Physical vs. Chemical Exfoliants: Which is Right for You?

By - Stormie McNeal


Beautiful Woman

Exfoliation is beneficial to your skin health; without it, your skin becomes dull and traps bacteria in your pores. The cell regeneration process slows down as you age, so it becomes more important to exfoliate as you age. On top of that, removing dead skin means your other skincare products are more effective without a layer of grime and dead skin cells.

But which exfoliants are best for your skin?

There are two main types of exfoliants; physical and chemical. Physical exfoliants use the abrasion of physical objects like sugar, coffee grounds, or plastic beads to break up dead skin. Chemical exfoliants, however, loosen the bond of the dead skin cells that cling to your face. Both are accessible options, with many brands of each variety available at any retailer that sells skincare products.


In this article, we explore the science behind both options to equip you with what you need to decide what is best for your skin type and lifestyle.


Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliants work by breaking up dead skin cells by force. These are most commonly found as sugar scrubs, lotion or soap with plastic beads, and homemade remedies such as coffee grounds. However, not all physical exfoliants on the shelf are good for skin health.


When choosing a physical exfoliant, be sure to avoid products with big exfoliators, such as fruit pits and sugar scrubs. These bigger exfoliants are sharp and cause microtears in healthy skin, which can lead to bacterial issues. The infamous St. Ives brand primarily uses peach and apricot. And many other brands use sugar scrubs as a 'natural' exfoliant. However, you're better off using Skinceuticals's Micro-Exfoliating Scrub, which features diatomaceous earth. It's a natural exfoliant that will gently buff away dead skin cells without damaging the living layer.


Chemical Exfoliants

Although the idea of chemical exfoliants can sound scary, they simply weaken the bond dead skin has on your face. Often the chemical used comes in the form of different acids or enzymes. Retinol, which is often used in anti-aging skincare, also works this way. BHA (beta hydroxy acid) is also a common chemical exfoliator.

When you choose a chemical exfoliant, be sure to check for moisturizing properties. Some common chemical exfoliators can be drying. However, many brands use other chemicals or a form of moisturizer to compensate. Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant features the aforementioned BHA and has salicylic acid, which unclogs pores and is common in acne-treating skincare.


What's Best For Your Skin?

One method is not better than the other. However, one or even a combination of both options might be what's best for you and your skin type.

How often do you keep up with your routine when it comes to skincare? Do you forget you ever started one? Are you busy, maybe traveling for work, so bringing extensive care routines is hard to justify? Then, consider physical exfoliants, which are recommended to only be used once to twice a week maximum.

Physical exfoliants are also better for those with dry or flakey skin who can't risk soaking up the little bit of moisture they so desperately need.

On the other hand, what if you have a consistent skincare routine? Do you participate in skincare daily? Then checking out a chemical exfoliant might be best; most are approved for daily or twice-daily use. On top of that, if your skin is overly oily or you are prone to acne, chemical exfoliants can knock out two birds with one sone for you.

What if your skin is both oily but also flakey? Combination skin types are very common and have a simple solution; using both. Using a chemical exfoliant daily (or as recommended) and using the physical exfoliant when visible build-up in problem areas is recommended.

In the end, what exfoliant you use is truly up to you and your unique lifestyle and skin type. What works for your sister or closest friend might not be what works best for you. Overall, it's your skin, and only you know what is best to make it look fabulous and let your true beauty shine.

153 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All