I’m not a big fan of physical exfoliants. You know, those exfoliants with beads, walnut shells, seeds, or even sugar. I would use them a lot when I was younger, but I was never wholly satisfied with their performance. Then, I was introduced to chemical exfoliants, which work thanks to acids, such as Glycolic Acid or Salicylic Acid, that dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together, and I fell in love.
Although I still own a few physical exfoliants (I guess old habits die hard), I find myself reaching for them less and less often. I don’t feel the need to. Chemical exfoliants are so much better for the skin. Here’s why:
1. Chemical exfoliants are gentler on the skin
Don’t let the word chemical fool you. Not all chemicals are harsh and damaging to the skin. And when it comes to exfoliants, it’s the physical type that causes real damage. Some scrubs contain particles that are too big or have rough, uneven edges that can scratch the skin, leaving it red, irritated, and even bleeding. But even when these beads or shells are properly made, they can still irritate your skin if you scrub too hard.
A lot of people think that the harder they scrub, the better. More dead cells will come off and the brighter and smoother their skin will become. But if you scrub too much, you will be exposing the red and raw skin underneath that’s not ready to come to the surface yet. And that will be painful. And, unfortunately, chances are that you won’t notice the damage you’ve done to your skin until it’s too late.
Chemical exfoliants can cause irritations too. But, because they take more time to work, you can see your skin starting to slowly flake, or even become red. When that happens, you can wash them off immediately, before the damage becomes severe. And, next time, you’ll know that you simply have to use an exfoliant with a lighter concentration of Glycolic Acid (or whatever other ingredient the product is using).
2. Chemical exfoliants produce more precise results
How effective physical exfoliants are depends on what kind of particles they contain, how much strength you use to scrub skin, and how long you rub them in for. As mentioned above, if you use uneven, rugged particles, or scrub your skin too much or for too long, you will just irritate your skin. Physical exfoliants can still produce great results, but you need to be more careful both in selecting the right product and in how you apply it.
The effectiveness of physical exfoliants, on the other, hands, depends on the strength of the ingredients. Even if you apply too much, it’s the layer that’s in contact with the skin that does all the work. When a chemical exfoliant causes problems for your skin, it’s usually because the concentration of the exfoliating acids is too high. 20% Glycolic Acid, for instance, is not a really a good idea. But at a much lower dose, it will give you smoother and brighter skin without any side effects.
3. Chemical exfoliants are better for acne-prone and sensitive skin types
Physical exfoliants are so not a good idea if you suffer from acne. The friction they create when you rub them in will just irritate your already inflamed skin, making things worse. Instead, opt for an exfoliant with Salicylic Acid, such as Paula’s Choice RESIST Weekly Retexturizing Foaming Treatment 4% BHA. This ingredient doesn’t just exfoliate the surface of the skin, but also penetrates inside the pores, removing all the gunk that’s accumulated there. This helps keep oil production under control and reduces the risk of breakouts.
A washcloth is the only type of physical exfoliant gentle enough for those with sensitive skin. Anything else is very likely to cause irritations. If you don’t like using a washcloth, you can try a chemical exfoliant with a low concentration of Glycolic Acid, such as Paula’s Choice RESIST Daily Smoothing Treatment with 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acid, which is both gentle and effective.
The Bottom Line
Chemical exfoliants are gentler and provide more precise results than physical exfoliants. They are also more suitable for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin. If you’ve found a physical exfoliant that works well for you, there’s no reason why you should stop using it. But once you try a chemical exfoliant, you won’t likely go back. Not often, anyway.
Do you prefer chemical exfoliants too?