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What’s the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation?

January 17, 2022
Home / Glow School / What’s the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation?

Skin looking a little dull and congested? Blame your dead skin cells. When left unchecked, these dead skin cells can lead to clogged pores, breakouts and dull, lifeless skin. Regular exfoliation removes dead skin cells so that younger ones can come to the surface, resulting in a brighter, smoother complexion. Exfoliation also helps keep excess sebum at bay and makes it easier for the next steps in your skincare routine to penetrate deeper into your skin, so it’s a win-win!


For most people, exfoliating 1-3 times per week is ideal, but we recommend starting slow and adjusting your frequency to suit your personal skin type and needs. Exfoliation is best done in the evening after cleansing and before serums, moisturisers and oils.

There are two different types of exfoliants:

Physical exfoliation: A physical exfoliator acts as a gentle physical scrub, with small particles that dislodge and buff away the layers of old cells and other impurities from the skin’s surface. Just be sure that the particles in your physical exfoliant are small, as larger particles can cause micro-tears on your skin that disrupt your skin barrier. Physical exfoliators come in the form of cleansers that you wash off after massaging into your skin. We love SupearlaNova Hydrating Face Polish, which uses real crushed pearls (yep, we’re boujee like that) to buff away dead skin cells, cleanse pores and remove excess oil.


Physical exfoliators are generally best suited to normal, oily and combination skin types.


Chemical exfoliation: A chemical exfoliator is a lot gentler than the name suggests. It uses naturally-derived ingredients (like fruit enzymes, AHAs and BHAs) that penetrate deep into the pores to break down and separate the bonds that hold dead skin cells together. These ingredients usually have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, making them a great option for acne-prone skin types. Look out for a chemical exfoliator like the Clarifying Booster Overnight Resurfacing Peel, which combines exfoliating agents like AHAs with skin-soothing ingredients like Glycerin, Niacinamide and Aloe Vera to keep skin nourished and hydrated throughout the exfoliation process.


Chemical exfoliators can come in many different forms – like serums, toners or throw away pads. Some can be left on overnight, and some need to be washed off after a certain time period. Just remember to apply SPF the day after using!


Chemical exfoliators are generally best suited to normal, acne-prone, dry, sensitive and combination skin types.

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