The Truth About Physical Exfoliants

Julia Sachs

Tags Exfoliant

physical exfoliants

Now that exfoliation is all the rage we get a lot of questions about what kinds of exfoliants are the best for your skin. With so much to choose from, many people wonder where to start when shopping for exfoliating skin care. Essentially there are two different kinds of exfoliants—physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants—and the two have different distinctions and results. When choosing an exfoliant, we recommend considering your skin type before you jump into any one product.

Most recently, the popularity of chemical exfoliants have created a lot of criticism over physical exfoliants because the products are generally more harsh than chemical exfoliants on the skin. The truth, though, is that physical exfoliants are worth using if you use them correctly. Before we jump into the details of that, though we thought it would be a good idea to give you a rundown on the basics of each type of exfoliant and what they are good for. 

Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliants are most commonly advertised as face scrubs. These products, usually made with ingredients like walnut shell powder, are rough scrubs that can be used to slough off dead skin cells to leave your skin feeling baby soft and smooth while promoting cell regeneration for younger looking skin. Some of our most popular face scrubs are from brands like Anthony, which uses white sand from Bora Bora to exfoliate the skin and smooth over rough spots, as well as this green tea scrub from Teami Blends.

Many who are wary of facial scrubs warn that harsh ingredients like walnut shell powder or sand are too rough on your more delicate skin and should not be used to avoid micro-tears—something that can cause the signs of aging to only appear more prevalent. But the truth is that when used correctly, scrubs are good for keeping your skin soft and smooth. Avoid using scrubs—particularly those with rough ingredients like walnut shell powder—around your eye area or any part of your face that may be sensitive.

We do recommend using scrubs on your body, as the smoothing ingredients can be used to help your skin feel softer and smoother than ever before. If your skin is sensitive to chemical exfoliants, a physical exfoliant may be a good solution as they do not tend to cause reactions. 

Chemical Exfoliants

The popularity of chemical exfoliants has blown up over the last couple of years. Brands like Sunday Riley have helped bring chemical exfoliants into the limelight with products like Good Genes, a lactic acid that helps to gently slough off dead skin cells and promote cell turnover.

While they may be labeled as chemical, these exfoliants are not bad for your skin despite the fact that they may not carry a “natural” label. Many of these chemicals are naturally derived in the same way that natural sunscreens would be (remember that even mineral sunscreens have to go through some level of chemical processing in order to be used in skin care). Many consumers fear the word “chemical” in skin care because of how their skin may react, but the truth is that these products are no more harmful to your body than any other skin care product would be.

Some of the most popular chemical exfoliants are ingredients that fall into one of three categories: AHA’s, BHA’s, and PHA’s. Each of these ingredients work differently and encompass anything from glycolic and lactic acids to retinol or bakuchiol—a natural alternative to retinol that is ideal for anyone with ultra-sensitive skin. 

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