Exfoliation Explained: Physical vs. Chemical

Exfoliation is the key to refine your pores, improve skin texture, and get glowing skin. However, not all exfoliators are created equal. Exfoliants on the market today mainly run in two lanes: physical and chemical. They both technically do the same thing—slough off dead skin cells—but they do so in very different ways. Read on to learn the differences between the two main methods of exfoliation, and which will work best for your skin!

Physical Exfoliation

Any grainy products or tools that work to mechanically buff away dead skin cells through friction is a physical exfoliant. The best thing about physical exfoliators like the Huxley Scrub Mask is that after a nice scrub, you get instant baby-soft skin that’s glowing and smooth.

Huxley Scrub Mask Nudie Glow Korean Beauty Australia

Physical exfoliators have a reputation for being harsh on the skin, but that is untrue. They can actually be very gentle, but the problem lies in how you use these products since it’s easy to overdo it. If you’re too rough with your scrubbing, or exfoliate way too frequently (say, more than twice or thrice per week), it can backfire by making your skin irritated instead.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants remove dead skin cells with the use of acids to aid in cell turnover. But don’t get intimidated by the idea of putting acids on your face! Chemical exfoliators are often touted to be gentler than physical exfoliation, as low percentages of gentle acids are used to dissolve the glue-like substance holding dead skin cells together.

Common chemical exfoliators will feature AHAs or BHAs. AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) like lactic acid and glycolic acid are best in treating skin concerns on the upper layers of the skin, such as sun damage, uneven texture and pigmentation. BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) like salicylic acid are best for those concerned with blackheads, pore problems and milia since they can better penetrate through oil and other pore-clogging materials.

COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid Nudie Glow Korean Beauty Australia

The great thing about chemical exfoliators is that they do more than just smooth out your complexion—in the long run, they can also help stimulate collagen production, reduce wrinkles, firm and brighten skin. Chemical exfoliators can also come in the form of cleansers, toners, ampoules and sometimes even moisturizers. However, avoid mixing chemical exfoliators with other targeted topical treatments that may already be harsh, like retinols, as it could lead to irritation.

Which exfoliator is best for my skin type?

Different types of physical or chemical exfoliators have their own advantages and disadvantages, which is why products like the Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon feature the best of both worlds. For most people, I would recommend trying out both physical and chemical exfoliators (at different times, of course), and then decide which one your skin loves more. There are no hard and fast rules about using only AHAs for oily skin, or using only scrubs on dry skin—all skin types can benefit from both physical and chemical exfoliants. Both can even be suitable for sensitive skin types, as long as you stick to gentler products.

Do you have a favorite exfoliator? Let us know in the comments!



duwani aththiligoda September 29, 2021

I love your messages which are very helpful and bring us the right concept on exfoliate. Wonderful job:)

Mary September 13, 2017

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