Skin Exfoliation: Chemical vs Physical

Skin Exfoliation: Chemical vs Physical

What is exfoliation?

Exfoliation is a vital part of our skin care regime to keep our skin looking, bright, smooth and even. It is also an important step to make sure our serums and active skin care are penetrating to the depths of the skin we want them, helping them to become more effective. As we age, our skin cell turnover slows down, by exfoliating the skin it keeps us looking younger and more vibrant!

Which is better? Chemical or physical exfoliation?

The question of whether you should be using a chemical version of exfoliation as opposed to a physical version is where it becomes tricky for some people. It can depend on factors such as your skin type, sensitivities and current skin care regime.  In this article I am going to explain the difference of both methods and some recommendations to help take your skin to the next level.

Physical exfoliation

Let's start with physical exfoliation. Much like the name suggests, physical or manual exfoliators are products that contain rough material such as small grains or mineral ingredients that help us manually buff off the buildup of dead skin cells from the surface of the face. This form of exfoliation can also help unclog pores and be rid of those recurring, hard to budge blackheads!

Physical/Manual exfoliation is something that is usually incorporated into the skin care regime 1-2 times a week in the way of a scrub or paste like product.

It is important to avoid scrubs that contain large particles such as plastic beads or large pieces of shell etc. as these can cause micro tears in the skin and can cause damage to our new skin cells coming to the surface. This can make us feel even more dry and cause the surface of the skin to be unevenly exfoliated. A product such as Synergie Mediscrub is a safe and effective form of exfoliation and leaves the skin soft, bright and even! It is important to be gentle when “scrubbing” as we don’t want to buff off more than is needed, causing the skin to become irritated or sore.


Microdermabrasion is another form of physical/manual exfoliation which is a treatment rather than a product. This is a non invasive procedure that using vacuum and diamond tips to gently remove the dead, outermost layer, revealing bright, smooth, younger looking skin. Here at Victorian Cosmetic Institute, our highly trained Skin Therapists like to combine the microdermabrasion treatment with a manual exfoliation and hydrating chemical peel or oil to ensure the skin is not only exfoliated but nurtured at the same time. It is called our Triple Exfoliation Microdermabrasion. Your skin is assessed by our Skin Therapists and this treatment is specifically tailored to suit your skin’s needs. This treatment is the ultimate “Buff and Shine” for your skin and is perfect to provide a fresh and bright complexion before an event.

Chemical exfoliation

The other form of exfoliation is called chemical exfoliation. The word ‘Chemical’ can sometimes put people off using this form of exfoliation but it doesn’t have to be scary at all if you’re using the right product. The way in which this differs from physical is that it usually contains no ‘gritty bits’ and contains ingredients such as enzymes or gentle acids to help dissolve the glue that holds the dull layer of skin together. These type of exfoliants generally penetrate a little deeper than the physical exfoliants and are great for skins that are more sensitive or need a deeper shift. Products such as Aspect Gold Fruit Enzyme Mask  or Synergie Reveal are both our best selling chemical exfoliants that can be used on the skin once or twice weekly in combination with your regular skin care routine. They are applied to the skin and left for a period of time and rinsed off. No harsh scrubbing required leaving the skin feeling refreshed and illuminated.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels are another example of a chemical exfoliant. At Victorian Cosmetic Institute we provide a range of medical grade chemical peels, with your Skin Therapist recommending the best one for you after performing a thorough skin consultation.

It is very important to know that stronger is not always best for your skin and it I can not express more strongly that you need to have your skin prepped and assessed before performing any type of chemical peel. As a Skin Therapist I have witnessed quite a few “at home chemical peel” disasters in which patients have been left with dark pigmentation marks to their faces and in some cases irreversible damage to their skin. Once your skin is assessed by our Skin Therapists and you are on a tailored skin care plan to prep your skin, chemical peel treatments can be performed fortnightly to monthly depending on your concern and your Skin Therapist’s recommendations. We have a range of different peels to treat different skin concerns ranging from acne, scarring, pigmentation, rosacea, anti ageing. Most of our chemical peels aren’t designed to make you actually shed layers of skin and this means downtime isn’t often an issue. The question I am asked most before performing a chemical peel is “Will I look like Samantha from Sex & The City?” The answer is “NO!”. In most cases, you are able to brush some mineral makeup over the skin post treatment and you will have a beautiful glow.

I hope this article has helped you learn the difference between physical and chemical exfoliants. If you are still unsure which is best for your skin our highly trained Skin Therapists in all Victorian Cosmetic Institute locations can assess and tailor a skin care plan and treatment plan best suited to your skin. The skin assessment involves the use of our dermal analysis machine and an in depth consultation with the Skin Therapist. The equipment available to us will show all we need to know to specifically tailor a plan for you, as no two skin’s are identical!

Written by Danielle Feiam, Skin Therapist.

Danielle Feiam is a Skin Therapist with 9 years of experience. Danielle’s years of industry experience have equipped her with a sound knowledge of the skin and its many conditions, enabling her to assist our patients with multiple options for solving them.

Read more

Increase skin hydration with 1 pump

Increase skin hydration with 1 pump

Best Hydrating Serums in Australia: A Guide to Hydration

Best Hydrating Serums in Australia: A Guide to Hydration

The heroics of Niacinamide

The heroics of Niacinamide