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Chemical Exfoliant vs. Physical Exfoliant

pexels-ron-lach-8142198Regularly exfoliating your skin is an important part of a healthy skincare routine. An exfoliant is a good way to remove dead skin, dirt, and other debris from your face. There are a few things you should know before using exfoliants, however. Keep reading to learn more about exfoliants, their benefits, and the difference between chemical and physical exfoliants.

What is an Exfoliant?

So, what is an exfoliant? An exfoliant is a process for removing dead skin cells, as well as dirt or any other debris, from the surface of the skin. The skin on your face naturally sheds skin cells already, but exfoliating helps remove excess skin cells that are remaining. 

Sometimes, your face may have dry, flakey skin or dry patches, and exfoliating can help with that. Exfoliants also help prevent and unblock clogged pores. Exfoliants fall into two categories; chemical exfoliants and physical exfoliants. 

Chemical Exfoliant

A chemical exfoliant is a product containing acids that help get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. It also helps remove dirt and unclog pores. With this type of exfoliant, an acid chemically removed the outermost layer of skin, leaving behind a smoother surface. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are common chemical exfoliants.

The benefits of chemical exfoliants include:

  • Removing dead cells
  • Unclogging pores
  • Help clear breakouts
  • Treating fine lines and wrinkles
  • Treating dark spots
  • Prevents acne
  • Improves the look and feel of skin

There are some risks when using a chemical exfoliant. Redness and irritability are two side-effects that can occur with chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants can also react badly with other beauty products; it is important to read labels and research the ingredients before using them with other products. Make sure you follow all directions. 

Physical Exfoliant

A physical exfoliant, in simple terms, manually removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. There are a few different kinds of physical exfoliants. A loofah, washcloth, or scrubbing pad are all good examples. Another common physical exfoliant is a face scrub. Like a chemical exfoliant, physical exfoliants remove dead skin and dirt, and can help prevent clogged pores. 

Unfortunately, physical exfoliants can often be too harsh for the face. Rough textures of scrubbing tools and sharp edges of particles in some scrubs can cause harm to your outer skin. Some risks of using physical exfoliants, especially if overdone, are irritation, inflammation, a weakened skin barrier, and potentially microtears.

What are Microtears?

Microtears are tiny, invisible tears in the skin. Microtears can be caused by many things, including physical exfoliants. Scrubs, including sugar scrubs and scrubs with pieces of seeds or nuts in them, can cause these small rips and tears. These microtears can damage the skin barrier over time, and cause dry, flakey skin.

Chemical Exfoliant vs Physical Exfoliant

Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin and dirt from the face. Chemical exfoliants work by chemically dissolving the outermost layer of skin. Physical exfoliants work by manually removing the dead skin and dirt, usually by scrubbing. 

Physical exfoliants can cause damage and microtears to the face, which is why chemical exfoliants are usually recommended instead. Use a gentle exfoliant like AHA or BHA 1-3 per week, depending on your skin’s needs.

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