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 • Skincare  • Skincare Reviews  • Why This Beauty Editor Will Now Only Use This PHA Exfoliator 

Why This Beauty Editor Will Now Only Use This PHA Exfoliator 

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Image – Courtesy of writer

In my opinion, there is no better time to test a skincare product than the morning of your hair appointment. All those hours, sitting in front of a mirror, with not much else to look at but your own reflection. Whether you like yours or not, you have very little choice in the matter. So, you may as well put that time to good use.

My most recent appointment was for a full head of highlights, followed by a wash, trim and blow dry. That’s a good three hours of mirror time. 


Image – REN


So, the morning of my appointment I decided to give the new REN Skincare Radiance PHA Exfoliating Facial (£34 from Boots UK /$44 from REN US) a try.  All this bonding time with my own reflection would at least give me a good idea of how the product made my skin (and makeup) behave during the day. (If I hated it, this would be an uncomfortable three hours.)

REN has always been one of my favourite skincare brands. Their clean formulas, savvy attitude towards sustainability and mid-range price tags massively appeal to me and, most importantly, my sometimes-reactive skin has always taken well to the products.

But did this product break my lucky streak? Keep scrolling to find out.


The formula

New to shop shelves, Ren Skincare PHA Exfoliating Facial is a naturally derived triple action PHA (polyhydroxy acid) exfoliator, for all skin types – even the most sensitive (since PHAs are one of the most gentle skincare acids).

The idea is that you work it into damp skin then leave it on for two minutes to allow the natural goodness sink in. The result should be a smoother, brighter, more refined complexion.


Image – REN


On paper, this 2-minute facial is right up my street. It’s a gentle cream texture which promises not to strip or dry out the skin whilst still containing a powerful cocktail of naturally derived PHA, pomegranate enzymes and pomegranate powder.

A gentle exfoliator that doesn’t strip or dry out the skin? I’d heard it all before. 



The first thing you notice when you apply it to your skin is the zingy scent. That’ll be the pomegranate then. It’s not overbearing, just refreshing and like something you would actually want to put on your face.

Next, it’s the smoothness of the cream you notice, which might seem an odd thing to say since it’s full of exfoliating particles. But you can instantly tell this product is going to feel good on your skin and be anything but abrasive. The particles feel gritty enough that you know your skin will be nicely refined, but not so gritty that they feel scratchy and uncomfortable. 

The instructions say to apply it to damp skin, so I washed my face with my daily cleanser and just patted my face dry briefly. I squeezed out a pea-sized blob of the exfoliator and rubbed it between my fingers before applying it in circular motions (as instructed) on my skin. It spread around my skin beautifully and there wasn’t any need to rub it or add any more product.


our fRENds ? #PHA Exfoliating Facial ? #polyhydroxyacid #chemicalexfoliation #sensitiveskin #renskincare

? original sound – Dexter Carr

My skin type is usually oily but my under-eye area is particularly sensitive at the moment as I’ve just started using retinol again after a six-month break. I’ve already noticed my under-eye area reacting slightly to the retinol (it stings a little after use and temporarily goes a bit red) so I have to be weary of exfoliation for a while – even with the gentlest of products. 

Bearing this in mind, I was extra careful when applying the REN PHA Exfoliating Facial, particularly under my eyes. But I didn’t notice any irritation or redness and it didn’t sting at all. In fact, I didn’t flinch. It just felt normal and really comfortable.

The product leaves a white residue on your face, as if you’re wearing a mask, and after leaving it on for two minutes, I dutifully rinsed it off with warm water. I could instantly feel my skin was super soft and clean but above all, hydrated. 


My results

Don’t you just hate it when all you can think about after washing your face is how you can’t wait to slather your skin in moisturiser, just to get rid of that dry, tight feeling? Well, you don’t get that with this product. It selectively takes away all your dead skin and leaves all the good hydration behind. 

As I sat down in the salon chair later on, I knew right away that my skin looked more glowy than usual. Yes I had makeup on, yes the lighting was bright, yes I may have applied a little extra highlighter that morning. But when you know, you know.

Of course, any time you exfoliate your skin should look glowy afterwards, whether you use this product or not. But there’s glowy, and then there’s greasy-glowy. 

The difference with the REN product is that my skin hadn’t been left greasy. You know, from all the hydrating ingredients you usually have to compensate with after other exfoliators strip your skin of all its moisture. Mine was just glowy without the grease. And it didn’t look red under my eyes or feel irritated either. 


Image – Courtesy of writer


An hour later, still in front of the salon mirror, and my skin was lookin’ fly, even if I do say so myself. Rather than sit there and internally pick apart my complexion, I’d been sitting there just admiring it. 

My makeup had stayed put and my natural glow continued to radiate from within. Frankly, I was ready for the call from REN to sign me up as one of their ambassadors. (Still waiting. *Taps foot…*)

Ok, I know it’s not taxing sitting in a chair doing nothing – I wasn’t exactly putting my skin through its paces as I sat there discussing the latest goings on in Vanderpump Rules. But it felt like a small win not hating every minute of staring at all my skin’s flaws in the salon mirror for hours like I usually do. And the lack of stinging under my eyes had put me in a particularly good mood too.

Onto hour three and I hadn’t touched up my makeup or lost my glow. Perhaps it was my now fresh ‘do helping to give me rose tinted glasses. Or perhaps I’d finally found an exfoliator that’s the perfect match for my oily-sensitive skin. 


What other users are saying

Overall, this exfoliator seems to be a hit with other users too. “I’ve used this a few times now and it’s become a staple in my face routine. I love how gentle the exfoliation is for my sensitive skin. My skin feels smooth and glowy after every wash,” said user Ebony F on

‘Amazing product! My skin felt so clean and refreshed after using this. Definitely didn’t dry it out,” agreed Kirsty E in her review on


Overall value for money

At £34 though, this product isn’t one to buy on a whim or sneak into your shopping trolley unnoticed. For all its skin goodness and positive results though, I’d be happy to spend £34 on it. Any exfoliator under £10 has always been too scratchy for my skin and – until now – I’ve not found one between £10-£35 that ticks all of my boxes.


The takeaway 

If someone with oily skin and a touch of sensitivity like me finds this product beautifully hydrating and comfortable to wear, others with dry, sensitive or combination skin will no doubt feel the same. Use it 2-3 times a week and your skin will thank you for it. 

Its clean formula and fresh scent, not to mention the actual results, now have me questioning why I would bother using any other exfoliator ever again. In my opinion, you really can’t go wrong with REN. It’s my ‘if in doubt’ brand, and I can confirm that our lucky streak continues.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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