There are very few universal skincare truths, but one of them is that for healthy skin you must exfoliate. While, when we’re young, our skin naturally sheds the top layer of dead skin cells, as we age and are exposed to sun damage, we stop shedding as regularly. This leads to dull, flakey skin and clogged pores, and stops skincare products like serum and moisturizer from working as effectively, since they can’t penetrate beneath the dead skin layer.
But before you go reaching for a facial scrub, you may be surprised to learn there are actually two ways to exfoliate, and one of them is much better for you than the other. Facial scrubs, which use things like microbeads (side note: these are toxic!), walnut shells, sugar, and any other type of small, grainy substance to remove dead skin cells, act as a physical exfoliant. But there is also a process called chemical exfoliation, and it’s a much more effective and a healthier option.
Sandpaper for Your Face
Physical exfoliation works a lot like how sandpaper gets at splinters: it uses a course substance to physically detach dead skin cells from new ones. While physical exfoliation is ideal for rougher skin, like say, your feet, the skin on your face is much more sensitive. Physically exfoliating too often or too roughly can lead to micro tears, which are exactly what they sound like. They’re tiny, microscopic tears on your skin, which can lead to blemishes and scarring.
Chemical exfoliation works differently. Rather than using friction to remove dead skin cells, an acid chemically removes the “glue” that holds dead skin cells to new skin cells, thus loosening dead skin, so that water can gently wash it away. It’s not the most appetizing sounding system, but it’s awesome!
Why Chemical is Better
Chemical exfoliators usually come in the form of Alpha Hydroxy Acids and Beta Hydroxy Acids. AHAs, such as glycolic and lactic acid, are water soluble, and great for normal and/or sun damaged skin, while BHAs, such as beta hydroxy and salicylic acid, are oil soluble, making them ideal for more oily/acne prone skin, as they penetrate deep into pores.
In addition to being much more gentle on your skin, both types of chemical exfoliators provide more even exfoliation than physical exfoliators. Again, like if you were sanding wood, with a physical exfoliator you can very easily miss a spot. With chemical exfoliation, it evenly removes dead skin cells on the entire surface to which it’s applied making it foolproof.
Even better? AHAs are shown to enhance your skins moisturizing capabilities and reduce signs of sun damage, and BHAs are naturally inflammation reducing. That's quite the bang for your buck!
Bring it into Your Everyday
If you want to incorporate chemical exfoliators into your routine, look for cleansers with glycolic or salicylic acid, such as Alder New York's Everyday Face Cleanser. If you're feeling extra gung-ho, you can sign up for a chemical peel at a facialist- just know that since a peel uses a much higher percentage of acid than a face wash, this is a much more intense treatment, and something you want to do on occasion, not everyday.
So now you have another universal skin truth: for your feet and hands, go for the physical exfoliators. When it comes to your face, your skin deserves something better, go chemical!