Exfoliating is something everyone should be doing, at least once a week. Dead skin builds up, pores get clogged, and the polluted environment we spend our days in affects our skin more than we know. For these reasons, going in with a good exfoliator to get as much of that grime out is necessary. Plus, an exfoliated skin makes a good foundation for moisturizer and serum to sink into nicely! The confusion comes in when having to choose between a physical and a chemical exfoliation… They both essentially do the same thing, just in different ways.
I'm no skincare professional by any means. With that being said though, skincare is something I've always been extremely interested in, and I find myself researching ingredients and products pretty often. This post is all based on previous research and my own experiences, so please remember that as you read through!
You’ll probably be most familiar with these. Physical exfoliators are those that are tangible. In other words, the small specks found in exfoliators, which physically rub off dead skin. Or they can also be tools, like an exfoliating brush for example.
Don’t be fooled though. The coarser the granules does not mean the better the exfoliation. You still need to be gentle in the exfoliating process. There is the possibility of creating little tears in the skin if the exfoliation is too rough. No one wants that!
Many physical exfoliators also use microbeads. These are tiny plastic particles that end up polluting the oceans and in turn, harming marine life. So, when searching for your ideal product, try to go for a more natural physical exfoliant – there really are so many to choose from. I'll explain a bit more below.
I have a couple of favourites that I’ve tried over time:
The African Extracts Rooibos Exfoliating Face Scrub (R62,99) is one that is I trust wholeheartedly. It’s known for its gentleness, which is perfect for maintaining smooth skin while still thoroughly exfoliating. This product has apricot seeds as its alternative to microbeads. The apricot seeds contain Vitamin E, which is a great vitamin for healthy skin. This, in conjunction with the powerful antioxidant properties of Rooibos, make for a perfect choice of exfoliator! Plus, I really like the smell, and that’s always a bonus! When I had this, I used it twice a week and that really worked well for me. The gentleness of the product makes the skin feel so smooth. I would use it in place of my cleanser that day or rather go in with a tiny bit of calming cleanser, followed by this exfoliation. The African Extracts skincare line is really lovely overall. It’s one I’d definitely recommend if you’re on the hunt for a natural, gentle skincare routine.
Avène Gentle Exfoliating Gel (R229,95) is the second physical exfoliator I’ve tried and enjoyed. Before I knew about the microbeads issue, I wasn’t concerned with looking out for alternatives. So, when I became aware, I was a little sad to learn that this product does actually use microbeads. However, I recently discovered that the microbeads used are made from cellulose, which is a renewable and biodegradable resource. How awesome is that?! Apparently, scientists from the University of Bath developed this a few years ago already. Now when I read the Avène product information, it makes sense to me that the formula states a biodegradable and eco-friendly solution.
Physical exfoliators have their pros and cons, as do many skincare products. Just do some research, look at the ingredients, and try to go for natural microbead alternatives. You’ll definitely find a winning formula suited to you!
I was only introduced to these this year, but they have made such a difference to my skin already! Obviously, these products use chemicals – I hope you’d guessed that 😉 Chemistry wasn’t my best subject in school (far from it), but I seem to enjoy it way more now when trying to understand skincare and ingredients. Two important types you need to know that I'll be talking about: Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). Both work by breaking up the dead, dull skin and allowing the skin to slough off naturally. Don’t worry, they’re not as complicated as they sound. This is coming from someone who really dreaded chemistry. There are other acids, however, these are the two I've been most familiar with.
AHAs: These are your glycolic and lactic acids. They are dissolvable in water and only work on the skin’s surface. AHAs are generally loved for their hydrating properties and the way in which they help combat sun damage, wrinkles, and dull skin in general.
BHAs: These are salicylic acids. BHAs aren’t water-soluble, but rather oil-soluble. They work on the skin’s surface like AHAs, but then they go deeper into the pores, enabling it to thoroughly unclog them and leave a bright complexion. BHAs are also hydrating and good for wrinkles.
I have two absolute favourite chemical exfoliants that have truly made such a difference to my skin.
Isntree Clear Skin 8% AHA Essence. (R215,00) This is actually a Korean Beauty skincare product. All the products I share in this category are actually. Side note: K-Beauty is hugely popular right now. I use this product every morning after cleansing and before my serum and moisturizer. Honestly, my skin has never looked so glowy! This contains 4% glycolic acid and 4% lactic acid. With chemical exfoliants, you don’t actually see the dead skin being removed, instead you see the effects after a few uses. I apply two pumps onto a cotton pad and sweep it all over my face and down my neck. There are also other ingredients inside that include antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and hydrating properties. I’m nearly out of my first bottle and I will definitely be stocking up again!
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine. (R410,00) Also on the pricier side, but definitely something I'll spend my money on over and over again. This is a combination of glycolic and lactic acid, though I only use this once a week. It’s actually a combination of a chemical and physical exfoliant. There are 30 pads in the jar, one side is patterned in a crisscross style, making the physical sensation apparent. The other side is smooth. I take the crisscross side and wipe it all over my face after cleansing. I take it down my neck and use the last bit on my hands. After a couple of minutes, I take the smoother side and do the exact same thing. Then I rinse with luke-warm water. I can’t even explain the magic of this product! If I’m having a particularly bad skin day, I do this exfoliation at night, and the following day my skin has a beautiful glow and my blemishes seem calmer. It seriously evens out the skin so nicely. It also smells like grapes, which makes it the most delicious smelling product in my cupboard! The wine aspect comes in from the resveratrol ingredient, which is taken from red wine, and acts as an antioxidant.
Lastly, a BHA product that I have finished and loved, though I haven’t repurchased yet is the Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner. (R65,00) This product contains Aloe leaf water and salicylic acid, to create the most calming and soothing effect. The BHA in this is only 0,5%, so it’s a tiny amount. This means that it’s not the most exfoliating product, but the percentage still allows for an anti-inflammatory component that reduces redness. The other ingredients also help with removing flaky skin, hydrating, minimizing scarring, and limiting the effects of pollution. I really should buy this again… 😉
Chemical exfoliants are nothing to be scared of. They may sound a bit terrifying because of the acidic properties, but they make such a difference to the skin.
Whether you are obsessed with exfoliating or have no idea where to begin, there is a product out there for you. Remember not to over exfoliate, as your skin doesn’t need to be completely stripped of its natural oils and whatnot. Though if you’re using a gentle chemical exfoliant, such as the Isntree one, everyday use won’t hurt your skin. With physical exfoliants, I would recommend about once or twice a week. Treat it as a pamper session for yourself and enjoy the process!
Let me know if you have any questions! And please share your favourite exfoliants in the comments, as well as your thoughts on any of these products if you've tried them!