There are many different types of exfoliators out there for your skin and it can be difficult to know what will work best for you. Here, we investigate the types of exfoliators, how they work, and the benefits they can bring to each skin type, to help you decide which one is right for you. 

What types of exfoliations are there?

Physical exfoliation

Physical exfoliators will use scrubs, gloves, or other tools to manually buff away dead skin cells. Scrubs will contain small particles that physically remove dead skin, whereas exfoliating gloves, mitts or washcloths will have a rough texture that will loosen and remove skin cells. 

Physical exfoliation can be harsher, so it’s best to look for scrubs that contain microparticles, rather than larger granules. If the particles are too big, they can cause small tears in the skin, damaging the skin barrier and leaving it red, irritated, and dry.  

Chemical exfoliation

Chemical exfoliators, as the name suggests, use chemicals rather than physical means to exfoliate the skin. These chemical exfoliants can be acids such as AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids). Some chemical exfoliating use fruit enzymes instead, as a more gentle alternative to AHAs and BHAs. 

Chemical exfoliators will react with the skin to break down the bonds that keep dead skin cells on the surface of the skin. This allows it to be sloughed away for clear skin. Some chemical exfoliators might not be suitable for those with sensitive skin, as they can cause irritation.  

Combination exfoliation

Some exfoliators might use a combination of physical exfoliation with chemical exfoliation, usually fruit enzymes as these are gentler than other types of acids. For example, a cream exfoliator could use fruit enzymes to break down the bonds and loosen dead skin cells and also use fine particles of something like rice bran to physically remove the cells. This can be an effective way of leaving clearer brighter skin. 

Exfoliation by skin type

Oily skin

Those with oily skin could find that physical exfoliation is most effective. If you have oily skin, you could have more build-up of excess oils on the surface of your skin. Physical exfoliation might have the added strength you need to clear your skin. 

You should use physical exfoliation with gentle, circular motions. You will want to avoid being too rough, as this can cause damage and irritation. 

If you have oily skin, you could also benefit from chemical exfoliation and may be able to withstand the harsher acids. BHAs have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, which can help to reduce breakouts. 

You can use both physical and chemical exfoliation if you have oily skin, but you shouldn’t use both a scrub or glove and an acid on the same day. Always take care not to over-exfoliate your skin, as this can damage the skin barrier. 

Dry skin

Exfoliating is important for dry skin, to remove the dead, flaky skin. However, you should avoid using physical exfoliants, as they can cause the skin to dry out even more and also cause tears that damage the skin barrier further. 

Instead, if you have dry skin, you could benefit from a chemical exfoliator. AHAs are the more gentle option for acid and can help to moisturize skin as it exfoliates. Fruit enzymes are also a gentle option for those with dry skin looking for an effective chemical exfoliator and also have a nice fragrance to them

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin it can be best to avoid physical exfoliation, as these can irritate your skin and leave it red and inflamed. However, finely ground rice powder or jojoba beads can help to look after skin while gently exfoliating. 

You should also avoid harsh chemical exfoliants like BHAs as your skin may react badly to these. Instead, you should look for a gentle, chemical exfoliator. AHAs can be gentler, or fruit enzymes might be the best option. These can both effectively exfoliate without being too harsh or causing damage to vulnerable skin. 

Combination or normal skin

Combination skin could benefit from both types of exfoliators. You may need to experiment to find what works best for your skin. A combination exfoliator might be gentle enough to not aggravate dry skin but effective enough to slough away excess oils and dead skin cells in oily areas. Alternatively, you could find using a physical exfoliator once a week and a regular chemical exfoliation alongside might work best. 

If you don’t have any skin concerns, you can pick any type of exfoliator. It might be best to stick with the more gentle options first, such as fruit enzymes or scrubs with finely ground particles, to ensure you don’t cause any complications for your skin. 

How often should you exfoliate?

How often you exfoliate will depend on your skin type and the exfoliator you’re using. A physical exfoliator or strong chemical exfoliant might only need to be used once a week. A gentler option could be used two or three times a week. The same applies refarding your skin type – oily or normal skin types can handle more exfoliation than dry or sensitive skin. 

It can be best to start with fewer exfoliations and increase them if you feel your skin needs them. This can minimize damage or bad reactions and keep skin healthy and radiant.