this is an image of what is exfoliation and how to choose the right face scrub for you on

Exfoliation 101: How to Choose the Right Scrub For You

Exfoliation is an important part of a skincare regimen. It removes dead cells, helps even out the skin tone and texture, and reveals brighter skin. There are two types of exfoliants - chemical and physical. Irrespective of skin type, exfoliation is important for everyone but one should not go overboard.

While it is important to hydrate and moisturise your skin, scrubbing and exfoliation is equally important. Over time, dead cells, dirt, and grime tend to accumulate and can clog your pores. Scrubbing or exfoliating helps clear away all this, giving you fresher skin. But are you doing it right? Are you doing it enough or over-doing it? Well, we are here to help you with all that. So, let us talk about face scrubs and which is the one for you.

What is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead cells from the outer layer of the skin. Our skin sheds dead cells every 28 to 30 days to make room for new ones. Sometimes, these dead cells do not shed completely and that can result in flaky skin and uneven texture. Exfoliating helps get rid of those stubborn dead skin cells.

Regular exfoliation also helps decongest your pores, making them look smaller. It can also help stimulate collagen production. Collagen is a naturally-occurring protein that is responsible for making your skin look plump and full. Over time, Collagen starts to deplete, giving way to fine lines and wrinkles.

This is an image of what is exfoliation on

What is the difference between Physical vs Chemical Exfoliation?

Physical Exfoliation

Face scrubs are physical exfoliants. This means that there is a physical abrasion involved. This physical action could be in the form of small granules and beads, that work to remove the dead cells from the skin’s outermost layer, or in the form of a wash cloth (for the face) or brush (for the body). Dry brushing is a great idea for the body. It boosts blood circulation and gets rid of dead skin cells. 

While some people may claim that face scrubs are not effective or are too harsh, the reality is that not all scrubs are made equal. Chemical exfoliants, when overused, can also harm your skin. The trick is to find the right scrub for your skin that uses the right ingredients. With scrubs, be sure to gently swirl the product around your face, over your skin, and not overdo it. 

Chemical Exfoliation

Chemical exfoliants are made from ingredients such as Beta Hydroxy Acids and Alpha Hydroxy Acids. They work a lot differently than their physical counterparts. Chemical exfoliants dissolve the inter cellular glue that holds dead cells together. They are particularly helpful if you are dealing with a lot of skin congestion. Chemical exfoliation can be in the form of peels, serums, cleansers, or toners. 

Popular chemical exfoliants are Alpha, Beta, and Poly Hydroxy Acids. These acids are active ingredients and it can take some time for your skin to adapt to them so be sure to not overdo it and always do a patch test before trying them on your face. 

Read more about AHAs, BHAs and PHAs for your skin’s concerns here.

This is an image of the difference between chemical and physical exfoliation on

How Should You Exfoliate? And When?

So between physical and chemical exfoliation, which should you opt for? The truth is, the choice really depends on what your skin type is and what it can handle. Whichever you choose, be sure to not exfoliate more than 1-2 times a week. 

If you are using a physical scrub, do not rub your hands too hard. Apply the scrub lightly with the least amount of pressure. With a chemical peel, let it sit on your freshly cleansed face for a few minutes before washing it off with lukewarm water. Pat your face dry and follow it up with a moisturiser. In the case of an exfoliating toner, apply the product gently on your face using a cotton pad or even your hands. Be careful about your under-eye area. Let it soak in a little before moving onto a moisturiser. 

With chemical exfoliants, keep in mind that the active ingredients can make your skin sensitive to the sun so be sure to follow up with a sunscreen irrespective of whether the weather is hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, or whether you are indoors or outdoors! Paul Pender’s Herbal Sun Prosperity is a great option for a sunscreen. It contains ingredients such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. 

This is an image of the paul penders herbal sun prosperity sunscreen on
This is how often, when and how to exfoliate on

How Can you tell if a Scrub is Gentle?

We have been hollering a lot about using a gentle physical exfoliant. But how can you know whether a scrub is gentle enough to be used on your face? 

The best way to know this is by rubbing the product on the back of your hand. If it feels scratchy, don’t use it for your face. You can consider using the product as a foot scrub or a body scrub. 

What Ingredients should you look for in an Exfoliant?

Physical Exfoliants

When it comes to face scrubs, there are certain popular ingredients that you are likely to find:

  1. Jojoba Beads - Jojoba beads are gentle and non-abrasive. These beads are polished, round, and smooth so they are not too rough. Unlike plastic microbeads, Jojoba beads are also environmentally-friendly!

  2. Bamboo Powder - Bamboo Powder is another great option for a gentle scrub. It is obtained from the stem of the bamboo plant. Bamboo Powder is also a great ingredient for controlling excess sebum and soothing the skin.

  3. Sugar and Salt Granules - Sugar and Salt crystals both melt effectively in water, making them great gentle exfoliants. But even with these, remember that the smaller the grain the better!
This is an image of the different physical exfoliants on

Chemical Exfoliants

Alpha Hydroxy Acids

These are water-soluble acids derived primarily from sugary fruits.

