Chemical And Physical Exfoliation: Which Is Better/Safer? And 4 Best Exfoliants


Hi, just letting you know that all products recommended here have been used by me, or are properly researched to ensure they are the best you are getting without bias.

I am also an affiliate for certain Amazon products and this means that some links here are affiliate links. If you purchase an item through any of them, I MAY earn a commission at no extra cost on you.

There are two major types of exfoliation, there is chemical and physical exfoliation. A lot of people who want to start taking exfoliating the skin seriously are usually at a loss as to which is better and safer. There have been lots of debates around which is ideal for our skin and in the end, more people are even left confused. In this post, I will like to tell you all you need to know about these types of exfoliation. You will learn their pros and cons, and by yourself, you would decide which is best for you. I will also share with you my own recommendation and tell you why.


What Is A Chemical Exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells smoothly using products that are specially formulated for that. It involves using enzymes or acids to loosen the bonds between cells to get rid of dead skin cells. When these bonds are broken, the dead skin can be shed to reveal more healthy skin. Some chemical exfoliants include AHAs, BHAs, PHAs, and enzymes which can be used to chemically exfoliate your skin; chemical peels done by dermatologists also work.

What Is A Physical Exfoliation?

Physical exfoliation also called manual or mechanical exfoliation or the general ‘scrubbing’ we know, is simply the mechanical removal of dead skin cells by abrasion. This involves using products that contain some type of rough material like grains or ground-up nuts. When you rub this in circular motions on your face, the layer of dead skin cells will be removed.

Differences Between Chemical And Physical Exfoliation

We can deduce that chemical and physical exfoliation is definitely not the same thing from the above definition. If you are wondering what differences set them totally apart from each other, here are some of them:

  • Physical exfoliation relies on the manual removal of skin cells while chemical exfoliation, on the other hand, loosens the bonds that hold the cells together to make it easy to wipe away the dead cells.
  • The results are more immediate with physical exfoliation than chemical exfoliation.
  • Physical exfoliation is mostly recommended to be done once or twice a week. Chemical exfoliation can be done daily or once in two days depending on your skin’s needs.

Benefits Of Physical Exfoliation

For those who may choose physical exfoliation, that is a good thing, and here are some of its benefits that would interest you:

  • It works very fast and gives your skin quick results you will appreciate.
  • Physical exfoliation doesn’t take much time to complete the process.
  • Products used for physical exfoliation contain small particles that can take off the dead layer of skin cells and leave you with healthier skin.

Benefits Of Chemical Exfoliation

For chemical exfoliation lovers, there are also some benefits of this method that will also interest you. Here are a few of them:

  • Chemical exfoliation targets dead skin cells only and won’t strip your skin of vital things.
  • This method is gentler than other exfoliating methods.
  • For chemical exfoliation, you use ingredients with a low pH to help loosen dead skin cells.

The Downside of Physical And Chemical Exfoliation

  • Physical exfoliation can cause irritated, flaky, dry skin when overused.
  • Chemical exfoliation may not give you instant or quick results and this can cause desperate people to use it quite often which is not always recommended.

Is Physical Exfoliation Really Bad On The Face?

Since physical exfoliation involves using products that have rough particles, people are a bit worried and sceptical about using them. One thing for you to note is that physical exfoliants on their own are not that bad. The only time it can present a problem is when you begin to abuse or overuse it. If you use it for too long or rub your face too hard, you can exfoliate your skin away. And that is not a pleasant thing for your skin as it can be compared to giving yourself a first or second-degree burn.

Is Chemical Exfoliation Bad For The Face?

Chemical exfoliation is not entirely bad on its own too. You just have to stick to products that do not react to your skin or cause irritation. And as long as you do not use it longer than required, you are good to go.

Can chemical exfoliants be used every day?

Generally, there is no particular rule of thumb for how often you should use chemical exfoliants. Some of the products come with directions for use while some people recommend them daily. The best suggestion is actually to experiment and see what works for you.

Start by using it once in two days. If your skin feels fine, that’s good; you can keep on with that. If you want to go daily, do that for a few days and observe your skin to see if there is any tingling, irritation, redness, or excess skin falling off. If you notice something not right, immediately stop the daily use and switch to once in two days. That is the most recommended number of times to chemically exfoliate your skin.


Can physical exfoliants be used every day?

If you are wondering how often you should exfoliate, have it in mind that physical exfoliants have contents that may be abrasive and so it is NOT RECOMMENDED to physically exfoliate daily. It is advised that you physically exfoliate two to three times per week and your skin must be able to handle it or you can just stick to it once. As always. you have to experiment to see what works best for your skin.

If you are one of those who would want to go the extra mile and exfoliate twice a day, you may be wondering if you can exfoliate twice a day. The answer to this depends on the exfoliant you choose. If you are using a very, very mild, or moderate exfoliant, you can exfoliate twice a day. Just be sure to avoid any harsh process. You do not want to get your skin worse and even irritated or tingly. But if you ask me, I will suggest you stick to it once a day.

