Which Is Better for My Skin: Manual or Chemical Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is touted as the key to healthy-looking skin, and rightly so. Regardless of your age, your complexion will benefit from this skincare step. The kind of exfoliation best suited to you depends on your skin type, preferred usage, desired results, and existing routine.

You can exfoliate two ways: physically (or manually) and chemically. While the second option sounds rather harsh, it can actually be the gentler of the two options. You'll learn why this is true as you read on.

First, let's take a look at the ways you can integrate a physical exfoliant into your skincare routine and the benefits of this technique.


Which Is Better for My Skin: Manual or Chemical Exfoliation?

Physical/Manual Exfoliation: What Is It?


A physical exfoliant is any product that requires a rubbing or scrubbing action, hence the term 'manual exfoliation'. This could be a scrub that you apply with your hands. Or it could be a tool that does the scrubbing action for you, such as a battery-powered facial brush.

Some of the most common physical exfoliants include:

Physical exfoliants work on the uppermost layers of skin. These products speed up the natural exfoliation rate and help to keep skin soft, smooth, and healthy.

You might opt for a physical exfoliant if you want something that:

  • Shows immediate results
  • Won't interact with the ingredients in the rest of your skincare routine., i.e. is easily integrated
  • Stimulates circulation (which may help drain lymph and reduce facial puffiness)

Some of our favourites include:

If you choose a brush, sponge or cloth for exfoliation, it's very important to clean these products regularly. The dead skin that's removed during exfoliation is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, especially when damp. Clean your exfoliating tool weekly and store it in a place where it can dry quickly.


Which Is Better for My Skin: Manual or Chemical Exfoliation?


Chemical Exfoliation: What Is It?

Most people are familiar with physical exfoliants, but not everyone has heard of chemical exfoliants. The latter are based on mild acids or enzymes. When these ingredients are applied to skin, they gently dissolve the 'glue' that cements dead skin cells together.

Common chemical exfoliants include:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Papain (enzyme derived from papaya)
  • Bromelain (enzyme derived from pineapple)

Unlike physical exfoliants, products containing acids or enzymes require no scrubbing and work gradually. These are great benefits for problem skin, whether it's prone to acne, eczema, rosacea, dryness, or sensitivity. This is why chemical exfoliants can in fact be milder and gentler than scrubs and the like.

Once applied, a chemical exfoliant not only works on the top layers of skin. The chemical can also penetrate and work on layers not yet visible to the eye. This creates a long-lasting increase in your natural exfoliation rate.

You might opt for a chemical exfoliant if you want something that:

  • Is quick and easy to use
  • Requires no scrubbing (great for problem skin types)
  • Continues to work after application
  • Works more deeply than a physical exfoliant, i.e. offers longer-lasting results
  • Helps reduce signs of ageing

Some of our favourites include:

Whether you choose a physical or chemical exfoliant, both will help your skin slough more quickly on its own. The skin-cell turnover rate declines with age, which is why exfoliation is vital to keep skin looking fresh, healthy, and youthful.


Which Is Better for My Skin: Manual or Chemical Exfoliation?

Learn more about Exfoliators

What Should I Look For In An Exfoliating Product?

Exfoliating products come in different concentrations and delivery methods, and they require different applications. Choose the perfect exfoliant simply by following these three steps.

How Should I Exfoliate If I Have Oily Skin?

Exfoliation offers several benefits to oily and combination skin types. If you're ready to incorporate this step into your skincare routine, there's one type of exfoliant that's perfect for your needs.

Which Is Better for My Skin: Manual or Chemical Exfoliation?

There are two ways you can integrate exfoliation into your skincare routine. Which method you should choose depends on a number of factors.

How Should I Exfoliate Dry Skin?

Both physical and chemical exfoliation can treat the symptoms and appearance of dry skin. Learn how to choose the method that will dramatically improve the condition of your own complexion.

How Do I Know If I'm Over-Exfoliating?

Maybe you suspect you've been over-exfoliating, but you're not sure what the signs are. If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, it's likely you've been overdoing this commonly misunderstood skincare step.

Do I Really Need to Exfoliate My Face?

If you're not already exfoliating regularly, you're missing out on a host of skincare benefits. It's hard to believe that a step that takes less than a minute offers so many good things.

How Often Should I Exfoliate My Face?

Exfoliation can make your complexion glow—or turn your skin raw and sensitive. Find out how often you should exfoliate and what product to use for your skin type and concerns.

Should I Exfoliate Before, During, or After Cleansing?

The line between cleansers and exfoliants seems to have become blurred. Although 2-in-1 products save time, these hybrids have confused skincare routines. Learn about the two kinds of exfoliants and when you should use them.

How Should I Exfoliate My Skin If I Have Acne?

Exfoliation is essential to helping reduce your incidence of acne. If you suffer from this skin condition, there's one kind of exfoliant you need to know about. This ingredient not only exfoliates but also helps to reduce the bacteria and inflammation commonly associated with acne.

Is Scrubbing Safe for My Skin?

Physical exfoliating products are instantly gratifying. Can you get that scrubbed look and feel every day and still maintain a safe skincare routine? We investigate.

Microbeads: Why Shouldn't You Use Them?

In the last few years, the topic of microbeads and their use in beauty products has been at the forefront of media attention.

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