5 Tips for Finding the Right Exfoliator

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The best exfoliator for your face might not be what you expected

Posted on January 18, 2022 Written by: 100% PURE®

Facial scrubs have long been the tried-and-true option for exfoliating. Of course, with a stellar reputation that precedes itself, you’ll now be faced with a multitude of exfoliant options. Two such contenders for the best exfoliator for face are chemical and physical exfoliation.

With so many skin care products on the market claiming to be the best facial exfoliators, it’s hard to know where to begin. We’re here to guide you through the exfoliation basics for every skin type. We’ll show you how to find the right one for radiant, glowing skin.

What Types of Exfoliators Are There?

The options for exfoliators fall under one of two types of exfoliation methods: physical and chemical. Both types of exfoliants do essentially the same thing – remove dead skin cells – but go about it in different ways.

To choose the best exfoliator for face for your specific skin concerns, it’s important to understand how each method works.

Physical exfoliation involves using products containing small particles like coffee, jojoba beads, ground-up nuts, or sugar granules. Other examples of physical exfoliation that are the best exfoliator for face include microdermabrasion treatments and any face mitt or washcloth with a textured surface that buffs away dead skin and debris.

Chemical exfoliation involves using chemicals that loosen up the dead skin cells, making them easier to slough away. In the chemical category of the best exfoliator for face are fruit enzymes, alpha (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA), and polyhydroxy acids (PHA).

Common types of acids and enzymes include:

Glycolic Acid (AHA)
Glycolic acid is an exfoliant that naturally occurs in plants, including sugar cane and citrus fruits. It livens up dull complexions.

Lactic Acid (AHA)
A sensitive skin best exfoliator for face winner is lactic acid. It’s the gentler, yet still effective, exfoliator of the acids group.

Salicylic Acid (BHA)
Salicylic acid gets down deeper into the skin. It unclogs pores and the buildup of sebum and impurities. This makes it beneficial for acne-prone skin.

Fruit Enzymes
Enzymes found in some fruits and berries break down keratin proteins attached to dead cells to reveal fresher, brighter skin.

Polyhydroxy Acids (PHA)
PHAs do not penetrate as deeply into the skin. Instead, they work on the outer layers of the skin. Common PHAs include gluconolactone, lactobionic acid, and galactose.

How Do Exfoliators for Face Work?

Depending on your skin type and concern, you might choose a physical exfoliant, a chemical exfoliant, or a combination of both. But before you choose, let’s explain how these exfoliants work.

Physical Exfoliation
The best physical exfoliants are those with smaller, finer particles that aren’t abrasive to the skin. Physical exfoliants can also be paired with fruit enzymes in skin care formulations. They’re a gentle but effective way to remove dead skin cells.

When learning how to exfoliate manually, you’ll use a face scrub, a tool like a face mitt or washcloth, or even microdermabrasion to physically clear dead skin cells.

Chemical Exfoliation
The best chemical exfoliants use a chemical liquid or gel to dissolve dead skin cells. The most popular chemical treatments are alpha and beta hydroxy acids. However, polyhydroxy acids are also slowly coming onto the scene.

Some of the best and most popular treatments in exfoliators include glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acids, as well as fruit enzymes (e.g. papain). These treatments are derived from natural sources.

Chemical Vs. Physical Exfoliation: What Do Experts Suggest?

Both types of exfoliation methods do essentially the same thing – remove dead skin cells – but they work differently. According to experts, there are a few key differences you should be aware of between chemical and physical exfoliation.

Mild chemical exfoliants tend to be gentler on skin than physical scrubs. Many facial scrubs on the market have large, uneven particles that can irritate the skin. Chemical exfoliants are less prone to user error in terms of applying too much pressure, which can lead to inflammation. In the end, choosing one method over the other has more to do with what your skin can tolerate and your skin type!

How Skin Type Determines What You Use

Both chemical and physical exfoliants have their pros and cons. It’s important to listen to your skin’s needs and choose an exfoliant that suits your skin type.

Sensitive, Dry, and Mature Skin
If you have this skin type, lactic acid or PHAs are a great all-rounder and are a gentler choice of exfoliators. They don’t penetrate the skin as deeply – less irritation for the win!

Normal and Combination Skin
If you have this skin type, glycolic acid holds the title of having a lower molecular weight than most other acids. This means it can penetrate your skin more deeply.

Oily, Breakout-Prone Skin
If you have this skin type, your skin may enjoy a salicylic acid (BHA) product. Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which are helpful for acne.

For a physical exfoliator for these skin types, it’s best for sensitive and mature types to stick to gentle ingredients like jojoba beads, fruit pulp, and rice powder. For normal, combo, and oily skin types, look for ingredients like matcha powder and colloidal oatmeal. Those with acne-prone skin types can benefit from oat flour and seed/shell powders.

5 Tips for Finding the Best Exfoliator for Face

To prevent damage to your skin and optimize your exfoliation process, here are important tips and guidelines to find the best exfoliator for face that works for you:

Tip #1: Use Chemical Exfoliants
If you’ve never learned how to exfoliate with an acid before, you don’t want to jump straight into using higher percentages – start low and slow to avoid irritation.

Tip #2: Wear Sunscreen
Whether you use a physical or especially a chemical exfoliant, you should always use sun protection. Even with the best exfoliator for face, chemical exfoliants make skin more sensitive to the sun.

Tip #3: Quench Your Skin
As hydroxy acids can dry out your skin, you always want to replenish your moisture levels afterward with a natural moisturizer.

Tip #4: Don’t Over-Exfoliate
It’s important not to exfoliate too much, especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Over-exfoliating your face can cause the sebaceous glands in your skin to produce even more oil, causing breakouts.

Tip #5: Listen to Your Skin
If you see signs of over-exfoliation like dryness, burning, or flaking, take a rain check on exfoliation. This means your skin is dealing with a lot of irritation and needs a break.

Not to be forgotten, exfoliation is a super important part of your skin care routine, regardless of your skin type! Pairing the best exfoliator for face with your skin needs will lead to rejuvenated, brighter, and potentially clearer skin. Sound good? We think so too.

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