What could happen if you exfoliate generally every day?

This question is on the lips of many especially those who want to do it every day but are scared of negative effects. The truth is, exfoliating every day using a harsh process can strip the skin of its natural oils and this alone can cause breakouts. Not just that, it can also irritate you as you are removing the top layer of your skin very often and not giving it time to heal.

What is the best time to exfoliate?

Naturally, our skin repairs itself at night. If you are looking at using physical exfoliants, the best time to exfoliate would be in the morning. It is apparently the perfect time for scrubbing away those dead skin. For chemical exfoliants, they dissolve keratin protein that holds the dead skin cells together. They actually work best at night just when the skin is regenerating itself. If you wish to differ from these, you can go ahead to exfoliate according to your personal needs.

Physical Exfoliation vs Chemical Exfoliation: which is better/safer?

What almost everyone has come to accept in this whole debate of physical and chemical exfoliation is that; since chemical exfoliants do not involve rubbing the skin, they are actually SAFER than physical exfoliants. Physical exfoliation would nudge the loose dead skin cells from the topmost layer of the skin using physical friction to reveal healthier skin. But chemical exfoliants are gentler and do not require friction or any harsh process.

However, physical exfoliation is BETTER because it provides faster results compared to chemical exfoliation. A physical exfoliant can get you results long before a chemical exfoliant would give you the results you are looking for.

My Recommendation

 Is chemical exfoliation better and safer than physical exfoliation? For me, that is a loud YES! Why? Chemical exfoliation may be slow to give you results, but it sure is gentler. You won’t risk stripping your skin of necessary oils and you can comfortably use it often without fear of irritating the skin.

Chemical exfoliants are mostly made from plant- and animal-derived acids which are safer than any rough grain or harsh particles you will find in physical exfoliants. They are smoother on the skin, do not involve rubbing the skin, and do not leave any harsh effect bein their wake. Besides, someone with sensitive skin can choose to use chemical enzymatic exfoliators and get effective results without making the skin feel sore from harsh products.

Is it ideal to use both physical and chemical exfoliant together?

If you are thinking about using them both on the same day or at the same time, that is totally not a good idea! Chemical and physical exfoliants should not both be used on the same day as they can strip your skin of essential things and can even damage your skin barrier. However, if you want to use them both, you can choose to alternate using the chemical and physical exfoliant on different days. Say your routine is exfoliating twice a week, you can use a chemical exfoliant on the first day and a physical exfoliant on the second day. This way the dead skin cells that may be hanging off your skin after using the chemical exfoliant would be removed using the physical exfoliant.


How quickly does chemical and physical exfoliation work?

It has already been established that physical exfoliants work quicker than chemical exfoliants. Though no one can categorically say that each of the exfoliating methods can give results at a particular time. The results showing up can depend on a lot of things like skin type, skin condition, environment, lifestyle, and even product used. However, what we all know is that people start seeing results just a few days after using physical exfoliants. As for chemical exfoliants, it can take a week or more to start recording very good results.

What is the best way to use chemical exfoliants?

When you use chemical exfoliants, you may need to wait for like 30 minutes for them to seep properly into the skin and work well. After 30 minutes, your skin would naturally balance out the acidity of the chemical exfoliant and the exfoliation would cease. After washing it off, wait a while before applying other products. The longer you wait before applying additional products, the more effective the exfoliation.

How to use physical exfoliants

For physical exfoliants, the use depends on the type of product you are using for exfoliating. If you are using a liquid, gel, or scrub with grains, granules, or other particles like microbeads or sugar to exfoliate; you simply apply it to your face and gently rub your fingers around it. Alternatively, you can use an exfoliating tool to rub it in. The major aim is to rub the content around your skin in motions to buff away the dead skin cells. This can go on for a while till you feel satisfied and then you can wash it off. In the end, you should have smooth and refined skin.

What do you do before/during/after exfoliating?

Some people want to exfoliate but do not know where to begin, what to do first or what to do after. Some just finish exfoliating, wash their face, and jump into bed or go ahead with their makeup if they are going out. This method is not the right process to complete your exfoliation. In case you don’t know, here are simple steps to follow when you want to exfoliate:

  1. It’s best to exfoliate after your shower and not after using products on your skin.
  2. While exfoliating, rub around your face lightly so that you don’t get particles to scatch at your face (especially with physical exfoliants).
  3. If the product you are using requires that you wait for a while, you can do other stuff to pass time. Feel free to go ahead and set your clothes, make your bed, etc.
  4. Always rinse off the products with lukewarm water so your freshly exfoliated face isn’t irritated by hot or cold water.
  5. Simply pat the face dry with a clean towel. Don’t drag the towel down your face. Pat gently instead.
  6. Follow your usual skin routine process of CTM. Cleanse (optional and you should use a gentle oil-fighting cleanser to close your pores), tone, and then moisturize your skin.
  7. Wear a smile knowing that you have done your skin good.


