Chemical vs Manual Exfoliation

When comparing chemical and manual exfoliation, chemical exfoliation has more benefits, can address a wider range of skin concerns, and can be used safely on more skin types than manual exfoliation. As an experienced and licensed esthetician, I prefer chemical exfoliation because of its safety and efficacy.


When it comes to both forms of exfoliation, it’s important to take care to avoid over-exfoliation. For most people, exfoliating 1-2 times a week is sufficient.


Using an enzyme, AHA or BHA that is appropriate for your skin type is safer than using a manual scrub or brush. Chemical exfoliants do not abrase the skin like manual exfoliants do, instead breaking the bonds between dead skin cells and healthy cells. Manual exfoliation can spread bacteria and inflame active acne and lesions. Chemical exfoliation delivers consistent, ingredient-driven results – different ingredients targeting different skin concerns.

Enzymes are derived from fruit, safe to use by all individuals

Azelaic Acid can be used to treat rosacea and active acne. Azelaic Acid decreases inflammation and keratin production, opening up clogged pores and sebaceous glands. Azelaic Acid is a pigment inhibitor, safe to use by all skin tones, improving skin tone over time and preventing future hyperpigmentation. Azelaic Acid is derived from grains.


Enzymes are the mildest and safest form of chemical exfoliation. Enzymes are derived from fruit, safe to use by all individuals. Enzymes softly slough away dead skin cells, improving skin health and appearance. Many enzyme cleansers are gentle enough to use daily.


Glycolic Acid is great for addressing unwanted pigmentation and can be safely used by all skin tones when paired with a pigment inhibitor (usually Vitamin C). Glycolic Acid is most beneficial for normal and aging skin types. Glycolic Acid improves skin tone by shedding layers of pigmentation over time. Glycolic Acid is derived from sugar cane and pairs well with Vitamin C.


Lactic Acid is the safest AHA. Lactic Acid is a naturally occurring compound found in the human body that can be used safely during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Lactic Acid is safe to use by all skin types and tones. Lactic Acid smoothes the skin, removing dead skin cells and superficially brightening unwanted pigmentation.


Mandelic Acid is the gentlest AHA due to its large molecule size. Mandelic Acid is safe to use by all skin tones, and is especially effective on acne prone skin. Mandelic Acid has antibacterial and antifungal properties, improving active acne and folliculitis. Mandelic Acid improves skin tone and texture over time, removing dead skin cells and reducing inflammation. Mandelic Acid is derived from almonds.


Retinoic Acid (and retinoids, derivatives of retinoic acid) increase cell turnover – the time it takes for a dead skin cell to shed and be replaced with a healthy cell. As we age, our cell turnover rate slows down. Retinoids can be used to target aging and preventative anti-aging. Retinoids can also improve active acne by opening up clogged pores. Retinoids are strong, active ingredients and should be used sparingly. Retinol is usually derived from animal products. Carotenoids, plant-based Vitamin A derivatives, can be used to create vegan products with similar benefits and properties as retinoids.


Salicylic Acid is most beneficial for combination/oily skin types and acne prone skin. Salicylic Acid is safe to use by all skin tones. Salicylic Acid kills bacteria, breaks down oil, and removes dead skin cells. Salicylic Acid reduces inflammation and active acne, pairing well with Niacinamide. Salicylic Acid should be avoided by individuals who are allergic to aspirin, since both can be derived from willow back and belong to the same class of chemical compounds.


All chemical exfoliants need to be accompanied by a complete skincare routine to be used safely. A basic skincare routine includes a daily cleanser, moisturizer, and SPF. A chemical exfoliant and pigment inhibitor can be added as additional steps. Chemical exfoliants usually come in the form of active cleansers or topical leave-on products. Before adding exfoliation to your routine, chat with an esthetician to make sure your that skin is at a healthy point and can handle active products. Exfoliation can damage compromised/sensitized skin. Skin health takes priority over addressing skin concerns!


If you have any questions about your exfoliation routine, set up a complimentary consultation 💌


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