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Why You Might Want to Swap Scrubs for Exfoliating Serums

Why You Might Want to Swap Scrubs for Exfoliating Serums

When it comes to achieving radiant, glowing skin, exfoliation is necessary. But before you reach for your scrub, you might want to consider swapping it out for a chemical exfoliator instead.

Exfoliants come in two different forms: physical and chemical. Technically, they both do the same thing — buff away dead skin cells — but they do it in entirely different ways.

If you want to get the most out of your weekly exfoliating sessions, it’s worth getting to know the differences between the two, and which one works best for you.

Here’s what you need to know about chemical and physical exfoliation, and the best one to implement in your skincare routine.


Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation involves the use of small grains, a washcloth, or brush to manually slough off dead cells from the skin’s surface. Scrubs are commonly used to keep skin clear, smooth, and blemish-free, but they’re not all created equal. Some of the exfoliating agents in scrubs are simply too large which can actually end up harming the skin — causing microtears and irritation.

If you can’t imagine life without your face scrub, don’t worry. You can keep it in your skincare regimen. Just make sure the formula you’re using is sugar or salt-based. Instead of microplastics, opt for something gentler and more eco-friendly, such as jojoba beads.

According to dermatologists, body scrubs are more beneficial than face scrubs, as most formulas tend to be too harsh for the delicate skin on the face. Once again, seek out sugar and salt-based body scrubs to safely exfoliate skin without causing tears.

Physical exfoliators come in various forms including scrubs, particle-specked body washes, brushes, and washcloths. They can be effective for all skin types, but only when used in moderation — and on the body.


Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants dissolve dead skin cells with the use of chemicals, which aid in cell turnover. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid, and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) like salicylic acid are your go-to weapons against dullness, hyperpigmentation, fine lines, uneven skin texture, and breakouts.

You’ll also find these chemical compounds in chemical peels, an effective skincare treatment that sweeps away debris, excess oil, dead skin and product buildup, while encouraging new cell turnover for fresh, healthy skin.

The derms say chemical exfoliants can be helpful at targeting and treating dark spots, pimples, and roughness over time without the abrasiveness of physical exfoliants. BHAs are better for oily skin and acne-prone skin as they penetrate deeper into the skin and pores, and offer antibacterial properties to keep blackheads and whiteheads at bay.

You’ll find AHAs and BHAs in a range of skincare products, including cleansers, toners, serums, and even scrubs.



Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells, dirt, and sebum, helping speed cell turnover to promote a brighter, fresher, and smoother complexion. The difference is that physical exfoliants are products containing small particles that manually slough of dead skin and chemical exfoliants use acids or enzymes to loosen cells. Both can be beneficial to the skin, according to the experts. Used correctly, the two methods actually complement each other, boosting cell turnover to smooth and retexturize skin.

You should know that it’s also possible to over-exfoliate skin — with either approach. Exfoliating too much strips the skin of its natural oils and protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to dryness, irritation, and sun damage.

If you have dry skin or sensitive skin, you’ll definitely want to stick with chemical exfoliation as it’s generally gentler on the skin. However, make sure you choose a product that blends exfoliating active ingredients with hydrating and soothing ingredients like aloe.

When all is said and done, the derms agree that chemical exfoliation is the best way to brighten, clear, and smooth skin. Especially when you’re treating your face which is more delicate than the skin on your body, which tends to be thicker.



Here are some of our favorite chemical exfoliators that you can include in your weekly skincare routine.

Glow Gel Mask

An exfoliating face and body mask made with glycolic acid, bakuchiol, and salicylic acid to gently buff away dead skin, refine texture, and unclog pores for fresh, clear skin.

While glycolic and salicylic work together to exfoliate away blemishes and dullness, bakuchiol’s antioxidant properties boost collagen production and protect skin from external stressors. Bakuchiol is a great retinol alternative if your skin’s too sensitive to handle the vitamin A derivative.



Tighten Serum

Powered by lactic acid and glycolic acid, Tighten Serum visibly lifts, smooths, and restores elasticity in the skin while preventing pimples from forming. It also contains antioxidant-rich red microalgae to protect against oxidative stress — minimizing pores and prompting firmer, line-free skin.

This beauty product’s benefits go on. In addition to its exfoliating abilities, jojoba oil and aloe lend their healing and hydrating properties, delivering extra smooth and glowy skin. After applying in circular motions, finish with a generous layer of sunscreen.



Smooth Serum

This silky serum isn’t technically a chemical exfoliator. However, it does contain vitamin C which promotes healthy cell turnover. Vitamin C is a powerhouse antioxidant that brightens dark spots, smooths fine lines, and fights free radicals from the environment and pollution. So while it’s not actually an exfoliator, it does offer many of the same benefits of AHAs and BHAs.

The formula also contains plumping vegan collagen, soothing aloe, and brightening turmeric to promote youthful, vibrant skin. Plus, it’s made for the face and body. Use it anywhere you need a glow boost! Layer it under your daily SPF for extra protection to keep skin healthy, smooth, and fine line-free.



Physical and chemical exfoliators can both be beneficial when incorporated 1-2 times a week in your skincare routine. According to the derms, it’s best to use chemical exfoliants on your face and physical exfoliators on your body to maintain smooth, clear skin without irritation or tears. Most importantly, make sure you’re exfoliating regularly but not too frequently, which can also lead to irritation and sensitivity.



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