To scrub or not to scrub—that is the question. From funky face sponges to state-of-the-art cleansing brushes, there is no shortage of exfoliating solutions. Exfoliating is an essential step in everyone’s routine. Not only does it prevent breakouts by removing dead cells that build up on the surface of the skin, but it also helps to maintain a smooth complexion. While it is almost impossible to change the size of the pores, you can minimize their appearance by getting rid of the built-up dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. While there are varying benefits when it comes to using physical or chemical sloughing options, it’s important to consider the right one for your skin type.
What Is Physical Exfoliation?
Physical exfoliation involves using various tools or abrasive substances to physically slough away the outermost layer of the skin. You can buy motorized dermabrasion sponges or brushes, or rough sponges and scrubs that do the same job but without the motor. Oily skin types benefit the most from “mechanical” exfoliators, as they can withstand more abrasive cleansing.
Pros and Cons
Exfoliating brushes and scrubs are widely available. They’re convenient to use at home, and they provide an easy and relatively effective way to get rid of dead skin cells and impurities and temporarily minimize the appearance of large pores. They are especially effective for getting rid of blackheads. However, they’re not always the most gentle way to exfoliate. Excessive abrasion can result in irritated skin. For those with sensitive skin, opt for gentle, fine-grained cleansers. When choosing a granular scrub, try to avoid any products with nutshells or fruit pits that can irritate skin.
What Is Chemical Exfoliation?
Most chemical exfoliants can be classified as two types: AHA, or alpha-hydroxy acids, and BHA, beta-hydroxy acids. The two most popular AHAs are glycolic acid and lactic acid while BHA usually refers specifically to salicylic acid. These acids help slough away dead skin cells, while potentially normalizing skin cell turnover and stimulating the growth of normal, healthy skin. Enzymatic peels, such as bromelain and papain from pineapple, help digest dead skin cells.
Pros and Cons
Since chemical exfoliants do not involve rubbing the skin, they are generally safer than many physical exfoliants. Hydroxy acids, such as salicylic and glycolic acids, have the ability to penetrate the skin for deeper exfoliation. Enzymatic exfoliators are also effective, but they are not as strong as hydroxy acids, so they’re better for sensitive skin. Salicylic acid is especially effective for oily, acne-prone skin, while combination skin will benefit from an AHA that controls oil-production.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.