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Notes on Physical vs Chemical Exfoliation

Our skin is an incredible organ that is constantly producing new cells allowing it to heal and grow, naturally turning over every 28 days to reveal new fresh skin. As we age, this natural process slows so regular exfoliation is essential to ensure optimal skin health. An accumulation of dead cells on the skin’s surface can lead to uneven texture, rough/dry patches and dullness, along with making any existing lines or wrinkles appear more pronounced. Sloughing away built-up dry and dead skin will result in a brighter and more supple complexion.

When it comes to exfoliation there are two types, physical and chemical. Like any skincare product, your exfoliator should be matched to your specific skin type and concerns. For the vast majority of skin types I recommend a combination of both chemical and physical exfoliation. So understanding the difference between the two is key to keeping your unique complexion smooth, balanced and glowing.

Physical Exfoliation
As the name suggests, physical exfoliation involves physically buffing away dead skin cells with a granule-based product usually in the form of a cleanser or scrub. Physical exfoliants have received a bad reputation in recent years, while once a favoured product, many formulations can be too harsh and abrasive which can cause more harm than good. Physical exfoliants with larger more abrasive granules can create microtears on the skin, especially when applied quite rigorously. Instead look for gentle scrubs or cleansers that contain fine granules to lightly polish the skin without causing any damage and ensure you are only using a few times a week. Physical exfoliants are great to use for the body, again looking for gentle formulations that use small granules to buff the skin. Sensitive and blemish-prone skin types should steer clear of physical exfoliants as they can cause further irritation to the complexion and exacerbate associated skin concerns.

Chemical Exfoliation
Chemical exfoliants are a mainstay in my skincare regime, they yield great results and allow for a more targeted approach. Formulated with acids and enzymes to gently dissolve dead skin cells gently sloughing them away from the surface of the skin. There are three main groups of chemical exfoliants, AHAs, BHAs and PHAs, each work in a slightly different way and are best suited to specific skin types. They can be found in cleansers, moisturisers, serums and leave-on treatments like peels and lotions. Due to their delicate and effective delivery mode, chemical exfoliants can be applied more regularly than physical exfoliants. Like any new product, it’s always best to slowly introduce it into your routine, starting with the lowest dose once a week, gradually working your way up in frequency (2-3 times a week) and to a higher concentrated formula.

Chemical exfoliants can be used by most skin types, AHAs are great for those looking to treat fine lines, pigmentation, uneven skin tone and congestion. BHAs are great for those with oily or combination skin types and PHAs are best for those with sensitive complexions. I suggest exfoliating in the evening as they can make the skin photosensitive and more prone to sunburn. Regardless of the type of exfoliation you use, always incorporate a broad spectrum SPF50 during the day.