Difference between Physical and Chemical Exfoliation
Updated: Jun 27
Exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin using a chemical, granular substance, or face tools like a brush or silicone cleanser which can be battery operated or manual. Exfoliation brings newer, healthier skin cells to the surface which comes in very handy as you age since the process of skin shedding slows as you get older, and this results in dry, flaky, and itchy skin. Basically, exfoliation is the process we have been doing for years, the step is known as scrubbing. Whenever we do any kind of facial or clean-up in the parlor or home we always use a face scrub we have been using it since we were a teenager at least I started when I was a teenager. Back then the most famous scrub was the apricot scrub which somehow it still is but there has been research which says using thick gritty granules on your face causes more damage than being good.
This is true since most of us are not very gentle with our skin and we tend to scrub too harsh sometimes use extra pressure for that extra glow that causes micro-tears on our skin. We need to exfoliate our skin every week at least once otherwise, we will get clogged pores, uneven skin tone, dull and patchy skin. Our skin automatically sheds the dead skin in 30 days but not completely and as we age the process becomes slower but using scrubs on a regular basis especially if not used right can also cause problems hence the whole trend of chemical exfoliation came into play but understanding the way chemical exfoliation works can be confusing and if you use it wrong it causes a lot more damage and will make your skin super sensitive.
The first thing to understand exfoliation is to understand and listen to your skin needs and your skin type.
👉🏼Identify your skin type: It can be dry, oily, or combination and can be sensitive too.
👉🏼Identify your skin concerns: Like if you are acne-prone or have dull flaky skin pigmentation or uneven skin tone. You can have more than one concern. In most cases, we have all types of concerns but concentrate on the most prominent one.
👉🏼Your age: Your age really matters here since depending on that you can choose a routine that will be better suited to you in the long term.
Ideally, you should exfoliate at most two or three times a week. People with excessively oily skin may need to exfoliate on a daily basis and dry skin should mostly go for chemical exfoliation but we will get into more details according to the above category after we discuss all the types of exfoliations. I personally use both types of Exfoliations but it took me a while to understand chemical exfoliation and I keep a balance between physical and chemical exfoliation.
1. Face Scrubs:
The oldest and the one we all know are face scrubs which is known as physical or manual exfoliation since you use your hands to do the job. The scrub usually has tiny microbeads that are either small or big. Some scrubs are super gritty and some are sparse. There are also different types of formulations in face scrubs like cream-based, gel-based, and also the recent trend powder-based which are also known as powder cleanser.
Now coming according to skin type. If you have dry skin you can use any of the scrubs but mostly the cream ones are better since they feel more nourishing also if you have dull skin too you would prefer using powder cleanser since they are finer and get rid of the flaky rough skin and can be used more often. If you have oily or acne-prone skin gel-based scrubs are more appropriate but even powder cleansers work since they are finely milled its easier to use without harming the skin. But if you have a lot of active cystic acne scrubbing your face with any type of granules isn't recommended since the acne can spread and also leave scars.
If you are someone who uses a lot of home remedies or known as DIY when it comes to face scrubs and you use sugar as base please grind it since the rough nature of sugar scrubs makes them far too harsh for facial skin. They can create small tears in the skin and lead to damage, especially if you're using regular sugar. Using sugar scrubs on your face may lead to irritation. Oats is a much better option to use but again needs to be powder not rolled oats same goes with rice. And please under no circumstance use lemon and baking soda directly on your skin even if your best influencer or google tells you too.
These are some of the scrubs I use and the ones I use have really tiny granules in it and granules should be sparse and not too much in quantity. The tea tree one is great for oily acne prone skin I use it since I do suffer from occasional acne breakouts. If you have oily skin you can actually use that more often since the granules are really less and tiny in it. The other two from Simple and Sanctuary are really fine and feel super smooth which really works for my skin. I used to use thick gritty scrubs a year or so back before I started chemical exfoliation now I just don't feel the need to and use the old scrubs on my hands and feet. I use the Greenberry one once in 15 days or on days I know I feel extra tanned. The one scrub I never recommend is the St.ives Apricot scrubs those are too gritty and if you use extra pressure it can cause micro-tears on your skin.
I'm new to powder cleansers and I am really liking them. I do find them messy to use so on days I am lazy I skip it but on most days this is a great option to use. Originally it is said to exfoliate in mornings since the skin repairs itself at night when you are sleeping, scrubbing in the morning gives you extra smooth skin throughout the day so powder cleansers come in really handy in this routine. Also if you are someone who gets easily tanned you would prefer using powder cleansers.
