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What's the Difference Between Physical and Chemical Exfoliants?

by Editorial Team |

Exfoliation gets its hype for good reason. Adding this simple step to your skincare routine can help tackle a host of skin issues. It removes dead skin cells and clears out your pores, giving you glowing skin sans an expensive facial. Clogged pores equal blackheads, whiteheads, acne and dullness, so we like to think of exfoliation as the ultimate way to detoxify your skin!

Today, a wide variety of exfoliants flood the market. There are two types – physical and chemical – but knowing exactly which one will work for your skin type or specific skin needs can be confusing. While they’re both meant to serve the same purpose, their ingredients, texture and functionality are quite different. On top of that, their carbon footprints differ greatly––one is a lot larger than the other! Let’s break them down: 


What is Chemical Exfoliation?

The word ‘chemical’ often gets a bad rep when it comes to skincare. A chemical? For your skin? It sounds abrasive, toxic and far too potent, right? The truth is, chemical exfoliants are totally safe to use on your skin––since they don’t involve rubbing and tugging, they are actually much gentler.

Chemical exfoliants buff away dead skin cells with the help of chemicals that contain acids or enzymes. These acids work by breaking the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. There are various different types of skincare acids, but the most common ones are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). Both of these have different properties that do different things for your skin.

AHAs are water-soluble, so they only exfoliate the top layers of your skin––these are better if you have drier skin because you don’t have excess oil-build up that needs deep cleaning.  BHAs are oil-soluble, which means they can reach deeper into your pore-lining and virtually cleanse and exfoliate your skin from within. BHAs will work if you have either dry or oily skin, but it’s especially beneficial for oilier skin types.

"While they’re both meant to serve the same purpose, their ingredients, texture and functionality differ greatly." 


What is Physical Exfoliation?

Physical exfoliants feature ground up granules often made from natural ingredients such as walnuts, fruit pits, sugar or coffee. They work to mechanically scrub or slough off dead skin when you massage your face.

Yet, while natural physical exfoliants may sound like a safer choice, they can often be too abrasive for your delicate facial skin, with a tendency to cause micro-tearing. These micro-tears make your skin more vulnerable to environmental damage and other external irritants such as pollution and bacteria.

But note, not all physical exfoliants are harmful: it largely depends on the size and concentration of the physical particles. For instance, those loaded with fruit pits and nut shells are especially abrasive because they often have larger granules with rougher edges. Exfoliators will small, finer particles are not necessarily as damaging, so stick to those!


"Chemical exfoliants made with vegan lab-made ingredients can deliver the same, if not better results as exfoliants with natural ingredients."


How Do Exfoliants Impact the Environment?

‘Natural’ and ‘environmentally-friendly’ are not synonymous terms. If you pick natural skincare products as the more 'sustainable' option, you might want to ask yourself a few questions: where do these natural ingredients come from? How are they farmed and produced?

The truth is, skyrocketing demand for ‘all-natural’ skincare ingredients is leading to unsustainable farming practices; natural resources are depleting faster than they can be replenished. This means physical exfoliants that feature natural ingredients often have a higher environmental footprint than chemical exfoliators!

On top of that, other physical exfoliants contain non-biodegradable plastic microbeads, which end up contaminating oceans and harming marine life. Fortunately, microbeads have been banned by more than a dozen countries worldwide, including the US, the UK, Canada, France, New Zealand, and Taiwan, but many still have yet to follow suit.

In this light, chemical exfoliants made with vegan lab-made ingredients can deliver the same, if not better results as exfoliants with natural ingredients, but with a much smaller carbon footprint. So, if you're thinking about incorporating exfoliants into your skincare routine, a chemical-based one might just be your best bet! 

P.S. While there are many do’s and don’ts of exfoliating, there are a few important things to always remember: stick to doing it just once or twice a week and always apply moisturiser and SPF after––because your skin will always be super sensitive post-exfoliation! Listen to your skin, and give your skin a break if you notice any signs of redness, itching, or irritation. 


Introducing Yours Clean Slate Exfoliant Pads

Guess what? We’ve launched our very own chemical-based Clean Slate Exfoliating Pads! They’re packed with (sustainably sourced) plant-based active ingredients including BHAs (Salicylic acid), Centella Asiatica (flower) Extract, and Chamomile extract to help you buff away dead skin cells, unclog your pores, minimise breakouts, clear blackheads, and refine your skin texture. The end result? Healthy, radiant skin. Get yours below.

  

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