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Scrub or Chemical Exfoliant? What does Your Skin Need?

by Anant Khare 01 Jun 2022

To scrub or not to scrub?

Are you caught in the recent physical exfoliation vs chemical exfoliation debate?

First, let’s understand what exfoliation is and why you need to make it a part of your skincare routine?

Simply put, exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead skin cells from the topmost layer of the skin. This topmost layer of the skin is most vulnerable to breakouts, infections and damage.

Your skin also naturally sheds dead cells in a 28-day cycle by design. However, certain factors like dry, cold air, indoor heating systems and stress can stall this process. As we grow in age, this skin shedding process keeps on getting slower. This results in dry, flaky and itchy skin. Exfoliation can act as a helping hand in bringing healthier skin cells to the surface and increasing cellular turnover.


Additionally, it just sweeps away the dead skin cells, grime, pollution and makeup residue; and the deep cleaning of the pores also makes your skin look brighter and feel silkier. It also allows serums, treatments and moisturizers to penetrate deeper and work more effectively.

It is a process that we have been doing for years. Then, it was known as scrubbing. You can also identify it as a standard step in our facials and clean-ups.

But how often do we get these things done? In an ideal scenario, exfoliation should happen regularly - twice a week to get more specific. But life is hard, and we are busy (and even lazy sometimes). If you are someone who has been skipping and avoiding this essential step in your skincare, then here’s your reminder to shine! (both literally and figuratively).

Now that we have convinced you to do it but you are unsure of how to go about it, we are here to help!

To get started, you need to be aware that exfoliants on the market today are currently divided into two lanes: physical and chemical. They both technically do the same thing - remove the deal skin, but they do so in very different ways. And if you want to make sure that you are doing it right, then read on as we explain in detail the different types and shed some light on their respective pros and cons.

Let’s begin with physical exfoliation.

Physical (also known as manual) exfoliation happens when you have to buff away the dead skin cells manually. You might even remember using nice-smelling scrubs, touting with ingredients like apricot, sea salt or walnut that work as abrasives to physically remove the dead skin cells as you wash or scrub. Scrubbing in a circular motion also increases the blood flow in the area and helps firm the skin and reduces the appearance of cellulite.

Other than scrubs, physical exfoliators are available in various forms like tools and products like brushes, scrubs, loofahs, and muslin facial sponges.

They show you quick results as you are using force to remove the dead skin cells from your face. They are readily available and suit all skin types. They are also effective in removing blackheads. But if you have acne-prone skin, it is advisable to ignore them!

Great stuff.. Right? So I can choose any physical exfoliator and get started with removing dead skin cells?

Hold on! As all physical exfoliants are not created equally. You should avoid products that use large fruit pips and nuts as their large, rough, sharp edges can be harsh on the skin and cause irritation and micro-tears.

Now, let’s get started with chemical exfoliants.

Chemical exfoliants use exfoliating acids to trigger a chemical reaction. This reaction breaks apart and sheds off the densely packed outer layer of dead skin cells without the need to physically scrub them away.

Now, you must have gotten scared by the word ‘chemicals’, but let us assure you that the chemicals used are safe to use.

The two main types of chemical exfoliators are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). These acids are added to different skincare products like face washes, body cleansers, creams, lotions, and serums. But serums are one of the most popular forms of usage.

Both AHA and BHA serums benefit the skin in different ways:

AHAs are perfect for superficially dry skin as they work to interrupt the bonds holding together dead skin cells. BHAs on the other hand have an affinity for oil and are great at penetrating deep into pores. As a result, BHA serums are the best face serums for acne-prone skin.

They take a long and constant application to show results and you need to find the right type that suits your skin. As they can give you a bad reaction and end up doing more harm than good.

In the end, we would like to remind you that whether you’re using physical, chemical, or both types of exfoliants, it’s possible to overdo it. Too much exfoliating strips away the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sun damage, dryness, and even infection.


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