Exfoliation 101: Chemical vs Mechanical

Sadie Young
December 20, 2023
Skin Care

Queen of the dry skin here, exfoliation is supreme in my skincare routine as I’m sure it is for many of us. Exfoliation can be a tricky little beezy though if not used properly for your specific skin type, but has killer benefits when worked correctly into your regime.  As a general rule, exfoliation is best worked into your routine once or twice a week with the purpose to remove dead skin cells and stimulate the production of newer healthier skin. Exfoliation is great for a variety of different skin troubles and is a necessary step in everyone’s skin care routine, but with all of the different tools and products on the market, how do you know what would work best without damaging your skin?

Mechanical Vs Chemical

First thing to note is that there are two categories when it comes to exfoliation products: chemical and mechanical. Both do the job of removing dead skin layers and paving the way for new, smooth skin, but the way they go about it and the skin types they work best for are different.


When you think mechanical, think scrubs: products that contain micro-beads or granules that physically buff the dead skin cells away. Mechanical exfoliation products come in the form of cleansers and brushes and sponges. Dermaplaning is also a form of mechanical exfoliation.

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Mechanical Exfoliation


Mechanical exfoliation, if used correctly (not scrubbing too hard and making sure you use a product with smaller beads)  stimulates circulation and promotes blood flow of the skin, reducing puffiness. Manual exfoliation often sees immediate results because you’re literally scrubbing off the dead skin layers with an abrasive product.

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Chemical vs Mechanical exfoliation


If not used properly, mechanical exfoliating products can cause irritation and micro-lesions on those with sensitive skin. If you scrub too hard or use body scrub products that contain larger granules, mechanical exfoliants will cause more harm than good. Be gentle with your skin! These exfoliation products are already removing the dead skin cells just by applying it on your face, no need to scrub so hard.

What Skin Type

For those with sensitive skin types, it’s best to avoid mechanical exfoliants because you’re more susceptible to the potential issues that can arise with using them.


Chemical exfoliation products don't rely on physical abrasion and buffing, but contain gentle acids that break down and eat away at the dead skin cells. These products are formulated with enzymes that penetrate the skin and allow the pores to breathe again.

Try Skinbetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream or Epionce Lytic TX

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Chemical vs Mechanical exfoliation


Unlike the mechanical exfoliants, there is no real chance of over exfoliating with chemical exfoliation products so no need to worry there. They are known to be gentler on the skin and can help with hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tones, inflammation, acne, and fine lines.


The problem with chemical exfoliants is how you use them in conjunction with other skin care products. Just like in science class, not all chemicals react well together. It’s best not to use this type of exfoliant at the same time as retinol as it can cause added irritation. We love retinol, but make sure you’re not using too many active chemicals on your skin.

What Skin Type

Chemical exfoliation products work best for those with dry skin or for those with acne-prone or aging skin. It can also be good for those with sensitive skin, but it depends on the particular formula. Look for specific types labeled for sensitive skin.

No matter the type of exfoliation you use though, if properly worked into your skincare routine and used correctly, you can be sure that your skin will love you for it!

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