Glycolic Acid

One of the most popular AHAs out there, Glycolic Acid penetrates the deepest into the skin because it has very small molecules. If you wish to decongest your pores then this one is a great option. Be careful though, as it can be too strong for some.

Lactic Acid

If you need an AHA but find that Glycolic Acid is too strong for you, then you can opt for something with Lactic Acid in it. It is derived from milk and is a great choice if you have dry skin.

Citric and Malic Acids

Citric and Malic Acids are both derived from fruits. These are great choices for exfoliants as well and gently dissolve the outermost layer of the skin, revealing brighter and glowing skin. 

Beta Hydroxy Acids

Salicylic Acid

If you have oily skin, chances are you have used or heard of Salicylic Acid at least once. It is a very popular ingredient that penetrates deep into the skin and effectively decongest pores, helps with acne and blackheads. This one may not be the best choice for drier skin types. 

Poly Hydroxy Acids

PHAs are a group of acids that work much slower than AHAs and BHAs. If you have sensitive skin, PHAs are the chemical exfoliants for you. PHAs have a larger molecular structure than that of AHAs. As a result, they penetrate slowly into the skin and exfoliate much more gently. PHAs may also be suitable for those suffering from conditions such as Rosacea. To know more about acids, head over to our blog. 

This is an image of the different chemical exfoliators on

Exfoliating Away with Myths

  1. Physical exfoliation is bad for your skin: This is absolutely not true! The fact is that chemical exfoliants can be just as bad so it is largely a matter of how strong the ingredients are or how chunky the granules are. There is no one-scrub-fits-all. It is all a matter of preference. In fact - it is even possible to use physical and chemical exfoliants together. Just do not go overboard.

  2. You can scrub away blackheads: A lot of people tend to think this is true but it is not. The truth is that blackheads are simply in too deep and it is not possible for a physical exfoliant or scrub to do anything. If blackheads are a problem then BHAs such as Salicylic Acid may be of help for you.

  3. If a scrub tingles, it is working: If a product - be it a cleanser, scrub, chemical peel, or serum - tingles when you apply it on your skin, it is too strong for you! Discontinue using it immediately. You might end up harming your skin.

  4. Exfoliation helps with acne: While exfoliation should most definitely be a part of your anti-acne skincare routine, it is not advisable to scrub your face or use any chemical exfoliant on active acne. You might just make things worse!

  5. Only oily skin requires exfoliation: This is not true at all! The truth is that both physical and chemical exfoliation help improve the health of dry skin by removing dead and flaky skin cells. Chemical exfoliants containing AHAs such as Glycolic and Lactic Acids are a great choice for people with dry skin. Cream based face scrubs or scrubs with nourishing ingredients work well for dry skin too. 


this is an image of the myths of exfoliation on

Choosing a Scrub 

Finding the right scrub for you is very important as you do not want to irritate your skin. You also do not want a scrub that essentially does nothing. Here are our top picks!

Dry Skin

If you have dry skin, you need to be a bit careful with your scrubs as you are more at the risk of damaging your skin barrier. First Water’s Clear 7 Face Scrub is a great choice for people with dry skin. It is made with nourishing plant oils such as Sweet Almond Oil that replenish the skin. 

This is an image of the first water solutions clear 7 face scrub for dry skin on

Oily Skin

For people with oily skin, a scrub which helps control sebum and mattifies is ideal. Swisse’s Bamboo Skin Refining Exfoliator contains ingredients such as Bamboo Stem Powder. Bamboo is a great ingredient - it is mattifying, controls sebum production, and makes a gentle scrub. The scrub also contains AHAs. 

This is an image of the Swisse bamboo skin refining exfoliator for oily skin on

Combination Skin

With combination skin, the focus should be on helping the skin balance itself - nourishing the drier parts and controlling oil in the oiler parts. Sukin’s Oil Balancing Charcoal Pore Refining Scrub is a great choice. Charcoal helps mattify the skin while ingredients such as Aloe Water, Sesame Seed Oil, and Coconut Oil are hydrating, emollient and nourishing for the skin. 

This is an image of the sukin oil balancing charcoal pore cleansing facial scrub for combination skin on

Normal Skin

If you have normal, and even sensitive skin, Myra Veda’s Hawaiian Mud & Seaweed Scrub is a good choice. It contains Pumice Stone Powder, Walnut Shells, and Brown Sugar. These act as gentle yet thorough exfoliants. It is rich in Shea and Cocoa Butters and emollient oils such as Olive oil that replenish the skin. 

This is an image of the myra veda hawaiian mud and sea weed scrub for normal skin on


Exfoliation is an important part of a skincare regimen. It removes dead cells, helps even out the skin tone and texture, and reveals brighter skin. There are two types of exfoliants - chemical and physical. Chemical ones use actives such as AHAs and BHAs while physical ones (or scrubs) make use of finely ground particles such as Bamboo Powder, Brown Sugar, and Jojoba Beads. Each of these exfoliants have their positives and negatives. Not all scrubs are made equal and it is just a matter of finding which works best for your skin. 

However, it is important that you do not over-exfoliate!

- Gauri Sindhu

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.