Beginners Guide,  Series,  Skincare

Beginners Guide To Skincare – Physical and Chemical Exfoliators

When I shared my current skincare routine with you guys some of you wanted to know what’s the difference between physical and chemical exfoliators. So today in the 2nd post under my beginners guide to skincare series, we’re discussing exfoliators. Exfoliating is a key step for optimal skin health. This is how we remove dead skin cells from the surface of our skin. Not removing the dead skin cells leads to issues such as clogged pores, blackheads, congestion and extremely dull-looking skin.

Thankfully our skin goes through a natural process called cell turnover where skin generates new skin cells at the lowest base level of our skin through to the top layer and this skin dies and essentially “flakes off”. Cell turnover slows down with age and this is why our skin needs that extra bit of help(exfoliating). You do however need to be careful not to over-exfoliate or else you run the risk of damaging the new cells. Over exfoliating can strip the skin as well as cause inflammation. Also, how frequently you exfoliate is just as important but this also depends on the type of products you use, so let’s get into it.


Physical exfoliators

This is pretty basic and an exfoliant that many are familiar with. Physical exfoliation typically contains granules such as sugar, salt, groundnuts etc. These products should generally only be used once or twice a week. The only thing I feel I need to mention/warn you against is that you need to avoid exfoliants that have large particles ( such as sea salt and nutshells ) as these can be too abrasive. They can actually cause micro-tears on this skin that most times aren’t even visible to the eye but you’ll only notice skin damage in the long term.


Physical exfoliants I enjoy

Dr Brandt Microdermabrasion Exfoliator

A cult-favorite, this age-defying exfoliator gently polishes and smooths the skin, buffing away dead surface skin cells for a smoother, brighter complexion in minutes. For all skin types.

  • Exfoliate deeply with professional-grade crystals
  • Polish to reveal radiant skin
  • Smooth the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

Pixi Peel & Polish

This radiance revealing enzyme peel resurfaces for smoother, softer skin, and a healthy-looking glow.
•Natural fruit enzymes loosen dead skins cells, lactic acid gently exfoliates, cellulose peels & sugar extracts polishes, lifting away dullness revealing brighter skin.
•Professional salon peel treatment without leaving home.
•Suited on all skin types

How To Apply

•Use: In the AM and/or PM 2-3 times per week
•Step 1: Apply to dry face and neck
•Step 2: Leave for 2 min to let the enzymes activate
•Step 3: Rinse off and pat dry
•Step 4: For a more intense polish effect using your fingertips, gently massage face and neck in a circular motion


•Lactic Acid helps to exfoliate & clarify

•Papaya Fruit Extract improves skin texture

•Sugar Cane Extract helps reveal skin’s natural glow


Chemical exfoliators

The most popular chemical exfoliants on the market are AHA’s and BHA’s. These two ingredients can be found in toners, face masks, serums, moisturizers, in fact, it can be found in any product lol. This is where it becomes tricky because then you question whether you should be mixing certain products as a result of the active ingredients in these products. Chemical exfoliants contain acids that are naturally derived such as AHA and  BHA. These acids “loosens” the glue that holds onto your dead skin cells as well as increases the cell regeneration for that year-round glowy skin.

AHA – Alpha Hydroxy acids

AHA is an acid that’s typically derived from natural ingredients such a sugar cane, fruits, plant extracts etc, therefore suitable and gentle enough for all skin types. One very important thing to note about AHA’s is that its water-soluble meaning it can’t penetrate into the pores. This only works well for the epidermis (surface of the skin) leaving it well-nourished and also resurfaces the texture of the skin.

A few Aha’s to mention

  • Glycolic acid – found in sugar crops. This penetrates the skin better than other Aha’s
  • Lactic acid – most times derived from milk. Milder than glycolic as it also moisturises the skin while it exfoliates.
  • Mandelic acid – most gentle on the skin as it’s derived from Bitter almonds
  • Malic acid – Not as strong as glycolic and lactic And mostly used in other types of Aha’s, particularly in brightening exfoliators.

My favourite AHA’S

The ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

This combined 32% AHA/BHA solution offers deeper exfoliation to help fight visible blemishes and for improved skin radiance. The formula also improves the appearance of skin texture and reduces the look of fine lines with continued use.

This formula should not be used on sensitive, peeling or compromised skin. Please refer to additional sun protection note and other warnings in provided Directions.

The ordinary Lactic acid 10% + HA 2%

Lactic Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin. This 10% formulation offers mild exfoliation and is supported with a purified Tasmanian pepperberry known to reduce signs of inflammation and sensitivity that is often associated with exfoliation. This formula contains a studied Tasmanian Pepperberry derivative to help reduce irritation associated with acid use. This derivative is of plant origin and varies in colour seasonally and this colour variation may be apparent in the formula from time to time.

Sunday Riley Good Genes

The closest thing to an elixir of youth outside of a fairytale! Sunday Riley’s completely reformulated Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment is a multi-tasking, under moisturiser treatment and mask that smooths refines, clarifies and brightens, whilst improving your skin’s thickness and elasticity… phew! Featuring tiny glycolic acid molecules that sink deeply into the skin, the formula breaks apart pore-clogging debris and minimises the appearance of congestion and fine lines. Alongside this, lactic acid exfoliates further, prickly pear extract reduces irritation and lemongrass extract brightens and clarifies skin.

Farmacy Honeymoon glow serum

3-in-1 night serum that resurfaces, hydrates and clarifies dull skin while you sleep, formulated with a 14% AHA/BHA/gentle flower acids blend. Hyaluronic acid and our proprietary honey blend deliver intense hydration. Salicylic acid derived from willow bark helps minimize the appearance of pores. Honeymoon Glow also helps reduce the look of fine lines and wrinkles to reveal a healthy, more youthful complexion and a natural glow—no wedding required.

Apply a generous layer (1–2 pumps) to clean skin at night, avoiding eyes and lips. Use 2–3 times a week. May build up to more frequent use. Slight tingling may be experienced.


BHA – Beta Hydroxy acids

The main BHA out there is salicylic acid and great for acne-prone skin. This acid is oil soluble meaning it can penetrate deeper into your pores to break down the sebum that causes inflammation and breakouts (oil attracts oil). This is also an amazing ingredient that is known to refine one’s pores.

Both AHA and BHA work in different ways and for this reason, work so well together (a match made in heaven). The best types of products to use to get the benefits from these acids are serums, moisturizers or masks. It’s also really important to read instructions on how to use them, how much to apply and if it needs to be removed then how long you should keep it on before removing it.

Lastly and most importantly, especially for those who stay clear from acids. These are acids and will definitely burn the skin a little. Don’t be alarmed when you experience a slight tingling sensation. If it becomes overbearing then wash it off immediately with cold water. For those just starting off, you need to build it up slowly. Use once a week and then build it up incrementally. Once applied, leave it on for a minute, apply other products and then see how your skin feels.


Final thoughts

In summary, the main difference between physical and chemical exfoliators is that with physical exfoliators you’re generally using something to scrub your face and chemical exfoliators contain acids that remove dead skin cells more effectively without needing to scrub the skin.

I love this step of my skincare regimen because it really helps brighten up my skin and leaves the surface healthy and ready to absorb all the goodness from the other skincare products I apply thereafter.

Besides, if you’re spending quite a bit on serums and moisturisers then you want to ensure that it’s applied to well exfoliated skin.

Hope I’ve shed some light on this step. If you have any more questions please leave them below and I’ll answer as best I can.

Next, we’re discussing toners. So stay tuned for that.





Share Me!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Please visit SA Corona Virus for updated information on COVID-19, symptoms, preventative measures and