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What Is the Difference Between Physical & Chemical Exfoliants?

Who doesn’t love the glow that comes from a good exfoliant? The process of removing dead skin cells is a quick and easy way to reveal a bright and glowy complexion. And while it’s a habit that can benefit everyone, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing and using an exfoliant. Understanding the difference between the two types can take your skin care routine to the next level. 

What Is Exfoliation? | Physical Exfoliants | Chemical Exfoliants | Is Chemical Better Than Physical? | Can An Exfoliant Be Both? | Which Exfoliant Is Right For Me?

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in your skin care routine. When done properly, it removes dead skin cells and polishes your skin’s surface (goodbye dullness), thereby allowing better absorption of the toners, serums and moisturizers that follow. The process of removing the dead cells can happen in two ways – with a physical exfoliant or a chemical exfoliant. Read on to learn more about each method and to uncover which type of Eminence Organics exfoliant is right for your unique complexion.

Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliant products contain small particles to add texture and they work by literally scrubbing away the dead skin and debris. These tiny bits – which are commonly made of salt or sugar crystals, nutshells, seeds and microbeads – physically slough off dead cells from the skin’s surface, revealing the healthier skin underneath. All of our physical exfoliants are free of harmful plastic microbeads. Instead, they contain naturally-sourced, organic ingredients like crushed gemstones and oat, rice and adzuki flours to gently break up and massage away the dead skin cells. While these particles act as an abrasive, they are gentle and safe. The scrubbing motion also increases blood flow to the area, which can help stimulate a rosy, healthy glow. 

Our Turmeric Energizing Treatment is formulated with turmeric, citrine gemstones and zeolite. It is the use of zeolite and turmeric powder that gives it grit and exfoliating benefits to re-invigorate the skin.

If you want to refine the appearance of pores and remove excess oil from the skin, the Charcoal Exfoliating Gel Cleanser is going to help reveal a balanced complexion. Formulated with charcoal, malachite gemstones and blue matcha, this is a supercharged purifying cleanser. It also contains the tagua seed as the star ingredient responsible for gently exfoliating and washing away impurities.

Our Stone Crop Oxygenating Fizzofoliant is a powder-to-foam exfoliant that uses microgreens, stone crop and rice and adzuki flours to infuse skin with a youthful-looking glow. With its light fizzing action, this revitalizing formula gently invigorates the skin and removes impurities to reveal a beautiful, brighter-looking complexion.

Another way to physically exfoliate your skin is with a textured wash cloth, loofah or dry brush. These can be gentle and easy options – especially for skin on the body.

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Chemical Exfoliants

A chemical exfoliant harnesses the power of naturally occurring enzymes and acids to remove dead skin cells at a much deeper level. AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) derived from natural substances like lactic acid (from milk) and citric acid (from fruit) break down the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together, allowing them to be more easily shed. BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), like the salicylic acid naturally found in strawberries, are antibacterial and reach deep into pores to give skin a deeper clean. 

The Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Cleanser is an example of a chemical exfoliant because it uses lactic acid to slough off dead skin. A milky gel that lightly lathers on your skin, this cleanser restores a smooth, radiant complexion.

The Yam & Pumpkin Enzyme Peel is another chemical exfoliant, using pineapple and papaya (AHAs) and willow bark extract (a BHA), to gently dissolve the dead cells that have settled on the skin’s surface.

Some other Eminence Organics products containing chemical exfoliants include our Exfoliating Peels: Bright Skin Licorice Root Exfoliating Peel, Calm Skin Chamomile Exfoliating Peel, Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel and Firm Skin Acai Exfoliating Peel

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Is Chemical Exfoliation Better Than Physical?

Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells and other buildup, helping speed cell turnover and leaving your skin fresher, brighter and clearer-looking. Chemical exfoliants are generally milder than physical exfoliants, which means they can be used by those with sensitive skin or darker skin tones that may be more prone to scarring. Since chemical exfoliants don't manually remove skin, there's less risk of overdoing it and ending up with irritated or damaged skin.

It is important to keep in mind that more is not more when it comes to exfoliating. Regardless of whether you’re using a physical or a chemical to exfoliant, it’s possible to overdo it. Exfoliating too often or too aggressively can strip away the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sun damage or sensitivity, dryness and flakiness. Over-exfoliation can damage the skin barrier – that protective layer of oils and fats that, along with the dead cells, helps seal moisture into the skin and keep irritants out. When these protective properties are stripped away with excessive exfoliation, the result is a weakened barrier. As a general rule, exfoliating two to three times per week is a good guideline. If you notice a reaction in your skin, slow down and build your way up.

Can An Exfoliant Be Both Physical And Chemical?

The short answer is yes! The Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant is an example of an exfoliant with both physical and chemical properties. Rice extracts gently buff and polish the skin’s surface, while the salicylic acid found in strawberries dissolves the bonds that hold dead skin cells together and penetrates deep into pores to clear them of any gunk and grime. The two approaches actually complement each other if used correctly, optimizing cell turnover to smooth, polish and retexturize your skin. One of our fans, Jodes, left us a website review: “Love love love this! I sprinkle some on my hand with a little squirt of face wash or just water and rub onto my face for a gentle exfoliant. Does the trick perfectly! and this bottle honestly lasts for such a long time -- I'm talking forever! And I use it every other day.”

If you’re looking to double down with your exfoliants, we suggest the Arctic Berry Peel & Peptide Illuminating System and the Monoi Age Corrective Exfoliating Cleanser, both of which contain the dynamic duo of acids and granules to clear the skin and reveal a brighter, smoother-looking complexion.

Which Exfoliant Is Right For Me?

Many factors can determine which type of exfoliant is the best option for your specific needs. To determine which type of exfoliant best suits your skin’s needs, we recommend visiting an Eminence Organics Spa Partner.

Do you use a physical or chemical exfoliant as part of your skin care routine? Which type do you prefer? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below and join the conversation on social media.