The Difference Between Chemical & Physical Exfoliation

If you follow a consistent skin care routine for your skin type (including cleanser, moituriser and eye cream), you likely already know that exfoliating plays a big role in caring for your complexion. As a reminder, exfoliation is the process of sloughing off dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. We know this skin care step is important, but did you know that there are two types of exfoliation? Chemical exfoliation and physical exfoliation both exist—but what’s the difference? Well, that’s what we’re here to explain! Read on to hear the differences, learn how to exfoliate and discover our best exfoliants to add to your skin care regimen.


Chemical exfoliation involves the use of enzymes, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) such as salicylic acid, or alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) such as glycolic acid to remove dead skin cell build-up from the surface of your skin. No scrubbing required!

  • BHAs: BHAs like salicylic acid can be used for chemical exfoliation. Salicylic acid removes dead skin and improves the tone and texture of sun-exposed skin.

  • AHAs: AHAs include glycolic, tartaric, lactic and citric acids. Skin care products formulated with AHAs help to smooth fine lines and surface wrinkles, unblock pores and improve the skin’s appearance. The effectiveness of these products will depend on the concentration of the AHAs, the pH and the other ingredients in the formula.

AHAs like glycolic acid can leave your skin quite sensitive to the sun, so make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen in the morning. Practice safe sun protection measures, including limiting your time in the sun (especially during the peak hours of 10am-2pm), seeking shade when possible, and covering up exposed areas with pants, long sleeves, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunnies.

  • Enzymes: AHAs and BHAs seem to get all the attention, but enzymes are another option for chemical exfoliation. Enzymes can also improve skin texture and tone, and they can exfoliate skin and improve clarity with less irritation than acid treatments.


If you’re looking to give chemical exfoliation a go, try our best chemical exfoliant for sensitive skin.

Revitalift Laser X3 Glycolic Pads: Formulated with glycolic acid, these double-sided peel pads help to remove dead skin cells and boost your daily anti-ageing routine. Your skin will look more radiant, wrinkles reduced, skin tone more unified and skin rebalanced. Use nightly on clean skin, applying in a circular motion to your face while avoiding the eye and lip area.

Editor’s note: When adding an exfoliant to your routine, either chemical or physical, pay attention to how often you are exfoliating your skin. Some of you can handle daily exfoliation, whilst others may only be able to handle exfoliating once per week. Watch how your skin responds to see what works best for you.


Now onto the second type of exfoliation! Physical exfoliation calls for the use of a tool or product that will act to physically remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Let’s chat about a few handy products to use.


As we mentioned above, a physical tool can be used for physical exfoliation. If you’re wondering how to exfoliate your body, one option is dry brushing. This involves gently sweeping a dry, stiff-bristled brush across your body in an upwards direction. Body brushes can help flaky skin, increase skin circulation, detoxify, and improve the appearance of cellulite.


This is another type of exfoliation brush, but it’s intended specifically for your face. These can be electric or manual, but either way, they should be used on damp skin with a cleanser. Facial brushes are great for getting that deep clean! 


Body and face scrubs can also be used as methods of physical exfoliation. We recommend using a sugar scrub, as they tend to be extra gentle as the granules melt into your skin. Apply the scrub to your skin, massage in circular motions, then rinse.


Washcloths are typically intended for simply cleaning yourself, but did you know that they can also be used to exfoliate? Some washcloths are even specifically designed for exfoliation. Exfoliating towels typically provide more intense exfoliation—but keep in mind that these aren’t meant for the face.


Keen to give physical exfoliation a try? We’ve gathered our favourite exfoliating skin care products below:


Pure Clay Exfoliating Red Algae Face Mask: This clay mask helps to gently exfoliate dull, uneven skin to reveal your natural glow. The creamy texture illuminates your skin—without drying it out. Apply an even layer of the face mask to clean, dry skin, leaving it on for 10-15 minutes. Remove with water in circular motions, and use three times a week for best results.

Pure Clay Red Algae Exfoliating Face Scrub: If you’re wondering how to exfoliate your face, look no further. This face scrub combines three Pure Clays with the cleansing properties of Red Algae extract. It absorbs impurities and excess oils, rebalances the skin, refines pores and exfoliates the skin’s surface. The end result: smooth, fresh and radiant looking skin!

Sugar Scrubs Glow Face Scrub: Combining three fine sugars with Grape Seed Oil, this face scrub will give you a radiant complexion and baby-soft feeling skin. It’s formulated with 100% naturally sourced exfoliants rich in essential oils, and contains brightening ingredients like Vitamin E, Mono Oil and Acai Power for a smooth finish.

Sugar Scrubs Purifying Face Scrub: In addition to three fine sugars, this scrub also contains Kiwi Seeds, Peppermint Oil and Lemongrass Oil. It will exfoliate and visibly reduce blackheads, blemishes, and soothe and purify the skin.

Sugar Scrubs Anti Fatigue Scrub: We smell coffee! This scrub contains Coffee Grains, Sweet Almond Oil and Coconut Oil to reduce puffiness and smooth fatigue lines. Its energising properties will boost skin vitality—and wake you up in the process!

To use any of the above face scrubs, use dry fingers to apply a small amount onto clean, dry skin. Then wet hands and massage the face scrub over your face,  rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. Use three times a week for best results.


Now that you’ve learnt how to exfoliate your face and body, and you understand the differences between chemical and physical exfoliation, let’s go back to clay masks. If you haven’t tried them before, check out our article on How to Pure Clay Mask in 5 Easy Steps!