Chemical exfoliation vs physical exfoliation

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Chemical exfoliation vs physical exfoliation


Everything you need to know about the AHAs, BHAs and physical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliation vs physical exfoliation

Karachi: Exfoliation is all skin enthusiasts’ favourite step, and it really does work as it is one of the easiest ways to boost glowy, clean and healthy skin. Not only does it sweep away the dead skin cells, grime, pollution and makeup residue making your skin look brighter but it also allows any serums, treatments, and moisturisers you apply afterward to penetrate deeper and work more effectively.

Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells and other debris, helping speed up the cell turnover, resulting in brighter skin with minimised pores and a smoother surface. The difference is that chemical exfoliants use acids or enzymes to dissolve and loosen up the cells, while physical exfoliants – products containing small particles, or any sort of textured surface, like a washcloth – work by scrubbing away the dead skin and debris physically as the name suggests. It’s important to note that exfoliating too much strips away the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sun damage, dryness, and even infection, so it is always recommended to read the label and act accordingly when opting for an exfoliant.

But the question arises, which exfoliant is better for our skin and why? To explain this I will be taking some help from our recent history and the science behind each formulation.

The myriad ways to effectively break down the top layer of skin can be mystifying, though, and many tried-and-tested solutions have gotten a bad rep of late. Physical exfoliation, was once the gold standard of sloughing until popular exfoliants, such as the powdered walnut shell pieces found in them, came under fire for being too abrasive with a lawsuit filed against a brand using it in 2017 claimed that its popular product damaged the skin by causing micro-tears.

Mechanical exfoliation, which influences tech-savvy devices to tone the skin texture hasn’t fared much better: In September, another company hastily pulled the plug on Clarisonic—much to the relief of dermatologists, who found the turbocharged at-home tool often did more harm than good.


Chemical exfoliators, such as alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, have emerged as possibly some of the safest, and gentlest ways to break down the bonds between skin cells and decongest pores with experts advising patch tests to rule out any irritation before use, and nighttime applications to reduce photosensitivity during the day. But knowing your mandelic acid from your glycolic acid can be overwhelming. Here are some tips for effective exfoliation to keep skin smooth, calm, and clear all winter long.

To figure out your skin’s perfect exfoliation balance, take it slow at first. Never use a product more than the recommended usage and never layer products in the same session. As your skin acclimates to exfoliation, you may be able to increase the frequency with which you use some products, but the moment your skin starts to feel irritated or stripped, dial it back down. Once you find the sweet spot for your skin, the results should be noticeable—smoother, brighter, fresher, and clearer, with a radiant complexion.


The mechanics of AHA exfoliation

Once you’ve removed an initial round of dead skin, acids can further refine the surface and treat your pores, of the vast array of acids on the market, start with water-soluble alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which gently loosen the upper layers of skin—producing a peeling action—helping to fade pigmented spots and even out rough or bumpy patches. Mandelic acid, is often considered as an “unsung hero” since it has a larger molecular size than other AHAs, so it doesn’t absorb quite as fast (a good thing if you have sensitive skin). For a more intense treatment or for mature complexions, glycolic acid has the smallest molecular weight of all AHAs, so it penetrates the deepest and can build collagen in addition to improving texture and tone.



Beta-Hydroxy Acids

Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) are oil-soluble and go deeper into the pores than AHAs to clear excess debris and sebum. Something like azelaic acid, with its high molecular-weight effectively kills bacteria while also reducing redness and swelling, making it gentle enough for treating acne and rosacea. Salicylic acid takes things up a notch, penetrating deep into pores to unblock any congestion, even out skin tone, and smooth the surface and works amazingly with acne prone skin.

A more streamlined chemical exfoliation option is to combine acids in one multitasking formula with glycolic and salicylic acid, plus probiotics to firm and clear up skin.


Let’s get physical

Physical exfoliants can be used once a week, or every other week to remove dead skin cells. Something with preferably micro-exfoliants—or those with small-size, non-coarse particles—such as the poppy seeds and bamboo powder or the brown rice and rosehip seeds forms a low-friction scrub with just enough grit to disrupt debris without causing damage. If you’ve got sensitive, skip the scrubs altogether, and keep it simple with a washcloth that micro-exfoliates the skin without causing any damage.


Remember to always moisturise after you’ve exfoliated.


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