Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliants

Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliants

One of the most important components to an effective anti-aging routine is regular exfoliation. Throughout most of my 20s, I alternated between using a gritty drug-store scrub or skipping this step altogether, both of which I know now were not helping my cause for polished skin. There are two major types of exfoliants available today, both have the same place in your skin care ritual but will look and feel a lot different from each other.

Why do we need to exfoliate?

Regardless of what type of exfoliant you choose, the contents or ingredients of the product are working to remove dead skin cells, achieve even skin tone and help with cellular turnover. This translates into clear and bright skin! Especially in a climate that has months of Winter, where we hibernate indoors with dry heat pumping, skin can start to look dull pretty quickly. A good exfoliation routine can help keep away that grey look, simply by removing these dead cells for newer skin underneath. As a bonus, once that barrier is gone, products with active ingredients and anti-oxidants have an easier time penetrating deeper layers of skin to be more effective. A good exfoliating product will minimize the look of pores, fine lines and wrinkles and is super necessary in an “anti-aging” skin care routine.

In this post, I’m going to just skim the surface (see what I did there) of the types of exfoliants and save the details for a future post on anti-aging powerhouse ingredients. Below are the two broad categories separating exfoliant products on the market today.

Physical (manual) Exfoliants

These products generally come in the form of a satisfying scrub that are used manually (hence the name) to buff the skin. A common misconception is that a physical exfoliant is more gentle than a chemical exfoliant but don’t let the names fool you. A lot of physical exfoliant products available contain seeds, fragments of shells or debris that are too large and abrasive for the skin (especially your face!) Dermatologists can tend to recommend against physical exfoliants with the opinion that they can cause small tears in the skin and do more damage than good if this happens. However, there are physical exfoliants and alternatives like a Konjac sponge (I love this one!) that are gentle enough to use and very effective. Sensitive or irritable skin types may prefer a physical to a chemical exfoliant since the active ingredients will be less potent and have less potential to irritate or inflame the skin. So many physical exfoliants smell great, heat on contact with skin and generally feel amazing. I’ve linked some of my favourites below!

Chemical Exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants have gained mega popularity over recent years and ingredients like AHAs and BHAs are common additions to anti-aging skin care product lines. They contain gentle acids that break down the bonds between dead skin cells and allow new cell turnover. These products look like a regular serum or oil with no scrubbing needed. When I first tried a chemical exfoliant I felt like I was missing something, not having that instant gratification of buffing my skin. After a few nights of use though, the result of glowing skin in the morning spoke for itself. There are a variety of ingredients that fall under the category of chemical exfoliant so choosing to go this route can be a bit of trial and error. Proceed with more caution if you have a sensitive or irritable skin type. Try testing on a small patch of skin before fully committing and sample around to find the right fit for you! I’ve linked some of my favourite chemical exfoliants below.

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