An Active Deep Dive - Is Physical or Chemical Exfoliation Better?

An Active Deep Dive - Is Physical or Chemical Exfoliation Better?

Exfoliation is a great way to encourage some natural glow to your skin. It can help shed dead skin cells, even tone and unclog pores when included as a regular part of your regimen. There are two types of exfoliators you can choose from in the skincare world: chemical and physical. Both have their pros and cons, but which is better? Let’s take a deep dive and examine whether chemical or physical exfoliation is right for your routine.

Is chemical or physical exfoliation better when it comes to skincare?

All skin types can feel the benefits of regular exfoliation. It can help treat a range of skin concerns like dullness and hyperpigmentation while also allowing your other products to penetrate the skin deeper. Sounds like the perfect recipe for glowing skin right?

Well, yes, when used appropriately. Over-exfoliating can lead to the complete opposite-dry irritated and highly unhappy skin. In order to avoid weakening your skin barrier, it’s important to choose the right exfoliator for your skin type and concerns. To do this, you need to first understand the functions of both types of exfoliators.

Chemical exfoliators

Chemical exfoliation, as the name would suggest, uses active chemicals to break down the bonds of dead skin cells and remove them from the surface of the skin. Common chemical exfoliants include alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs).


-No rubbing of the skin, so you aren’t at risk of tears and cuts.

-Offers a deep clean to remove blackheads and the appearance of large pores.

-Active ingredients can fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots.

-Aids production of new skin cells for radiance and glow.

-Typically gentler than physical exfoliation.


-Can cause irritation and weakened skin barrier if overused

-Can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage (so keep up that SPF regimen)

Physical exfoliators

Physical exfoliation uses abrasive particles to “scrub” the skin to remove dead skin cells and boost circulation. You might be familiar with physical exfoliators in the form of face scrubs and brushes.


-The massage motion of face scrubs helps to boost circulation.

-Quickly removes flaky and dead skin cells.


-Over-scrubbing can cause micro-tears in the skin.

-Scrubs cant always remove dead skin cells consistently across the face.

-Often too abrasive for acne-prone or sensitive skins.

So which comes out on top?

Both chemical and physical exfoliants have their benefits as well as drawbacks. It really comes down to your own skin concerns and preference. That being said, chemical exfoliants tend to come out on top for most skin types, so these products have a worthy place in your skincare drawer.

Follow our easy guide below when choosing the best exfoliator for your skin:

Normal/combination skin - CHEMICAL OR PHYSICAL


Normal and combination skin can often handle both chemical and physical exfoliators once or twice a week. This is because the skin has no initial concerns or issues that a certain type of exfoliation would trigger.

Dry skin - CHEMICAL


Physical exfoliants can strip the skin of oil further, leading to even more dryness. Gentle chemical exfoliants can buff away dead skin cells without affecting the moisture barrier.

Oily/acne-prone skin - CHEMICAL OR PHYSICAL


Chemical exfoliants containing BHAs can penetrate deeply to unclog pores and reduce breakouts. Physical exfoliants can be used, but be very gentle to avoid worsening acne and causing scarring.

Sensitive skin - CHEMICAL


Physical scrubs are often too harsh for sensitive skin, causing redness and irritation. Instead, choose a gentle chemical exfoliator made specifically for sensitivity.

Embrace gentle exfoliation with Alivio

Our Glycolic Facial Cleanser is the answer to all of your exfoliation prayers. Formulated with glycolic acid to buff away dead skin cells, we also made sure to include organic aloe juice, cucumber and green tea extracts to soothe even the most sensitive of skins. This rich gel cleanser is suitable for all skin types, leaving you with a rejuvenated glow from within.


 Browse the rest of our natural, hemp skincare range here.