PHYSICAL OR CHEMICAL: SHOULD YOU EXFOLIATE YOUR FACE?
Updated: Aug 11
Exfoliation is a popular topic nowadays. With a wide array of products and professional procedures, it is easy to get confused, overdo and damage your skin or miss out on the opportunity to utilize exfoliation as an antiaging and corrective tool.
Let’s first understand how our skin works and why exfoliation is essential.
Our skin can heal and restore itself. As a result, a natural process of shedding a dead layer of skin cells is happening regularly.
I broke down the skin’s natural turnover rate by age group and the number of days it takes for the skin cells to mature and move from the basal layer of the epidermis ( stratum basale) into the top layer of the epidermis (stratum corneum) and ultimately shed.
For a child, it takes about 14 days;
For a teenager 21-28 days;
For a 20- 40 years old individual 28-42 days;
For a person of 50 and above, 42-84 days.
A healthy cell turnover rate is crucial for maintaining young and glowing skin. However, it naturally slows with age. On top of that, our daily habits, activities, and environmental triggers may interfere with the skin’s natural desquamation process. As a result, it causes the skin to look mature beyond its years.
As we get older, with all the pollution, heavy use of makeup, bad food habits, etc., it is essential to incorporate exfoliating products into our skincare routine to :
Create an even skin tone
Prevent dull and flaky skin
When should you exfoliate?
Uneven skin tone
Prominent fine lines
There are two main kinds of exfoliation: chemical and physical.
An exfoliant is a product or a tool that is meant to break down different layers of the skin.
Let’s begin with physical exfoliation.
To physically exfoliate your skin, an action of rubbing or scrubbing has to be present.
Brushes (like Clarisonic brush), Scrubs with beads and granules in them, Sponges, Loofahs, Washcloths are all physical skin exfoliants.
They work by scraping off the skin’s dead layer revealing a new, fresh, squeaky clean face.
That’s so awesome.
But not so fast.
If you decide that you want to use a physical exfoliant on your face, make sure that :
1. This type of exfoliation works for your skin type. Scrubs and brushes will not work for someone with thin skin. If you have rosacea or acne breakouts, then physical exfoliation is a terrible idea for you. It can make your skin condition worse. A gentle sponge or washcloth would be a much better choice.
In case you have oily skin and/or acne scars, then mechanical exfoliation might help you smooth those out. However, even on oily skin, you must not overdo the scrubbing.
2. You do not overdo it.
If you have truly oily skin (meaning it produces a lot of oil and it is not surface dehydrated), you should exfoliate no more than twice a week. In case of dry skin once a week. During the scrubbing process, do not press too hard and do not scrub for too long as you may damage your skin.
3. The beads and granules in your scrub have to be perfectly rounded to create microdamage to the skin. St Ives apricot scrub is an example of a wrong product for the face. The particles are not evenly shaped, which is hugely damaging for the delicate face area.
If you decide to use a face scrub, I recommend you trying the Cosmedix Purity Detox scrub.
It is essential to point out that your skin type and skin concern play a crucial role in deciding whether a physical exfoliant will work for you and how frequently you should use it.
Any abrasive, mechanical action on the skin, if done improperly, can cause more harm than good. Moreover, that feeling of a flawless and smooth face can lead to dehydration and skin damage in the long run.
As the name implies, chemical exfoliants contain ingredients that work by penetrating your skin and breaking the bonds between its cells. Chemical peels create controlled damage in the skin, sloughing off the epidermis’ superficial layers, or if the peel is medium or deep, it reaches the skin below the epidermis.
Chemical peels are generally categorized by the depth of damage that they produce in the skin. They are superficial, medium, and deep. The strengths and the depth of damage that the peel makes depend on the chemical concentration and the amount of time the peel has contact with the skin.
The most common acids used in chemical peels:
Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA), available only in a professional setting
Jessner’s, available only in the professional setting
Phenol peels, available only in the professional setting.
Chemical exfoliants come in the form of chemical peels, cleansers, toners, serums, creams, masks.
Products that you can use at home have a tiny percentage of a chemical. In contrast, a licensed esthetician or a dermatologist performs chemical peels with a higher concentration and provides advanced results.
Chemical exfoliants are an excellent option for individuals with sensitive, thin or overreactive skin. The reason is that you can not over-scrub like in the case with a physical exfoliant.
Chemical exfoliants can help treat conditions like sun-damaged skin, superficial wrinkles, uneven texture and pigmentation, acne breakouts, large pores, and milia.
The most significant advantage of chemical exfoliants is that they come in different percentages, and you can work your way up. Moreover, they do more than just exfoliating the dead layer of the skin. They brighten, stimulate collagen production, and firm the skin.
Exfoliation is an essential step in your skincare routine. However, it is crucial to pick the right products according to your age, skin type, and concern.
I would suggest getting a consultation with a licensed professional who would analyze your skin and create the best treatment plan to help you achieve your beauty goals.