This is the difference between physical and chemical exfoliants
Is there any greater joy than a freshly exfoliated face? We think not.
Exfoliating your skin can improve its overall radiance. It removes all of the dead skin cells, giving your complexion that coveted glow. To get more insight on exfoliating and what it does to the skin, we spoke to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at the Department of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
“As dead cells accumulate on the surface of the skin, they interfere with light reflection, making the skin look dull,” he said. “Exfoliation can help brighten the skin by shedding cells that are overloaded with pigmentation.”
He noted that exfoliating your skin can also make the pores look smaller since it removes the dead skin cells that sit around the opening. However, it’s important that you don’t want to overdo it, especially when your skin is inflamed. According to The New York Times, “skin conditions are worsened by exfoliation.” People with severe acne and rosacea should skip exfoliation, as it could inflame the skin even more. Although, there are options when it comes to which type of exfoliators you use. Some are great for sensitive skin types, while others work best for mature skin.
The most common methods that people use are physical or chemical exfoliators. So what is the difference? “Physical exfoliators work by manually removing dead cells from the surface of the skin, while chemical exfoliators help dissolve connections between skin cells, so they may be more easily shed,” Dr. Zeichner said.
Physical exfoliators are typically grainy, like sugar scrubs. Chemical exfoliators, on the other hand, are usually acids in the form of a liquid, or they are hidden within a cream or serum. Which method you choose depends on your skin type. Dr. Zeichner explained that physical exfoliators work best for sensitive skin because you can control the level of exfoliation, either by scrubbing lightly or more aggressively.
If you have acne-prone or aging skin, he suggested using chemical exfoliators. “Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is recognized by the FDA as an over-the-counter treatment for acne,” he said. “Besides exfoliating dead cells, it helps remove excess oil from the skin. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that both exfoliates and helps stimulate collagen to strengthen the skin and improve the appearance of lines and wrinkles.”
When it comes down to it, exfoliating your skin can do wonders for your complexion. If you aren’t sure where to start or what products to shop for, we rounded up over 18 exfoliators, including both chemical and physical options.
This cleanser combines physical and chemical exfoliants through a mixture of fruit extracts, pomegranate seeds, and enzymes.
These two-step pads are a game-changer. After a few days of use, most people notice smoother, more radiant skin. Plus, Kelly Rowland told us to use it.
This is like a professional peel: a 10% concentration of powerhouse duo glycolic and salicylic acid dissolves oil while the micro-polishing beads resurface the skin.
4Sunday Riley Good Genes, $158
This cult fave might be pricey, but it’s worth it. We know people who say that it improved their skin so much, they stopped wearing foundation.
This physical exfoliant is infused with a super potent blend of Australian botanicals. It will detox your skin while also leaving it silky smooth. Did we mention it’s cruelty-free and vegan? You’ll look good and feel good, too.
This physical, chemical, and enzymatic exfoliant removes “expired skin cells while also refining pores,” according to the brand. With the help of activated charcoal, bamboo and volcanic sand extracts, and glycolic acid, this cleanser will reveal radiant skin.
7Glossier Solution, $24
Glossier’s chemical exfoliator helps with acne scars, large pores, and redness.
These peeling pads have a lemony mixture of vitamin C and exfoliating AHAs. There’s even a textured side that allows you to exfoliate the skin.
This chemical exfoliant is perfect for acne-prone skin or congested skin (you’ll be able to get rid of all the gunk and dirt stuck in your pores!). Best of all? You can use it twice daily after cleansing and toning.
10Fresh Sugar Face Exfoliator, $62
This is a classic face scrub for a reason. It polishes away your dead skin cells, while also hydrating your skin. To start, wear it as a mask to let the vitamin C and hydrating oils sink in, and then let the pure brown sugar exfoliate your skin as you wash it away.
While there are cheaper options out there, no face product has offered results quite like this one. Babyfacial combines chemical exfoliants, like AHAs and BHAs, to break down dead skin cells and clean out pores.
Two steps are better than one, especially when those steps work to fade dark spots. The first step exfoliates skin with a 9% lactic acid solution, and the sheet mask soothes skin with a blend of botanicals.
13Pixi Glow Tonic, $15
This toner is a cult-favorite for its amazing results—we’re talking a glowing, hydrated complexion. Glow Tonic chemically exfoliates your skin with its 5% glycolic acid ingredient while the aloe vera moisturizes it.
With over 2,000 reviews and almost 5 stars on Sephora, this scrub is dubbed “Hollywood’s 2-minute facial” for its ability to polish skin with physical exfoliators. It’s also infused with lactic acid and fruit enzymes.
You’ll either love or hate the smell of this mask, but you’re guaranteed to love the results. Willow bark and fruit enzymes gently exfoliate the skin to improve acne, redness, and pores.
16RéVive Exfoliating Cleanser, $75
Brighten your skin and deep clean your pores with this exfoliating cleanser. Best of all? It’s enriched with jojoba beads, which claims to leave your skin with a “polished, healthy glow.”
This affordable cleanser/exfoliator will give your skin a daily boost, as its “bamboo buffers” provide delicate physical exfoliation. Plus, we love that it’s gentle enough to use everyday, it’s blue, and it smells like flowers.
This chemical exfoliant uses salicylic acid to remove impurities and prevent breakouts, while the coconut oil restores moisture to your skin.