Exfoliation: Physical vs. Chemical

Nothing feels better than scrubbing the day clean, but after using my physical exfoliant to scrub over top of acne, redness and sensitive skin, I questioned if this is actually helping my face??!!! There are two types of exfoliants, chemical and physical. They basically do the same thing... clear off dead skin, but each in a different way. I took a scrubbing break and looked at the options out there.. and ya know what, not all are created equal.


Physical exfoliation is an exfoliant with the use of small grains. The trick with physical exfoliants is you have to be gentle—you don’t have to apply that much pressure since the scrubby bits (usually sugar or a biodegradable water-soluble beads) do plenty of work just being rubbed on your skin.

If you’re too rough with your scrub, it can backfire by making your skin irritated or exposing the raw tissue to bacteria and infection. St. Ives Face scrub recently got some negative attention with it's use of walnut shells. Scrubbing with nuts can cause tearing of the skin. You may not see these teeny tiny tears, but it can lead to redness and inflammation.

Another option of a physical exfoliate that is much gentler on your skin is a cleansing/konjac sponge made with natural vegetables.

Hayles' Top Choices

  • ACURE BRIGHTENING FACIAL SCRUBThis is a great product!  It's grainy and creamy at the same time and applies easily, gently exfoliating, and leaves your skin feeling smooth. Contains 100% natural ingredients, sulfate and paraben free. 
  • PROVINCE APOTHECARY REGENERATING & STIMULATING EXFOLIATOR - A dry formula that you can blend with other natural ingredients (water, oil, cream, honey) depending on what your skin needs. Made in Canada with organic ingredients, sulfate and paraben free. Canadian Made

Ingredients to Avoid:

  • Microbeads - Not enviornmentally friendly
  • Apricot or Walnut shells (St. Ives Apricot Scrub)


Chemical exfoliants may sound a bit scary but they aren't. The two main types are AHA's and BHA's  which aid in cell turnover. 

AHA's (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are a class of chemical compounds derived from natural substances. They occur naturally in fruits, milk, and sugar cane. Although they are called acids they are not to be confused with strong industrial acids such as hydrochloric acid and sulphuric acid. These are best for sensitive and dry skin

BHA's (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are oil-soluble molecules and can get a deeper clean. One of the more popular is Salicylic Acid. breaks up the cells in the lining of the pores, which helps declog blackheads. This would be better for oilier skin and acne prone skin types.

Hayles' Top Choice:


This is hands down the best chemical exfoliator I have tried. They contain the most gentle AHA's and hydrating essentials oils. Quick and easy to add to your routine! No parabens, sulfates, silicones, GMOs, synthetic colours or fragrances, animal testing of any kind. Made in Australia.

Image Via: Go To

Image Via: Go To


Everyone has different skin and different requirements in their skin routine, but I found for me, I alternate between the two. I find the chemical exfoliation is much more gentle on my face, so majority of the time I stick to my swipeys. Once in a while, I'll go back to a physical exfoliant, to get that "scrubbed" feeling, but a very gentle one such as the Acure one. 

Other tips I would suggest for exfoliating are

  • Clean off your makeup first so it can do it's job better. 
  • Don't use a physical exfoliant more than a few times a week. 
  • Exfoliate in the morning. Skin renews overnight
  • Before buying a new exfoliant, read the reviews and see what others have to say. 
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