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Your Skin Needs Both Chemical & Physical Exfoliation. What's the Best Routine?

Exfoliants are an incredibly important part of anyone’s skincare routine — whether you’re looking to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, decrease hyperpigmentation, or prevent early signs of aging, exfoliants are essential to achieving brighter, more even skin!

There are two main types of exfoliants — chemical exfoliants and physical exfoliants. Both do essentially the same thing, but through different means. Your skin can, at different times, need both types. So what’s the best routine for incorporating both types of exfoliation into your routine? We’ve outlined everything you need to know!

How to Use Chemical and Physical Exfoliants


Chemical exfoliants are used to remove dead skin cells through the use of acids that are safe for your skin. These acids are usually in the form of an AHA or BHA, which help dissolve dead skin cells to reveal brighter, smoother skin! Over time, chemical exfoliants can also lessen the appearance of scarring and hyperpigmentation due to increased collagen production.

Physical exfoliants are used to remove dead skin cells by using, as you can tell by the name, a physical element to remove dead skin cells. Physical exfoliants can come in the form of scrubs containing sugar, plastic microbeads, walnut shells, and other finely-ground abrasives. Items such as a washcloth or a silicone brush, such as the Qyksonic ZOE, are also physical exfoliants.


It’s important to not overdo it when it comes to exfoliants — both chemical and physical. If you exfoliate too much, you can damage your skin. You’ll know you’re exfoliating too much if your skin is experiencing irritation such as flakiness, dryness, or redness. If you experience irritation, reduce your frequency of use.

Especially when you’re just beginning to experiment with exfoliation, we recommend exfoliating just once a week to start. If you don’t experience any irritation, you can increase the frequency to 2–3 times a week if your skin tolerates it.

Always follow up exfoliation with a gentle moisturizer to replenish your skin and prevent it from drying out!

How to Use

Each chemical exfoliant is different, so be sure to thoroughly read the instructions before applying to your skin. Some chemical exfoliants, such as The Ordinary’s AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, need to be washed off after being on your skin for a few minutes. Gentler options like Versed’s The Shortcut are left on your skin overnight and rinsed off in the morning.

Physical exfoliants are a little more straightforward. If you’re using a scrub, use gentle (very gentle) circular motions on your face, trying as best you can to apply soft, even pressure on each part of your face. Rinse off with warm water. If you’re using a silicone brush or washcloth, apply your usual cleanser and gentle run it over your face. Rinse.

Best Exfoliation Routine

If you’re a little confused about how to integrate exfoliation into your weekly skincare routine, here is an example schedule you can start with! Again, monitor how your skin reacts and adjust your schedule based on what your skin is telling you!

  • Sunday: Chemical exfoliant (AHA or BHA)
  • Monday: Usual skincare routine
  • Tuesday: Usual skincare routine
  • Wednesday: Physical exfoliant
  • Thursday: Usual skincare routine
  • Friday: Usual skincare routine
  • Saturday: Usual skincare routine

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