2. Liquid Peels:
You rub these gels on your skin and like magic little white clumps from under your fingers. Wash off the product and you're left with smooth, glowing skin. While some peeling gels do contain chemical and enzyme exfoliant ingredients, peeling gels actually work as physical or manual exfoliants. There are many brands that do this now like Body shop, Face shop and even PAC does have a lemon peel. If you have hair on your skin and you don't shave you may hate this since it gets stuck to your peach fuss and makes it really difficult to remove. These are actually a great option since they don't harm your skin in any way and easy enough to use. Just see that you apply it on dry skin if your skin is wet it won't work. If you suffer from acne you would prefer these since they don't cause or spread the acne also these are super gentle on the skin.
3. Face tools:
These are the face brushes or silicone massagers you use on your face. Exfoliation simply gives the face an instant glow, both by clearing away the dead skin cells that cause dullness and by allowing your other anti-aging products to penetrate the skin more effectively so when you use face tools for exfoliating you help the products to penetrate better which is super important as you age. These tools are a great option to use once you are in your late 20's
Check out the reviews I have done on Face tools: Click Here
Chemical exfoliants are acids that react with the skin, removing built-up layers of dead cells and excess oil that can cause dull skin and blemishes. The results of chemical exfoliation are generally more uniform versus physical. Since chemical exfoliants do not involve rubbing the skin, they are generally safer than many physical exfoliants. Hydroxy acids, such as salicylic and glycolic acids, have the ability to penetrate the skin for deeper exfoliation.
There are two types of chemical exfoliants: AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acids, and BHA, beta-hydroxy acids. The two most popular AHAs are glycolic and lactic acids. In cosmetics, BHA refers to salicylic acid. Now AHA is more effective for dry skin since it gets rid of the patchy dull skin and gives a glow whereas BHA is more for oily skin since salicylic acid is great for acne-prone skin. But a combination of the two really works well.
Chemical exfoliation requires time to work, and the longer you wait before applying additional products, the more effective the exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants work for up to 30 minutes, and after 30 minutes your skin naturally balance's out the acidity of the chemical exfoliant, and exfoliation ceases. If you try an exfoliator and notice that your face is stinging, red, or otherwise angry afterward, it's time to take a step back. A chemical exfoliant does feel tingly on the skin especially when you are new to it. It takes some time for your skin to get immune to it so just know the difference between basic tingling or full-on stinging feeling. Even though it says 30 mins scientifically its recommended by most brands to apply only for 15 mins and not longer than that.
The Ordinary Peeling Solution ☝🏼 is what started the whole chemical exfoliation trend and this is definitely one of the best you can try but you may look at the red color and be intimated by it and also it does cause a tingling sensation on your skin so it does terrify at first. Please do your research before you use this. All skin types can use this. I have reviewed this already on my blog a while back do check that out: Click here
But the points to remember are :
Use this only 2 times a week
Always clean your face before and use it on dry skin
Keep it for 15 mins and not longer. If you are just starting out start with 5 mins then 10 mins then 15 mins make your skin immune to it.
Never skip sunscreen when you use any kind of chemical exfoliation especially this one since it makes your skin sensitive.
If possible use this at night and follow it up with a hydrating routine since this makes your skin a little dry.
Don't mix other chemical ingredients with this one.
This is a recent launch by Dot& Key and I got my hands on this one and have used it few times so I can say one thing for sure it's not a dupe for the Ordinary peeling solution since its milder in comparison but it is a great product for beginners. If you haven't used any other chemical exfoliation product and want to use some like the peeling solution but are scared of the red color and tingling then you can for sure try this one. I'll review this detail soon and then link it here and will also do a comparison.
This is definitely something everyone should try. Not necessary you get Pixie since it is expensive a little difficult to get your hands on but more the ingredient Glycolic acid. This ingredient is great for all skin types but especially for dry dull skin. When you first begin using glycolic acid products, it takes time to reverse clogged pores and melt the sebum that has already formed under your skin. This may take up to 3 to 5 weeks. It also helps in fading old acne scars but when you first start using it start with 5% or less then once your skin is immune to it go on 7% I have been using this Pixie one for now and I have gotten the Ordinary one which is 7% which I'll start using after I finish this and then will do a comparison review. There also other brands who do Glycolic acid toners like Dr.Sheths which a lot of bloggers love I will try to get my hands on that and do a review on that too. There is also a toner By Pure By Priyanka which is also loved by many. So even the Indian market has good options you can invest in.
