingredients in your skincare regimen – but just how well do you know enzymes? These naturally sourced ingredients are superheroes when it comes to polishing, brightening, and generally making your skin glowy AF, and that’s why they’re one of the key ingredients in our new WISHFUL Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub. To fill you in on everything you need to know about enzymes, we reached out to a few skincare pros who agree this ingredient deserves all the heart-eye emojis.

What Are Enzymes?

Not to induce high school science flashbacks but, before we can talk enzyme benefits, let’s first outline what enzymes are and how they function. In short, the enzymes found in skincare products are a type of protein that causes an exfoliating chemical reaction when applied to the skin.

“Enzymes are designed to work on both the outside and the inside of a cell in order to produce more positively functioning cells. Each enzyme is a protein that signals the cell as a whole to work better, repair damage, and create new tissue,” says Dr. Harold Lancer, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Lancer Skincare.

Basically, you can think of enzymes as little protein dudes with walkie talkies sending orders to your skin cells to work harder. They also help break down (aka exfoliate) the top layer of your skin to reveal the “new,” healthier-looking skin underneath.

Where Do Enzymes Come From?

Our body naturally makes enzymes to serve a variety of needs (like digesting food). However, when it comes to skincare products, enzymes are usually derived from plant sources.

“The most commonly used enzymes in skincare come from bromelain (pineapple extract), papain (papaya extract), ficin (fig extract), and actinidin (kiwi, mango, banana, and papaya extracts),” says Lindsay Malachowski, an esthetician and the director of operations at Skinney Medspa. Pumpkin – via lactobacillus/pumpkin ferment extract – is another common source for enzymes and is found in many exfoliating skincare products. In our Yo Gl0w Enzyme Scrub, we use bromelain and papain.

What Enzymes Do For Your Skin

In short: enzymes are rockstar exfoliants. Incorporating them into your skincare routine is a gentle and effective way to give dead skin cells the boot while promoting new cell regeneration.

“Gentle enzymatic exfoliation brightens the skin, increases collagen production to fill fine lines and wrinkles, and helps reduce the appearance of brown spots, with minimal risk of inflammation and redness,” says Dr. Ted Lain, a board-certified dermatologist and the chief medical officer of Sanova Dermatology. He adds that because enzymes offer such a gentle approach to exfoliation (versus physical exfoliants which can sometimes be too aggressive), this ingredient is ideal for all skin types – even those with rosacea or otherwise sensitive skin.

How to Use Enzyme Skincare Products

As always make sure you check the labels and do your research before buying or slathering on enzymes. “Many products claim to encompass enzymes when they often do not,” says Dr. Lancer. “These poorly manufactured products advertise enzyme activity but having enzymes of poor quality is synonymous with not having any enzymes at all.” No use in spending your bread on something that isn’t going to work.

On the other hand, some enzymatic skincare products are really strong. This means you get a more robust exfoliating experience, but it also means you need to be wary and follow application instructions to avoid over-exfoliating. Malachowski says, “When introducing enzyme products into the skin, one to two times per week is sufficient. Also, be mindful to not over-irritate the skin with other exfoliants, such as retinols or scrubs.”

Expert-Approved Enzyme Products to Try

If you’re keen on incorporating enzymes into your regimen, try these:

1. Mario Badescu Enzyme Cleansing Gel, $14

enzyme skincare products

This best-selling product from Mario Badescu utilizes papaya and grapefruit extracts to gently sweep away impurities and dead skin cells. It’s gentle enough to be used once daily, or you can alternate it with another cleanser if you prefer.

2. WISHFUL Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub, $39

WISHFUL Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub

Yo Glow Enzyme Scrub is a gentle yet powerful exfoliating scrub infused with a combination of pineapple and papaya enzymes, and BHAs and AHAs that leave the skin with a healthy glow. Use it just one to two times per week to see a noticeable difference in weeks.

3. Savor Beauty Pumpkin Enzyme Peel with Lactic Acid, $80

enzyme skincare products

This once-weekly (or bi-monthly) peel treatment is no joke, and the perfect pick-me-up before an event or special night out. It combines lactic acid (an AHA) and pumpkin enzymes to soften, tone, and brighten your complexion. It feels a little tingly once applied (that’s the enzymes and AHAs working their magic) and leaves skin noticeably glowy.