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Physical Exfoliation vs Chemical Exfoliation: Which is Best For You?

Written by Sylwia Wiesenberg


Posted on June 11 2019

Women's Butt TypesWhen it comes to cleaning the skin on your face, back, chest and even your butt, exfoliation is the most effective, preventative way of eliminating acne or folliculitis. Put most simply, exfoliation is the process of removing the dead layer of skin cells from the top layers of your skin. This layer of dead cells can cause skin issues by clogging healthy pores. These pores become blocked and become inflamed, causing conditions like folliculitis. Not all exfoliation is equal however. You can exfoliate with both scrubs and chemical treatments. Which is better? Well, each has its merits.

Physical Exfoliation: Pros and Cons

You are likely most familiar with physical exfoliation. These usually come in the fancy and nice smelling scrubs, touting ingredients like apricot which work as abrasives that physically remove the dead skin cells as you scrub. Physical exfoliants are going to show you quick results as they are literally using force to remove the dead skin cells. They also generally have less chemical interactions with other skin care products as well as promoting blood circulation through the face.

Where physical exfoliants/scrubs fall short are that they really aren’t helpful for those with delicate skin. While the abrasives in the scrubs are good for removing skin cells, on those with delicate skin those very same abrasives are going to cause micro-tears in the skin. For issues on the butt like folliculitis, the irritation is actually going to make the issue worse. If you are unsure about whether you have delicate or tough skin, we recommend speaking with your dermatologist. If you want to opt for a physical exfoliant we also recommend you stay away from those using nut shells (like Walnuts)  or fruit pits. A good case in point was the uproar about Kylie Jenner’s new face scrub which used walnuts.

Chemical Exfoliation: Pros and Cons

Non-physical exfoliation ditches the need to scrub away the dead skin cells. As you may be able to guess, chemical exfoliation relies on “chemicals” to remove the cells. Chemical may seem like a suspect word - evoking feelings of toxic substances. For exfoliation purpose, these chemicals are actually incredibly safe and naturally occurring. The two main types of chemical exfoliators are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs).

AHAs and BHAs serve their own purposes and will often be sold together in cosmetics. AHAs are perfect for superficially dry skin as they work to interrupt the bonds holding together dead skin cells. BHAs on the other hand have an affinity for oil and are great at penetrating deep into pores - perfect for people with acne issues. Natural sources of AHA and BHAs include citric acid which can be found in orange peels. For those with problems exfoliating their behind, Bawdy’s butt masks use orange peels to exfoliate your butt and get rid of stubborn red bumps. Other natural sources of AHAs and BHAs are glycolic acids which derive from sugar cane. They are one of the most effective and fast acting chemical exfoliants around.

The main downsides of chemical exfoliation are that they may not be as fast acting compared to physical scrubbing. It takes a little time for the chemicals to break apart the bonds holding the dead skin cells whereas scrubbing does that instantaneously.

Squeeze It Butt Mask

Chemical Exfoliation vs Physical Exfoliation: Which is Best For You?

Clearly chemical and physical exfoliation have their upsides and downsides. If we were to choose a superior method however, we would give the nod to chemical exfoliation. Non-physical exfoliation may require more commitment, but if you are willing, you will be doing your skin more favors in the end. The abrasive nature of physical exfoliation after many years can damage the skin if you have sensitive skin. For those who are tl;dr, here is a summary of who and who shouldn’t use physical exfoliators.

People Who Can Use Physical Exfoliants

The following groups of people should feel free to use physical and non-physical exfoliants.

  • Have durable skin (skin with resistance to tearing, flushing, itchiness and dryness)
  • Have a scrub that doesn’t use nut shells or fruit pits
  • Plan on using the scrub sparingly (less than 3 times per week)

People Who Should Use Chemical Exfoliants:

The following groups of people we recommend only use chemical exfoliants on their face, back and butt.

  • Have sensitive skin (skin that easily flushes, itches, dries or tears)
  • Have naturally oily skin
  • Have acne issues