What is a Physical Exfoliant?
Physical exfoliation is when you use a product or device to manually scrub, rub, or scrape off dead skin. You can achieve this type of exfoliation with skincare products, in-office treatments, or tools. Most product types containing a physical exfoliant component will be scrubs, masks, and cleansers, and that component is almost always something that is washed off your skin. Additionally, there are various treatments and tools that can be done either professionally or at home to physically exfoliate, and we will discuss those as well.
1. Skincare Scrubs
Physical exfoliating scrubs have gotten a bad rep in the past due to some of the early made products that could make micro-tears in the skin and cause more harm than good - think St. Ives Apricot Scrub featuring walnut shells. However, not all scrubs are abrasive, and there are many new products that use much gentler physical exfoliating ingredients. Most products use natural physical exfoliants like Jojoa beads which are gentle, soft beads for a light exfoliation. A combo of physical and chemical exfoliating ingredients is often seen together and the physical aspect will certainly assist with removing dead skin cells. Most older scrubs and physical exfoliants contained plastic microbeads that worked well but were deemed dangerous to the environment.
Too much physical exfoliation can cause over-sensitivity and adverse reactions within the skin. Like everything else, moderation is key. Look for scrubs, masks, and cleansers that have small and soft beads instead of large, course, and hard exfoliants.
Harben House's Top 3 Physical Exfoliants
2. In-Office Treatments
There are many skincare treatments that can be professionally done to physically exfoliate, such as HydraFacials, microdermabrasion, dermaplaning (or dermaleveling), and many more.
- Professional treatments, HydraFacial and/or Dermal Infusion, simultaneously hydrate and exfoliate the skin. They achieve this by using an exfoliating tip which includes a blade along with suction. Together these aspects of the device dislodge and removes debris on the top layer of skin and sucks impurities from the pores. After cleansing and exfoliating it then pushes hydrating products into the skin with their patented systems.
- Treatments like Microdermabrasion use either a diamond shape wand or sand crystals to physical remove the dead skin. Abrasion procedures are performed in-office by professionals and can be done a couple of times per month.
- Dermaplaing, or as some call it “dermaleveling”, is when an aesthetician uses a scalpel blade to remove the top layer of skin. In doing so, hair is also removed, so it leaves your skin feeling extra soft and smooth. A similar treatment can be achieved at home by simply shaving the face with a traditional shaving razor or using single-bladed razors that can be purchased from places like Sephora. Some studies show that men tend to show signs of aging slower than women due to the consistent shaving, and therefore consistent physical exfoliation, of their face
3. At-Home Tools
Like the Sephora Level Setter Blades linked above, there are many OTC products you can purchase that will achieve manual exfoliation. A familiar one is the Clarisonic Cleansing Brushes that many people swear by. Even though these are designed for aiding with cleansing the face, they also cause a manual exfoliation by gently wiping away dead skin cells with their cleansing bristles. Additionally, there are now silicone devices like the Foreo as well as sponges, loofas, & mitts that all aim to offer some form of manual exfoliation.
This category, specifically, is where consumers need to be cautious. It is easy to over exfoliate and cause micro-tears in the skin with some of these devices when using to frequently or harshly. Try to choose one that is soft and designed primarily for the face. Also, perform a patch test on your arm, chest, or another body region, before fully committing to use on your face - a good note for skincare scrubs as well.
Scrubs, procedures and tools are the three main types of physical exfoliation. You do not need all these forms to achieve perfect skin, but you can achieve physical exfoliation with any one of them. I would play around with different products, treatments, and tools to see which form works best for your skin type. An easy and cost-effective way is to start is with one of the scrubs and work your way up the line from there.
Chemical exfoliation will be our next topic and is a critical part of your skincare routine, but don’t forget to occasionally physically exfoliate as well.