Demystified exfoliants

The exfoliation stage is one of the most important of his routine. She is even the one who gives results almost instantly. Indeed, a good exfoliator effectively rid our skin of the thousands of dead cells it produces per day and can make it dull and rough. A well exfoliated skin absorbs much better products that are applied, but be careful, before jumping on any product where the word scrub scrub is registered, it is important to know the types of products that the market tells us. offer and the real effects they can have on the skin.

Mechanical exfoliants

There are mechanical scrubs, which include everything that requires scrubbing action, and chemical exfoliants that use enzymes or acids to dissolve dead skin cells.

Mechanical exfoliants are mainly in the form of a micro pearl or granule cleaner. Although being very common on tablets, it is advisable to be careful with this type of exfoliants. Electric brushes, such as Clarisonic, and washcloths are also part of the mechanical type, but will be the subject of a more specific article.

Mechanical exfoliants can only act on the superficial layer of the skin. Despite the beliefs and some advertisements, they can not eliminate blackheads or "unclog" pores! Most "scrubs" consist of microbeads or fruit core granules. They are applied to the face and gently massaged to remove superficial deposits. The problem is that they are often too abrasive (sandpaper on the face). They cause more harm than good. The granules are often irregular and very hard. When rubbed on the skin, it can irritate and damage it. It should also be noted that micro-plastic beads are polluting and harmful to the environment ... Why not avoid them! For those who want to use a mechanical exfoliant, one should make sure to find a product that is very soft with granules with regular contours. A washcloth can also be very suitable!

Chemical exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants are by far my favorites. Do not be afraid of the chemical word! They are applied to the face after cleaning and drying, and allowed to work under the moisturizer. The two most common and easy to find types are alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliants.

The most common BHA is salicylic acid-based, and the most common AHAs are those based on lactic acid or glycolic acid. They each have the property of working on the surface to improve the appearance of the skin. What differentiates them is the ability of BHA to dissolve the oil (sebum) and, as a result, to unclog clogged pores! This makes salicylic acid an ideal treatment for people who have oily skin and / or acne, but also for those who try to get rid of blackheads.

Chemical exfoliants can be found mainly in three forms: gel, lotion and liquid. The liquid (a bit like a tonic lotion) is particularly suitable for those who do not want a heavy product. The ideal concentration of a BHA exfoliant is 1 to 2%, depending on the sensitivity of your skin. It's best to start with 1% and move up to a higher percentage when the skin gets used to it. It is also important to look at the pH of the product you are using, because an exfoliant formulated at a bad pH will not be able to be effective. For BHA exfoliants we recommend a pH of 3. For AHAs, the ideal concentration is between 5% and 10%, with a pH between 3 and 4. The chemical exfoliant can be applied morning and evening, once a day or every other day. This is according to everyone's needs, but be careful to start using it gradually to see how your skin reacts.

Which scrub to choose?

In short, if your concerns concern only the superficial part of your skin (skin damaged by the sun, dry, dull, etc.) AHA exfoliants are all indicated. For those who need to go deeper and act on blackheads and pimples, a BHA exfoliator is what you need.


  • There are AHA and BHA cleaners. They are not optimal since contact with the skin will not be long enough to take effect.
  • Since the exfoliant dissolves the dead skin layer, it is doubly important to protect the skin with a good sunscreen; SPF minimum of 30!
  • It is best to have doctor's advice if you want to use BHA together with a retinol prescription or any other similar prescription.


Ahn HH, Kim IH. Whitening effect of salicylic acid peels in Asian patients. Dermatol Surg. 2006; 32: 372.

Davies M. Marks R. Studies on the effects of salicylic acid on normal skin. Brj Dermatol. 1976; 95: 187.

Green B. After 30 years ... the future of hydroxyacids. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2005; 4 (1): 44-45

Dermatologic surgery, February 2005, p. 149-154.

Cosmetic dermatology, October 2001, p. 15-18

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