I’m a Bride-To-Be and a Beauty Editor, and This $24 Gentle Exfoliant Has Become a Go-To for My Pre-Wedding Glow

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My entire personality for the year 2024 is being a beauty-editor bride. One of the first things I did after getting engaged was book a dermatologist appointment—a full year before my wedding—to figure out what I needed to do to get my skin in tip-top shape for the big day. The doctor prescribed me tretinoin and a pro-grade brightening serum to help with the stubborn acne scarring that even the best OTC products haven't been able to fade, and made me promise that while I was working with such power-packed actives, I'd keep the rest of my routine gentle. I thought that meant that exfoliation until I was a newlywed, but then, I discovered the new Three Ships Fresh Start Resurfacing Treatment ($24).

Three Ships Fresh Start Lime Pearl + Prickly Pear 5% PHA Resurfacing Treatment — $24.00

Key ingredients: Prickly pear PHAs, lime pearl AHAs, aloe vera


  • Affordable
  • Derm-tested and approved
  • Gently brightens and exfoliates without stripping skin
  • Supports the skin barrier
  • Vegan, cruelty-free, and EWG-certified


  • Some reviews complain of the pump/packaging not working over time

Experts In This Article

Why "gentle" exfoliation?

Exfoliation is an important part of any skincare routine (which is why I was admittedly stressed about ditching it for an entire year), because it helps slough dead skin cells from the surface of your skin to make way for fresh, healthy ones to emerge. The practice offers a whole host of benefits—including boosting collagen production, improving skin tone and texture, unclogging pores, and brightening dull skin—but only if you strike the perfect balance of doing it right. Too much exfoliation can strip your skin skin barrier and heightening your risk of breakouts and irritation, which is why keeping things gentle is tantamount.

While physical exfoliation (AKA, what you get when sloughing your skin with a gritty scrub) tends to be more aggressive, chemical exfoliation (which involves using hydroxy acids to melt away dead skin cells) gives you a bit more control over the intensity. There's an entire spectrum of chemically exfoliating acids, from hardcore glycolic acid to gentle-yet-effective lactic acid, which means you've got options when it comes to choosing what's right for your individual complexion.

Right now, my pre-wedding skin and I are living by my dermatologist's edict of "the gentler, the better," which is where Three Ships Fresh Start Lime Pearl + Prickly Pear 5% PHA Resurfacing Treatment comes in.

What is the Three Ships Fresh Start Resurfacing Treatment?

The treatment's star ingredient is a 5 percent concentration of polyhydroxy acid (PHA), which is a dream ingredient for those (like me!) who are looking for an exfoliant that packs a solid punch without irritating your skin.

As you probably guessed, PHAs are part of the hydroxy acid family but are much gentler than the alpha- and beta-hydroxy varieties you find in most exfoliating products and a great option for anyone who's looking for a sloughing routine that won't cause sensitivities.

"Polyhydroxy acids are humectants and antioxidants. They attract moisture to the skin, so they tend to be less irritating than AHAs or BHAs," says board-certified dermatologist Jeaneen Chappell, MD, FAAD, in Dallas. "PHAs would be a great alternative for someone with sensitive skin or skin prone to drying out easily. I suggest trying this product as part of an acne or anti-aging regimen."

The formula pairs its PHAs with lime pearl extract, which contains citric acid that functions as another gentle exfoliant. This ingredient is known for its brightening and skin tone-evening abilities. Like PHAs, lime pearls also offer antioxidant protection and hydration, and also come along with anti-inflammatory benefits that can help counteract any potential irritation that comes along with its exfoliating ones (though it's worth reiterating that because it's super gentle, it's unlikely that this will happen).

Also in the mix is aloe vera, one of the skincare world's most beloved soothing ingredients (there's a reason it's a post-sunburn staple), and prickly pear extract, which is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids. "The extract contains a lot of vitamin E, oleic acid, and linoleic acid, which have anti-inflammatory properties and do not clog pores, or cause acne, making it a great ingredient for acne-prone skin," says board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, Purvisha Patel, MD. "The fruit also has a lot of vitamin B, beta carotene, and iron."

My honest thoughts

The Three Ships Fresh Start Treatment is an exfoliating toner, which means it has a watery texture, is meant to be applied with a cotton pad, and serves double duty as both a second cleanse and an active treatment. "Exfoliating acid-based toners are a smart method of removing dead skin cells and sloughing the superficial layers of the skin," says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. "Regular use can improve the texture of the skin and diminish hyperpigmentation [and] they offer a secondary level of cleaning that may not be achieved by basic cleansers for those who may need deeper removal of debris, such as people who wear heavy makeup."

The formula has absolutely zero fragrance—which is yet another check in the "pros" column" for those with sensitive skin—and I've been using it on my non-tretinoin nights for a week and a half.

As someone whose skin skews dry, I was initially a bit nervous that an exfoliant that targets oily and combination complexions would leave me parched. However, I've been pleasantly surprised after each application to find that my skin doesn't feel stripped at all—just hydrated and slightly dewy.

After six uses, my complexion looks notably brighter—in the past week, I've had three people (all beauty editors!) ask me what I changed in my routine. And while I'm sure the derm-prescribed products play a role, they've been around for months... and nobody's made a single comment until I added this $24 treatment into the mix.

Needless to say, my job as a beauty editor bride has made me extremely discerning about what I'm putting on my face these days, but I have full confidence that the Three Ships Fresh Start Resurfacing Treatment will be a staple in my regimen long after the honeymoon phase is over.

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