What Are The Best Exfoliants To Use On The Face?

It’s normal to almost get confused when you make up your mind that you want to try the chemical or physical exfoliant. There are tons of products in the market promising one thing or the other and honestly, if you make the wrong choice, you could regret it more than you would appreciate it. For this reason, I have gone ahead to take away the extra stress it would cost you to search for exfoliants yourself or do a little trial and error. I have selected the best 4 products that I have had ex[erience with directly or indirectly. These products have gotten good reviews from their users and the reasons are very obvious.

Best 2 Physical Exfoliants

  1. Fresh Sugar Face Polish Exfoliant: It is an exfoliating mask with real strawberry seeds and also brown sugar. This exfoliant feels and smells good. It makes your face feel so smooth and you are sure to get that plump and healthy glow in no time. Since it is a physical exfoliant, two or three times a week can give you amazing results in no time. If you want to get this for yourself, click this link to get to the page on Amazon where you can see the price and users’ reviews.
  2. Acne Eliminating Duo: This blackhead eliminating facial scrub comes with an acne terminator 10. It is a gentle acne scrub that combines maximum strength salicylic acid to clear and remove blackheads, as the exfoliators deeply cleanse the skin. The scrub is great for people with pimples, spots, and blemishes that appear unexpectedly and require a quick solution. It can get your skin’s dead skin cells off and leave you with a refreshed and clean face. Simply click this link to see more details and get one for yourself.

Best 2 Chemical Exfoliants

  1. Aveeno Radiant Skin Brightening Exfoliating Daily Facial Scrub: This brightening facial scrub contains moisture-rich soy extract and naturally derived granules designed to gently remove impurities from your skin’s surface. It is gentle enough that people with sensitive skin can comfortably use it. It is a daily exfoliating cleanser also formulated with jojoba and castor oils which will give you smoother and more even-toned skin. This Amazon link would take you right to where you would read more about it and order one too.
  2. Neutrogena Oil-Free, Acne Proofing Daily Facial Scrub: This is a gentle exfoliator that leaves the skin feeling smooth while the acne-fighting medicine prevents future breakouts. The oil-free product is gentle enough for everyday use to cleanse pores. It helps make the skin more resistant to acne over time and helps well to get rid of dead skin cells. As a chemical exfoliator, it is safe to use daily. But if your skin starts feeling irritated, switch to using it once in two or three days. Go ahead and click this link to see the product on Amazon and get to know more about it before purchasing.
Exfoliating your face naturally

Not everyone is a big fan of using chemical or physical exfoliants to exfoliate their skin. The good news is that there are actually natural ways to exfoliate your skin and still get very good results. Exfoliating your skin will help remove old, dead skin cells and reveal the healthy, new skin underneath. Using a natural exfoliating process can still give you the same thing.
Here are some of the most popular natural exfoliants you can use:

  1. Baking soda
  2. Flaxseeds
  3. Finely ground brown sugar
  4. Coffee grounds
  5. Finely ground almonds
  6. Oatmeal
  7. Finely ground sea salt

To form a paste, all the above can be mixed with little water (or virgin olive or grapeseed oil). Whenever you are ready to exfoliate, dip your fingers or exfoliating tool or brush into the paste and rub it on your face. You can use a circular motion to rub it gently. By doing this, you will help your skin remove dead skin cells. After a while, you can rinse it off with lukewarm water.

Note that all the above ingredients fall into other physical exfoliation but in this case, you are using natural ingredients in place of cosmetic products.

The perfect tool for applying your exfoliants (chemical, physical, or natural)?

If you are one of those who do not want to smear your fingers with your exfoliant just after bathing, there’s actually a tool you can use. The tool is faster and easier to use. It would even save you time, stress, and also give you good results.

It is the Waterproof Facial Cleansing Spin Brush with 7 Brush Heads for Deep Cleansing, Gentle Exfoliating, Removing Blackhead, and Massaging. This is a waterproof facial cleansing brush with seven (7) different face brush heads. It can give you the full range of facial care you need. From full cleansing to gentle cleansing, to vigorous deep-cleansing, to exfoliation and to even massaging. All these for a better, visibly brighter, and more even skin tone. All skin types can use this just fine including those with sensitive skin. Click this link to be taken to the page with full details and prices.

Waterproof Facial Cleansing Spin Brush with 7 Brush Heads


With all the above, I can bet you have learned a whole lot about physical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. I think it is safe to say that it is just a matter of personal preference at the end of everything. I know some people would prefer physical exfoliation over chemical exfoliation. You know what, it doesn’t really matter as long as you follow the recommended rules. Try not to go overboard with any method you choose. This is so that your skin doesn’t feel the brunt later in the future.

What do you think?



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4 thoughts on “Chemical And Physical Exfoliation: Which Is Better/Safer? And 4 Best Exfoliants”

  1. I’m not too big on exfoliation but if I ever want to start, it would just be twice a week.
    Anything more than that is too harsh for the skin.


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