Physical Exfoliators vs Chemical Exfoliators. What’s the difference?

Exfoliation is one of the most important steps towards having beautiful healthy radiant skin. Over time dead skin cells on the top of our skin can make our skin appear dull, dry and congested.

Exfoliating the skin will remove the outer layer of dead skin cells revealing younger newer skin. It also helps to unclog pores, prevent blemishes and assist with reducing pigmentation. By exfoliating you also help your serum and moisturiser to penetrate and absorb deeper into the skin. Your foundation will go on smoother and you will be able to use less foundation as your skin improves.

There are many different types of exfoliators available and it can be very hard to know which one to use! There are physical/mechanical exfoliators “scrubs” where you physically scrub the skin with a lotion or cream that contains little particles to smooth the skin. Then there are chemical exfoliants that contain Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) to dissolve the dead skins cells.

Don’t be put off by the term chemical as AHAs and BHA are derived from various natural sources e.g. lactic acid is derived from milk, glycolic acid from sugar, malic acid from apple etc.

The most important thing is to remember that using an exfoliator that is too harsh or abrasive will do damage to the skin. Start with a gentle exfoliator and then build up to a stronger one if required. I find most scrubs to be too harsh; remember the old apricot kernel scrubs?! Ouch!

Also if you have blemishes or acne it is best to stay away from scrubs. Scrubs will generally break the delicate blemished skin and spread bacteria causing further breakouts and irritation to the skin.

I prefer a chemical exfoliator to a physical scrub. Chemical exfoliators also have the added benefit of BHA which is a fantastic active ingredient for clearing up blemishes.

Chemical exfoliators are often in the form of cotton pads soaked in a solution that you may or may not rinse off depending on the brand and strength. These soaked pads are often referred to as “peels”. If you’ve never used one before this may sound complex but trust me it is so easy. They can also come in the form of serums or masks. Expect a little temporary tingling of the skin when using products with AHAs and BHA.

Two of my favourite peels….



Peter Thomas Roth Unwrinkle Peel Pads – Does what it says: Exfoliates, Resurfaces, Clarifies and Firms. Simple wipe the cotton pad wait 60 seconds and rinse off.



Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel – 2 step process. First wipe to exfoliate, clarify and improve the appearance of skin tone. Second wipe neutralises and provides anti aging skincare.

Most peels advise to use one and even up to two peels daily. However every second to third day is more than sufficient. When exfoliating using a physical scrub limit it to once a week and kept away from the delicate eye area. Hydrate your skin with a good moisturiser after exfoliating and remember to always wear sunscreen when outdoors as exfoliation increases skin sensitivity to the sun.


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