Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation

Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation

We all crave a smooth, glowing complexion and exfoliating is a quick and easy technique that offers immediate gratification. It's no wonder many people reach for a scrub or an acid to maintain a bright visage. But did you know it could be causing more harm than good?

Correct exfoliation leaves skin bright, soft, smooth and radiant. Exfoliating covers many possible techniques, but the most common exfoliation methods are physical & chemical. What does that mean?

Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliation is the manual process of exfoliating using an abrasive scrub, glove, mitt or brush and since the ban on plastic microbeads; manufacturers are turning to more natural alternatives to use in wash-off scrubs.

This abrasive form of exfoliation is essentially causing micro-tears in the skin. While a stiff bristle brush or exfoliating mitt may work wonders for the cellulite on your thighs, cracked heels or dry shins, it certainly won't deliver any benefits to the delicate skin on your face, neck and decolletage.

It's important to realise that you are essentially damaging the top layer of skin, the epidermis. Regularly and aggressively scrubbing and scratching at your skin in an attempt to remove 'dead skin cells' is causing unnecessary injury to the epidermis and impairing skin's delicate and essential acid mantle.

Chemical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation uses (you guessed it!) chemicals to aid cell turnover. They are a less abrasive alternative to physical exfoliation and can be included in a variety of delivery systems. The great thing about chemical exfoliation is you can choose your texture preference and an acid that is tailored to your skin type and concerns.

AHAs, BHAs, PHAs. All the letters might sound bafflingly scientific, but it's easier to understand than it first sounds! Let's take a closer look...

AHAs “ Alpha Hydroxy Acids

AHAs are either synthetic or derived from natural sources such as papaya, lemon and grapefruit. They exfoliate the uppermost layers of skin to reveal fresh, refined and smoother skin underneath. AHAs are particularly useful in treating dry and ageing skin and they work on the surface to help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sun damage.


  • Glycolic Acid
  • Lactic Acid
  • Malic Acid
  • Tartaric Acid
  • Citric Acid
  • Mandelic Acid

BHAs “ Beta Hydroxy Acids

BHA “ Salicylic Acid “ is an organic acid that is particularly effective in treating clogged or enlarged pores and blemish-prone skin. Salicylic Acid is suitable for many skin types due to its calming and soothing properties. This multi-tasking acid penetrates pores to exfoliate both inside the pore & on the surface of skin.Salicylic Acid helps to hydrate skin, minimise an uneven skin tone and calm aggravated skin.


  • Salicylic Acid

PHAs “ Poly Hydroxy Acids

An extremely gentle method of chemical exfoliation, PHAs are very similar to AHAs but have a larger molecular structure, which reduces the ability to penetrate skin and therefore minimising the potential sensitising side effects.The interesting thing about PHAs is thanks to the more gentle approach and minimal absorption into skin, they are often suitable for more sensitive skins concerns such as rosacea and eczema.


  • Gluconolactone
  • Lactobionic Acid
Here are a few of our top picks for chemical & physical exfoliators.

Physical exfoliators

Omorovicza Refining Facial Polisher helps to brighten, purify and resruface skin texture. The combination of pumice (lava stone) provides a gentle physical exfoliation alongside Lactobionic and Exotic Fruit acids for chemical exfoliation to achieve smooth skin without the irritation.

A coarse physical exfoliator is great for the body, rather than the delicate skin on the face, as it can help to stimulate blood flow, reduce the appearance of cellulite and slough away those hard to budge patches of dry skin. Jan Marini Bioglycolic Resurfacing Body Scrub is another hybrid exfoliator, as it combines the AHA, glycolic acid as well as polished granules, for an immediate retexturising effect on roughened or calloused areas of skin. Another added benefit is the polished granules contain biodegradable ingredients derived from renewable resources and are therefore not harmful to the environment.

Chemical exfoliators


Achieve a deep and thorough cleanse with Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser. Glycolic acid in this hard-working cleanser, helps to resurface the skin, leaving it smoother with a more refined texture. The non-irritating, soap free formula also contains sorbitol, a natural berry-derived humectant, so skin is left feeling soft and hydrated.

Another Glycolic Acid hero! SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight combines 10% Glycolic free acid value with 2% Phytic Acid. Thanks to the low pH, these active ingredients are optimised to deliver their exfoliating properties, promoting cellular turnover, improving skin tone and texture.

Mesoestetic Glycolic + E + F Ampoules help to eliminate excess dead skin cells, softly renew and give skin a bright and fresh appearance. The liposoluble vitamin and free radical content helps to form a protective barrier that guards the skin from the outside elements and significantly reduces the appearance of fine facial wrinkles.


AesthetiCare Glycolic & Salicylic Wash clarifies and exfoliates with a combination of Glycolic & Salicylic Acid, which work in synergy to increase exfoliation, remove excess oils, and unclog blocked pores. Added antioxidants and hydrating ingredients help to protect and soothe the skin.

ZENii Salicylic Exfoliator contains clinically proven 2% Salicylic Acid to treat acne, blackheads, congestion and micro-comedones whilst also exfoliating the skin. It also helps to brighten and smooth the appearance of skin. Added anti-inflammatory & anti-bacterial properties allows the unclogging of pores and breakdown of excess oils.


NeoStrata Skin Active Tri-Therapy Lifting Serum boosts skin cell turnover with Gluconolactone “ a Poly Hydroxy Acid “ helping to renew skin tone and even out pigment for enhanced clarity and more even skin texture.

The triple action Zelens PHA+Bio-Peel Resurfacing Pads are formulated with a blend of PHAs (poly hydroxy acids), AHAs (alpha hydroxyl acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxyl acids). This trio of exfoliators helps to restore a smooth, radiant and youthful complexion.

Extend the exfoliating powers of Glycolic Acid, Gluconolactone and Lactobionic Acid to the entire body! Exuviance Retexturing Treatment is ideal for those who suffer with keratosis pilaris or just want to combat rough, dry and irregular skin texture.

Symptoms of over-exfoliated skin

When you are seeing the glowing results from regular exfoliation, it can be tempting to make it a daily feature in your skin care regime. But it is important to monitor your skin and look out for symptoms such as:
  • Tight skin
  • Dryness or flakiness
  • Stinging
  • Increased redness and/or sensitivity
  • Acne outbreaks

What to do if you think you've overdone it?

Chemical or physical, put the exfoliator down! Treat your skin to soothing and nourishing ingredients to help calm and replenish the acid mantle. As always, ensure you are using an SPF to protect your already compromised skin.

We like Mesoestetic Melan Recovery as the intensive balm treatment helps to combat signs of irritation and redness, providing instant relief by reducing skin sensitivity and re-balancing skin's protective barrier.Speak to our skin experts about all things exfoliating-related!

Call 0113 282 7744 or shop online now.

Written for you by: Alex, Face the Future

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