Exfoliation - When & Why

Exfoliation - When & Why

girl in bath with konjac sponge

Exfoliation is a key component to any skincare routine. It helps remove older skin cells and promote a softer glowing complexion. 

The epidermis is the top layer of your skin. The epidermis plays an important role acting as a barrier from external pathogens as well as a sealant keeping inner tissues hydrated. The skin cycles every 28-35 days, meaning younger tissues age into the epidermis, and the top layers dry out and flake away. It sounds gross, and it kind of is. The majority of dust in your home is dead skin cells. But this is a natural process of your body, just like going to the toilet. 

Exfoliation is a helpful tool to support the skin in its natural skin cycle. It can play a large role in the treatment of acne, as well as helping to reduce fine lines attributed to aging. 

There are many different types and techniques of exfoliation out there, and not all of them are good for your skin or the environment. 

Physical Exfoliation vs. Chemical Exfoliation 

When people think of exfoliation the picture that comes to mind is usually some kind of scrub or scratchy sponge. But those are only examples of physical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation is a type of exfoliation where the  ingredients in your skincare products act to loosen and lift dead skin cells through chemical reactions. 

All chemical exfoliants fall into two categories:

  1. alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) - naturally occurring in fruit acids, sugar acids (glycolic acid) and lactic acid.

  2. beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) -  salicylic acid or naturally occuring in willow bark extracts. 

The good → 

Chemical exfoliation does not mean toxic exfoliation. You’ve probably seen some companies use the terminology “chemical-free” when describing product ingredients, but that simply isn’t true. Everything with a chemical reaction/formula is a chemical. Water (h2o), salt (NaCl), etc.

Chemical exfoliation can be a gentler daily skincare practice supporting the skin through its skin cycle. Products with chemical exfoliants tend to make a difference for people with acne prone skin (used in combination with other products). 

Chemical exfoliants also help prevent signs of aging. As we grow older the skin isn’t as efficient and a healthy exfoliation practice can minimize fine lines and promote a youthful glow!

The Apple Toner is an example of a chemical exfoliant. The apple cider vinegar is rich in alpha-hydroxy acids which help to lift dead skin cells and promote younger tissue to the surface. The Apple Toner is also acidic, which plays an additional role in balancing skin Ph and killing bacteria causing acne and inflammation. Learn more about that here!

The bad → 

Chemical exfoliants can quickly become overused. Some products in the market are extremely acidic and can cause a mild burn. It is easy to over-exfoliate with chemical exfoliants and as a result the skin can become irritated, inflamed and sometimes hyper-sensitive. 

Chemical exfoliants serve to remove the top layer of the skin. But everyone's skin is different. If the reaction removes too much skin the body might trigger an immune response assuming its top layer of defense has been compromised. This can result in eczema, contact dermatitis, and eventually developed topical allergies. 

Physical Exfoliation

Also known as mechanical exfoliation. This is a practice of scraping the skin away. Physical exfoliation can be as soft and gentle as the Konjac Sponge or as aggressive and stimulating as a lymph brush. It is significantly more aggressive than chemical exfoliation. 

The good → 

Using a physical exfoliant on your body, hands, feet can be extremely therapeutic. Introducing a practice such as lymph brushing has so many benefits such as promotion of blood flow, reducing water retention, and immune health. 

Products such as the Konjac Sponge are soft and gelatinous. The porous nature of the sponge helps clean out the pores, smooth the skin, and can provide incredible results without tearing the skin and causing damage. 

The bad →

It is extremely common for people with acne-prone skin to use scrubs and intense exfoliating tools. Sometimes this can cause the bacteria to spread across the face or deeper into the tissue. 

As we get older the top layer of the skin starts to thin. It becomes much more fragile and harsh exfoliating products can cause damage, tears, or expedite this aging process. 

Microbeads. Often ingredients in exfoliating skincare products are made from plastic or other small dense materials. These little specs look like food and build up in the digestive systems of our fish friends. We have come a long way in removing microbeads from the market but there is still more to do. Please always read your ingredients and imagine what happens when they go down the drain. 


It is very common to experience a topical reaction from commercial skin care products these days. We believe this is because of the quantity of ingredients found in commercial skincare and use of multiple products from multiple brands in a skincare skincare regimen. 

People with acne-prone skin will often be told to use products with retinol and products with AHA’s or BHA’s. However, if these ingredients are used at the same time and/or followed by sun exposure they can cause a severe skin sensitivity and irritation. 

Chemical ingredients designed to provide quick results are strong. Please research the ingredients and look into any contraindications between your skincare products before applying to your skin. 

The Takeaway

Make sure to do your research when you’re thinking about exfoliation on your skin, and keep in mind the difference between mechanical and physical exfoliation to prevent over-exfoliation or misuse. If you’d like to learn more about exfoliating & your skin’s customized needs, book a consultation below!

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1 comment

I have a silly question. I spray the toner on, then do I dab it with a cotton ball and then put on the face serum?


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