A Complete Guide To Exfoliating: Chemical and Physical

Exfoliating is a great step to incorporate into your skincare routine to help deep clean your pores and remove any dead skin for a more smoother and even tone complexion. However, it also important to keep in mind that over-exfoliating is also a thing or using an exfoliator that is not suitable for your skin type can end doing more harm than good.

I often receive a lot questions about exfoliating such as, why you should exfoliate? Or what’s the difference between the different types of chemical exfoliators? So I thought why not answer all those questions and help those who still aren’t sure about exfoliating.

Should I be using chemical or physical exfoliation?

I can’t exactly tell each person which and what is the best type of exfoliation method to use because everyone’s skin type is different and it also is your choice at the end of the day, as you would best know your skin’s unique needs. Personally, for me I’ve become a great fan of chemical exfoliators, I totally see the difference since leaving the physical world of exfoliating. What’s important is you need to consider any skin sensitivities before choosing between physical or chemical exfoliation, this will help you avoid any irritation.

Physical exfoliator: These are type of exfoliators that manually or physical buff away dead skin cells with the use of frictions. It’s using products that have a gritty texture or devices like facial brushes or gloves. Physical exfoliation can work for some people but for others it can be too abrasive. Professional skincare treatments like dermaplaning or microdermabrasion are considered types of physical exfoliation.

Chemical exfoliator: While on the other hand chemical means it contains active ingredients such as fruit acids or enzymes that work to unstick the cellular ‘glue’ that holds dead skin together on the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). The use of chemicals can come in various form of products such as cleansers, toners, serums or peels. If you haven’t introduced chemical exfoliators into your routine, it is best to introduce them slowly. You don’t want to overwhelm the skin as this leads to irritation.

What are the different types of chemical exfoliators ingredients?

The most common chemical exfoliator ingredients include Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) and fruit enzymes. AHAs are water-soluble ingredients that which help remove dead skin on the surface of the skin for a more even tone complexion while also natural moisturising the skin. While BHAs are oil-soluble and unlike AHAs, BHAs get deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess sebum.

Here’s a simplified explanation of the beauty of BHAs and AHAs for different skin types:

  • AHAs – These include glycolic, lactic, mandelic and citric acid which are good options for dry, combination, and hyperpigmentation skin.
  • BHAs – This include salicylic acid which is a great option for oily and acne-prone skin because it can penetrate through oils and clear out clogged pores as well as assist with preventing breakouts.

How often should I be exfoliating?

Ideally, exfoliation should be added into your skincare routine between 1-3 times per week, and after cleansing. This helps further remove any debris from your pores and to help with cell turnover. Anything more than that will lead to over-exfoliating which will possibly damage the skin barrier resulting in skin irritation or sensitivity. If you do happen to over-exfoliate, take a break for a week to allow your skin to recover before re-introducing the exfoliator.

The suggested exfoliating methods based on skin type:

Oily skin: Scrubs are usually recommended for this skin type but it’s important to use a gentle scrub or a chemical exfoliator that contains salicylic acid or glycolic acid.

Dry skin: Creamy physical exfoliators that have moisturising ingredients like shea butter or ceramides are always great for those with a dry complexion.

Combination skin (normal to oily / normal to dry): Physical exfoliator or a light chemical exfoliator with glycolic, mandelic or lactic acid is a recommended best option for our skin type.

Acne-prone skin: To minimise any irritation on the skin, chemical exfoliators are always best recommended. Look out for chemical exfoliators that have salicylic acid. Avoid any abrasive physical exfoliators as these can aggravate the skin. However, if you have cystic acne or skin that’s inflammed try best avoid exfoliation to not further irritate the skin.

Sensitive skin: Since this type of skin is prone to redness, it is best to choose extremely mild exfoliators. It is recommended to stick to much more gentle exfoliators like enzyme ones.

Whether you’re using a chemical or physical exfoliator, it’s important to understand what works best for you and your skin type. Both exfoliation methods provide amazing benefits for the skin and will leave you fresh-faced.

As always, a dermatologist knows what’s best for your skin, so consult one first if you have sensitive skin or are concerned about exfoliating. Remember to always patch test before you use any new product.

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