Why exfoliate
Types of exfoliation
How often to exfoliate



Our skin cells constantly renews itself as part of its natural processes. Skin cells are renewed, on average, every 30 days. This is why, when trying out new skin care, there is a certain amount of testing time required to properly see the efficacy of the products.

Environmental and seasonal changes, dietary effects, hormonal imbalances and even aging can affect the skin renewal process. This irregularity causes unwanted skin issues like acne, rough textures, uneven patches, wrinkles and dullness. Exfoliation helps to remove unwanted dead skin cells and leave the skin texture smoother.



There are two options – physical and chemical exfoliation. Depending on your skin type and condition, one may be better than the other. It’s not necessary to incorporate both! Oily, acne prone skin are much more suited for chemical exfoliation – keep reading to find out why.



Physical exfoliation uses granulated substances or specially designed tools to slough off dead skin cells. It sounds a little harsh and it can be very damaging if not done carefully.

Plastic beads, ground coffee, brushes and muslin cloths are common examples. Some are more coarse than others, so it is important to be gentle when using physical exfoliants. Granules that aren’t manufactured for facial use can cause micro-tears on the skin – think twice before using them.

Plastic and polystyrene beads have been widely popular exfoliation ingredients because of it’s rounded shape making it the most gentle option.

Physical exfoliants are generally not recommended for acne-prone skin. Skin with acne breakouts tend to be more sensitive and physical exfoliation may cause more irritation to an already irritated skin.



Chemical exfoliants usually come in the form of liquids or gels that are applied topically onto the skin. There are several different kinds of chemical exfoliants and most of them serves to break down the bond between dead skin cells, allowing them to be detached from the skin surface.

Because chemical exfoliation doesn’t require scrubbing off dead skin cells, it is considered a much gentler option for sensitive skin and acne-prone skin.


Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) is a very common and easily found chemical exfoliant. It usually contains glycolic acid or lactic acid. Glycolic acid is a more common ingredient, however, lactic acid is a more gentle ingredient with just as effective results. AHA is water soluble which makes it a very effective exfoliant on the outer surface of the skin.


Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA) is also very common. The most commonly sold BHA is salicylic acid – also a very common acne treatment. BHAs are oil soluble which makes it a very good option for people with oily skin. Plus, the skin is made of lipids (oils) so it is able to penetrate deeper into the skin and so its exfoliation duties like loosen up oil clogs that causes acne. Which means, BHAs are also great for acne-prone skin types.


Vitamin C or L-Ascorbic Acid (LAA) is also quite commonly used as an exfoliant although it is mostly classified as an antioxidant. But because of its acidic properties, it does result in exfoliation of the skin when used at an appropriate pH. Vitamin C and LAA in its pure form can cause severe irritation to some skin, especially the uninitiated. But there are other products that use Vit C/LAA derivatives that are much gentler but just as effective.


Vitamin A or Retinol or Retinoid. Both retinol and retinoids are derived from Vitamin A. Retinoid requires prescription due to its potency and potential side effects while retinol is much milder and can be purchased easily. These products are very effective at anti-aging due to its exfoliation properties that effectively increase cell turnover.


As you may have noticed, chemical exfoliants are usually acids. It may sound scary but these products have been specially formulated for facial use and it very effective when properly used. Some chemical exfoliants require particular ‘conditions’ in order for the product to be effective. For example, acid products must be of a certain pH to be effective while retinol and Vitamin C products should be contained in opaque packaging for the products to keep.


I’ll link a more in-depth post about it here once I’ve written it.



Most exfoliating products recommend a weekly routine to keep the skin smooth and healthy. As the skin naturally turns over, on average, every 30 days (more as you age), it is probably safe to assume that a weekly exfoliation routine is optimal.

Physical exfoliants are abrasive and it is smart to allow time for the skin to recover. Chemical exfoliants can be used as often as daily, depending on the strength of the product.

As with all things skincare, there is always an element of YMMV (Your Mile Might Vary). It is entirely possible to over-exfoliate and using sunscreen is very important as exfoliating means removing the top layer of the skin i.e. less protection.

Keep in mind that moderation is always the key and less is always more. Respect your skin and it will reciprocate.

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