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It’s 2019 and the question is no longer whether to exfoliate or not, but rather about physical and chemical exfoliation. Back when skin exfoliation first became a thing, everybody reached out for their walnut scrubs once a week and gave their faces a nice spirited rub. Ah, those innocent days!

Because as it turns out, physical exfoliation can cause more harm than good to the skin if not used correctly.

Exfoliation is a process of removing top older skin cells to reveal new and fresh skin lying underneath. Physical exfoliation involves granules to get the job done, but these granules cause micro tears in the skin that expose it to environmental damage and consequential skin inflammation. Infact, dermatologists equate rubbing big exfoliates like fruit pits and walnut shells to rubbing sandpaper on our delicate facial skin. Yikes! But manual exfoliation helps in blood circulation and reducing puffiness; it is also useful to reduce blackheads. If you want to stick to manual exfoliation make sure the exfoliants are small and remember to rub gently. Don’t exfoliate more than twice a week.

Chemical exfoliation on the other hand are made up of acids or enzymes that ‘unglue’ dead cells and ‘eat’ them up. Sounds eww, but is actually good for you, because chemical exfoliants penetrate into deeper layers for a deeper cleanse. Plus, there is no scrubbing involved which means it’s great for people with skin problems like acne. Believe it or not, acids are milder for your facial skin.

Common chemical exfoliants are:

AHA (Glycolic acid, Lactic acid): They remove the ‘glue’ that holds dead cells together and work on the surface of your skin making it look smoother and fresher. Gycolic acid is quite the darling in skincare world because of its anti aging properties; it even induces collagen production! If you’re an acid virgin, go for glycolic acid. Ideal for sensitive and oily skin.

BHA (Salicylic acid): These oil – soluble microbes penetrate deeper into the skin and pores, resulting in more exfoliation. Great for acne prone skin.


Fruit enzymes: Fruit enzymes like Papain (derived from papaya) and Bromelain (derived from pineapple) are milder than the previous two but can be unstable in many weather conditions.

The general consensus is that if you face skin problems like acne, eczema or dryness, reach out for an acid rather than manual exfoliant.  They are milder, safer and more effective. But all said and done, acids are still acids and should not be overdone. Stick to the instructions and listen to your skin (a tingle while applying is normal, but your skin shouldn’t be screaming out loud). Other than that, the coast is clear for you to embrace acids in all their glory.

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