Question: What's the difference between manual and chemical exfoliation?


Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, keeping it fresh and healthy. There are two types of exfoliation: manual and chemical.


Manual exfoliation is when you physically scrub your skin with something. It could be a scrub you buy at the store, a homemade scrub, or even a simple washcloth. You can make your own scrub at home by adding jojoba beads, aspirin, or baking soda to your cleanser. Alternatively, using a Clarisonic or a facial brush is also a great way to get some manual exfoliation.


Chemical exfoliation is exfoliating with chemicals (such as BHAs, AHAs, and retinoids) that help shed your skin faster. This can be in the form of a serum, toner, treatment product, or chemical peel. The actives used in chemical exfoliation are usually acids.

Which is better for your skin?

In my experience, I prefer chemical exfoliation over manual exfoliation because manual exfoliation can be too harsh. It seems like chemical exfoliants would be the harsh ones, but they are actually a bit gentler (in my opinion) because they don’t cause a lot of the physical irritation you can get from manual exfoliation. While manual exfoliation depends on scrubbing and rubbing to remove dead skin cells, chemical exfoliation seems to just melt or dissolve the dead skin cells from your skin.

One type of exfoliation isn't necessarily better than the other. How you respond to manual or chemical exfoliation all depends on your skin. Either way, it's important to realize that exfoliating, especially with chemicals, will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. If you include exfoliation in your routine, it is prudent to include a good sunscreen as well.

Regardless if you use manual or chemical exfoliants, make sure you exfoliate gently and not too frequently so you don't cause any skin irritation.

Last updated: September 23, 2012

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