One of the mild formula that is available in India and is made for Indian skin is the Extra Gentle Daily Peel by Dr.Sheth's. Since its mild, it can be used more often compared to other peels. Now a lot of bloggers tend to show this as a mask where you apply for 15 mins then wash it off. But if your skin is already used to acid in your skincare then you can actually use this as an overnight cream. I"ll be reviewing this soon on my blog in detail but in short, this is a great beginner-friendly product you can add in your routine 2 to 3 times a week. This also has lactic acid and it is specifically used to treat hyperpigmentation, age spots, and other factors that contribute to a dull and uneven complexion. Other benefits of lactic acid include improved skin tone and reduced pore appearance. However, unlike AHAs such as glycolic acid, lactic acid is a bit milder so it works for sensitive skin as well. But whenever you try any new chemical/ acid in your skincare it does cause purging sometimes which means it may cause tiny bumps on your skin when you start using the product and after 2 to 3 weeks those will subside. Just know the difference between purging and skin irritation and you will be fine.
If you do plan to get any of the Dr.Sheth's products you can use my Coupon code
MERCHANTPOST which will give you a 20% discount and I'll earn a small commission on it which will, in turn, help me grow my blog so Thanks in advance.
There are also serums and creams which have AHA and BHA ingredients that are milder to use on an everyday basis and are made in combination with different ingredients which help to target certain concerns and this way its easier to use and when used regularly in a routine it works well. Now when you are new to chemical exfoliation even mild serum can seem too much so you can use buffering as a technique which means when you start acid in your skincare you can use a mild moisturizer before the serum or mix the serum with the moisturizer and apply it on the skin. You can start using the product in this way for a week or two and once your skin gets used to it you can start using it by itself.
I personally haven't used any product from Pure Bubbles and Suganda but I hear amazing reviews from other bloggers about these products and also these are available in India. They have good quality products which are made in India so it makes it great to start if you live in India. If you live outside India you can always just use Ordinary and Pixie products.
The above products are the most famous ones so you can check them out.
Now, these were more towards AHA but when it comes to BHA ingredient its more Salicylic acid it is the best ingredient when it comes to oily acne-prone skin. Technically it can be drying on the skin but actually if mixed with the right ingredients it can balance your PH level better and control your acne and skin inflammation. The most famous one is the Ordinary one which is loved by a lot of people but you can try the Suganda one if you live in India.
Enzyme exfoliation is a type of chemical exfoliation that breaks down the "glue" that holds dead, dulling skin cells together. Enzyme exfoliation works more gently than AHA chemical exfoliants to shed skin cells and speed up the skin's natural exfoliation process. Enzymes have also been reported to diminish scars, fine lines, age spots, and discoloration of the skin. Enzymatic exfoliators are also effective but since they are not as strong as hydroxy acids, so they're better for sensitive skin. These have been in the skincare game for a while it's just that we didn't notice it much nor did we give it too much attention but there are some products in the market which concentrate on fruit enzymes and these behave and react like AHA's but are milder on the skin but these also take longer to show results. I have tried the following products when it comes to Enzymatic exfoliators. I have also used rice-based enzymatic exfoliators since rice is great for dry dull skin.
I haven't gotten into every acid in skincare but only covered when it comes to chemical exfoliation since that is the major confusion when it comes to exfoliation. I hope this helps and I'll do a detailed post on all types of acid in skincare in a later post hopefully that's soon.
Now coming to age and skin type relation with exfoliation. Since you understand the difference better now understanding this will be easier.
If you are under 25 you can just follow a physical exfoliation routine but as you age you need to slowly add in other types of exfoliation in your routine which you can start by adding a powder cleanser or by adding a face tool like a silicone massager.
Once you are in your late 20's start by adding chemical exfoliation keep a balance between the two but leaning more on the chemical exfoliants once you are in your late 30's since your skin becomes more sensitive.
If you have oily skin regular use of exfoliation can really help balance your skin's PH level and bring it to normal.
If you are acne-prone regular use of chemical exfoliation will slowly reduce the occurrence of acne since it will unclog your pores much better.
If you are looking for skincare routine more on the anti-aging side then chemical exfoliation is the way to go.
If you have very sensitive skin use powder cleansers or liquid peel when it comes to physical exfoliants and use an enzymatic exfoliator or start with a mild AHA or BHA
If you have dry skin you will need both types of exfoliants since dry skin ages faster and tends to have more rough patchy skin
Personal Infomation: I'm close to 30 and I have discoloration uneven skin tone dry and dull skin which can be sensitive at times. My T zone can get oily and my pores get clogged easily so what I personally do is use both types of exfoliation and keep a balance. I see how my skin is feeling and what it needs and add & subtract products accordingly. I still use Physical Exfoliants like scrubs but with finer granules on an alternate basis and use a good face tool on a regular basis. Then add in a chemical exfoliation once a week that is the ordinary peeling solution but on weeks where I have used other chemical-based serums I skip the peeling solution. I never mix different products which have acid. One serum or product can have more then 1 up to 3 chemical ingredients but those are stabilized so are safe to use but when you use two different products you don't know how they are gonna react so if you are new start one product at a time and give it time to show results.
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