Chemical vs Physical Exfoliants for Skin

When it comes two skincare there are two kinds of exfoliating products: chemical and physical. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells on the skin’s surface and provides a multitude of benefits including preventing breakouts and improving texture. However, before adding an exfoliator to your skincare routine you must determine which option is best for you.

Exfoliating reduces the collection of things like dirt, debris, dead skin cells, and excess oils in your skin. Doing so prevents issues like acne and breakouts because it keeps the pores free. It can also improve the look and feel of the skin, because removing dead skin cells reveals a newer layer of skin, giving a more youthful glow. Proper exfoliation can also aid in the usefulness of your other products, by improving the absorption rate of things like moisturizers and serums. 

A chemical exfoliant is simply a product that exfoliates the skin for you so that the debris and dead skin cells can be simply rinsed away. They also penetrate deeper into the skin than a physical exfoliant, so they are a great option for brightening. Common chemical exfoliants are facial peels, however, there are many products you can buy and add to your weekly routine. 

Some ingredients commonly found in chemical exfoliants are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s which dissolve the protein bonds between the dead cells and the rest of the skin. Glycolic and lactic acids are common AHAs and work best for dry, not oily skin. Another popular ingredient is BHA’s, or Beta Hydroxy Acids, which also have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes them a great choice if you are more focused on fighting acne or if you have oily skin. 

While chemical exfoliants are a great way to really see results, they can also make the skin susceptible to redness and drying. Likewise, they have to be paired with sunscreen, as they make the skin much more susceptible to sun damage. 

Physical exfoliants are any method of removing debris and dead skin manually and can be a tool such as a washcloth or a loofah, as well as products like a scrub. A less commonly known form of physical exfoliation is microdermabrasion and dermaplaning, which are methods of using a sharp blade to remove the top layer of dead skin and hairs on the face. It is recommended that this be done by a professional, however, if performed at home it should only be about once a month.

Physical exfoliation can sometimes cause small micro-tears in the skin if you are rubbing too hard or if the particles in a product are too large. This can lead to irritation of the skin and even cause more acne by allowing bacteria and other debris back under the skin. It can also increase oil production if done too often. 

While physical exfoliation provides more immediate results, a chemical exfoliant may be the safer and smarter option if you are looking to improve the texture and appearance of your skin. Chemical exfoliants should be used with caution, however, they are less likely to cause damage as long as used properly. When choosing between the two it is always best to consider your skin type and your skincare goals. 

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