All the best skincare in the world won’t make a difference to your skin if you apply it on a layer of dead cells. That’s why exfoliating is such an important step in any skincare routine. As well as sloughing away dead cells, exfoliating 1 to 3 times a week (depending on skin type) can unclog congested pores (therefore tackling acne-prone complexions) and stimulate blood circulation to reveal skin that is soft to the touch. As with all beauty steps there’s an array of different products to choose from, but you’ll find two main camps: chemical and physical exfoliators. So what is the difference between the two and which one should you be using?
Chemical vs physical: What’s the difference?
A physical exfoliant is a product that requires manual rubbing, which mostly refers to gritty textures like scrubs, but also includes body brushes and loofahs which perform the same action. A chemical exfoliant is a non-abrasive leave-on product featuring ingredients such as AHAs (which exfoliate the top layer of your skin), BHAs (penetrate deeper to fight blackheads and whiteheads) and fruit enzymes to provide the same polishing result by breaking apart the bonds between the skin cells without the need for rubbing, so you’ll often find these labelled as masks or peels. But which is best? That’ll mostly be down to personal preference and lifestyle, or you can follow my lead and alternate between both!
Go for a mechanical exfoliator if:
- You’re looking for an easy-to-use product. It can be as simple as removing your cleansing balm with a muslin cloth, or you can even try making your own coffee scrub with ground coffee, brown sugar and coconut oil
- You want to be in control. You’re the one in charge here so you can apply the amount of pressure desired, but do opt for a fine scrub rather than anything too coarse or sharp so as not to damage skin.
- You want to reach into all the nooks and crannies such as around the nose, where you can spend more time working the product into skin.
- You want to incorporate a facial massage into your skincare routine, which will increase the blood flow to your face. Just make sure you use gentle movements otherwise you could end up damaging your skin with overzealous scrubbing.
Give these 4 products a go:
- Niskama Gentle Smoothing Face Polish: Featuring ground hibiscus flowers and rice powder, the particles are fine and the formula is rich in oils: coconut, sweet almond, peppermint, bergamot and mandarin. I use this face polish once a week with gentle circular movements to reveal smooth and baby soft skin. 30ml RRP £8.00
- Solasta Skin Gingerbread Body Scrub: with fair trade sugar and sweet almond oil this scrub is both polishing and nourishing, but it’s the scent that’ll have you reaching for it again and again – ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, you’ll come out of the bathroom smelling as good as a homemade cake! 145g RRP £16.00
- The Original Scrub Arabica Coffee and Honey: this is a great body scrub option with nothing but natural ingredients to stimulate blood flow throughout your body, removing dirt but leaving skin feeling hydrated thanks to organic honey. You might need to clean the bath afterwards though if you don’t want to be left with coffee grounds scattered in the bath tub! 200g RRP £8.95
- Upcircle Coffee Face Scrub: the vegan and cruelty-free scrub smells deliciously of coffee thanks to the repurposed Arabica coffee grounds from London artisan cafes. The exfoliating was quite strong so I would go easy on the rubbing, but with lots of oils including moisturising coconut, vitamin E-rich jojoba, apricot, rosehip, geranium and soothing chamomile, I’m left with super smooth and nourished skin. 100ml RRP £12.99
Go for a chemical exfoliator if:
- You’re after a deeper clean. Choose an exfoliator with BHAs to penetrate deeper and tackle blackheads, but with chemical exfoliants always do a patch test beforehand.
- You’re looking to reduce pigmentation such as acne scars and dark spots, which ingredients such as AHAs can address. If your skin is sensitive try lactic acid which is considered gentle. No matter what don’t forget your SPF as your skin will be more sensitive to UV rays.
- You want a brighter complexion. By accelerating the production of new skin cells you reveal fresh, radiant skin. As with most skincare products the results aren’t immediate, so stick with it for 3 months with regular and continued use.
Give these 3 products a go:
- The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution: this contains high levels of AHAs so do conduct a patch test if you have sensitive skin and use only in evenings to avoid sun sensitivity. That said, the results are fantastic: the deep exfoliation delivers smooth skin, decongested pores and a radiant complexion. 30ml RRP £6.30
- Murad Time Release Blemish Cleanser: AHAs are great at tackling blemishes and fine lines, so if you suffer from adult acne this gentle cleanser will keep spots at bay without drying out skin. 200ml RRP £30.00
- Caudalie Vinopure Skin Perfecting Serum: this serum refines skin texture and unclogs pores thanks to natural salicylic acid in a 97% natural super light gel formula. I use this sporadically when I have a breakout or if my skin feels a little greasy. 30ml RRP £29.00
Which type of exfoliant do you prefer? Please leave a comment below to let me know.
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6 thoughts on “CHEMICAL AND PHYSICAL EXFOLIATORS: PROS AND CONS”
I use both. First Aid Beauty’s KP Bump Eraser body scrub uses AHAs and pumice beads.
Hi Amy, I’ve not tried that product but I’m a fan of anything with AHAs!