Physical vs. Chemical Exfoliation

Whether you grew up scrubbing your face with a well-known body & face scrub (that’s certainly better left in the past) or you are well versed in the world of enzymes and acids that we apply to our face everyday (sounds pretty crazy) then this article is for you! The one thing all camps can agree on is that exfoliation not only feels nice, but it also leaves you with smooth, radiant skin - and we all want that. Let’s discuss some of the key differences between chemical and physical exfoliation to get the most out of your skincare routine.

Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation is the process of manually dislodging dirt and stripping away surface cells with textured bits and grainy particles. Once thought to be the only way to exfoliate, it still remains an important step in the pathway to clear and beautiful skin. If you find that your skin is quite dry and flaky, it may be best to start here, with a physical exfoliant, to break through that initial layer of buildup. Our Microdermabrasion Scrub is a much-admired physical exfoliant that utilizes tiny pumice granules to gently buff away dead skin cells. This scrub mimics the procedure known as Microdermabrasion which uses microparticles, or a diamond-tipped wand, to gently remove the top layer of your skin and stimulate new skin growth.

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants, while they may seem a little obscure, are an excellent and very safe way to exfoliate your skin. They improve overall skin texture and tone by gently dissolving dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliants include AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids), BHAs (beta-hydroxy acids), and PHAs (hydroxy or fruit acid). 

Larger molecules (AHAs and PHAs) don’t penetrate into the skin the way smaller molecules (BHAs) do. Instead, larger molecules buff away dead skin cells at the surface, while smaller molecules get to work beneath the surface of the skin to purify.

Here’s a little pocket guide to help make things a bit more clear…

BHAs: smaller molecules - penetrate deeper into the skin to kill the bacteria - ex. Salicylic Acid

  • Our Tingl pads combine AHAs (Lactic and Glycolic) and BHAs (Salicylic) to deeply cleanse the skin while hydrating, leaving you looking radiant.

AHAs: larger molecules - humectant/hydrating and illuminating - ex. Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Mandelic Acid

  • Our Advanced Rextexturizer is a rich 15% Glycolic Acid (AHA) formula combined with fruit enzymes and vitamin E to provide a well-rounded exfoliation experience to ensure hydrated, glowing skin.
  • The LA Refining Serum carries a radiance producing 12% Lactic Acid and Mandelic Acid that hydrates and illuminates your complexion.

PHAs: largest molecules - hydrating, brightening, less irritating than other acids - ex. Lactobionic Acid, Gluconolactone

  • Our LA Refining Serum combines 2 PHAs to exfoliate, improve clarity, and polish away the build-up of dead skin and excess sebum. This one is great to quickly improve the look of fine lines and promote radiance. PHAs are fantastic for people with sensitive skin, as they’re hydrating, much less irritating and less likely to cause sun sensitivity than other chemical exfoliants.

Dual Exfoliants and Body Exfoliants

Utilizing elements of both chemical and physical exfoliation at the same time can yield excellent results, especially when it comes to the body. Our Pumpkin Enzyme Mask is a dual exfoliant that can be used for the face or the body. This mask would be perfect for hotspots of rough skin texture on the body, such as cheeks, upper arms, thighs, or buttocks.

Another great product for keeping body skin smooth is our Exfoliating Body Lotion, which carries a powerful 12% Lactic Acid (AHA) to remove layers of dead skin and debris, while leaving skin soft and hydrated. AHA body lotions  are fantastic for routine maintenance of rougher areas on the body, and are especially good for KP (keratosis pilaris, which is a skin condition wherein ​​overproduction of keratin can result in red, acne-like bumps on the skin).


SPF & Exfoliants

We’ve said it many times, and we won’t stop saying it…SPF is one of the most crucial aspects to any skincare routine. Especially when using exfoliants, SPF is mandatory. Exfoliants are meant to remove layers of skin, so exposing new, fresh skin to the elements without protection is just asking for harsher burns and more sun damage. Be sure to apply your SPF every morning to keep your skin fresh, radiant, protected, and clear.

Let’s Glow

Regular, mild exfoliating is crucial to increasing cellular turnover, especially in the winter months. If you’re feeling close to your skin goals, but can never seem to quite get there, consider adding an exfoliant to your routine. So, how and where will you exfoliate next?


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All information is created for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.