Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation: Which is Better?

Feeling confused as to which type of exfoliation you should be doing? Don't worry, we can clear things up. Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells and increase cell turnover rates, resulting in a smoother, cleaner surface. The two can actually complement each other if used correctly, optimizing a rejuvenation of skin cells. How often and what type of product to use, depends on your skin type, skin sensitivity levels, and skin needs.

What is Physical Exfoliation?

Physical exfoliation is when you buff away dead skin cells manually, whether it's using a wash cloth, a mask or a scrub that contains grains or any kind of textured material. This smoothens the skin surface, removes dead skin cells, dirt, debris, impurities, and makeup and therefore improves skin radiance. 

What is Chemical Exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliants use acids or enzymes to dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells. Chemcials like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) or beta-hydroxy acids (BHA), and fruit enzymes are a few examples. 

Too Much Exfoliation of Any Kind Can Be Bad

'Too much' can mean several things: exfoliationg too often (more than 1-2 times per week), leaving product on for too long (with a chemical exfoliant especially, always follow the manufacturer's guidelines), too much pressure or too harsh of ane exfoliant.

Physical exfoliation that is over done can cause microtears in the skin which can result in redness, open wounds and infection.

Too much chemical exfoliation can strip your skin of its natural barrier, leaving it vunerable to sun damage and dryness.

Man with facial clay mask

Best Practices to Exfoliation

Our recommendation is to test a small discrete area first to understand how your skin reacts to these exfoliants. Next, follow the manufacturer's guidelines and directions on how to use the product, for how long, and how often. Adjust accordingly to your skincare needs. Finally, start with a physical exfoliant. If your skin feels good afterwards but you're wanting to slough off more dead skin cells, follow with a chemical exfoliation so that it can work deeper. You may even want to wait one day until doing the chemical exfoliant. 

Keep in mind that your skin naturally sheds skin cells, about every 28 days. Some times, when your skin is congested, dull, or dry, it usually needs some TLC in the form of moisturizing or a proper cleansing. Don't ignore what your skin is trying to tell you, and don't overdo it as that will agitate your skin even more.

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