Simply put: Exfoliating is when you get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. You can do this chemically or physically.
Chemical exfoliants are acids that get rid of dead skin cells and can further refine the surface and treat your pores. They come in various concentrations but there are four main types:
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs): water-soluble acids that gently loosen the upper layers of skin—producing a peeling action—which helps fade pigmented spots and even out rough or bumpy patches.
Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs): oil-soluble acids that go deeper into the pores than AHAs to clear excess debris and sebum.
AHA/BHA blends: a more streamlined chemical exfoliation option is to combine acids in one multitasking formula.
Poly-hydroxy acids (PHAs): acids that work similar to AHAs but have larger molecules so they cannot penetrate as deeply. Because of that, they are known to be less irritating than other chemical exfoliants.
Chemical exfoliation uses acids to chemically remove the outer layers of the skin, physical exfoliants remove it manually. This could be done with scrubs, brushes, or special procedures. Physical exfoliation doesn’t penetrate as deeply as chemical exfoliation, and sometimes is not as effective - plus runs a little bit more of a risk when it comes to irritating skin or even *gasp* causing microtears on the skin’s surface if not formulated correctly!
WHICH IS BETTER?
That’s more up to the individual. Those with sensitive skin, active breakouts or enlarged pores generally tend to gravitate towards chemical exfoliation because it’s less abrasive and covers more surface area, whereas those who like to feel a bit of “grit” and targeting specific areas, prefer physical exfoliation. Take a look at what issues you’re trying to remedy, your skin type and how sensitive you are to abrasion before making your choice!
WHEN DO I EXFOLIATE?
You always want to exfoliate after cleansing your face. By cleansing first, you remove dirt, sweat and make up off your skin's surface. This gives you a fresh, clean base to slough away dead skin cells that pile up on your skin’s surface. Depending on your skin type you may want to exfoliate daily, or just a few times a week (if you’re super-sensitive) but it really boils down to finding the RIGHT type of exfoliation for your skin.. Oily to blemish-prone skin types can often benefit from a mix of both daily (hello, Cleansing Blemish Balm and Acne Serum) whereas those who are a bit drier or don’t deal with much surface congestion may just want to incorporate a weekly treatment (like, Dullness).