The ultimate exfoliating guide tailored for your skin type

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Look how far we’ve come from the physical St. Ives exfoliation! I’m honestly so amazed with the innovation of the skincare industry and, more importantly, how ultra-conscious the community (us!) have gotten. I know many of you already properly exfoliate your skin, however, I still wanted to write a post about them for the others who may not have experience with different types of exfoliators.

Exfoliation involves the removal of dead skin cells off the top layer of your skin. Normally, new skin cells are formed where they push the dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. However, if you don’t properly exfoliate your skin, those dead skin cells are just sitting on the outermost layer of your skin which results in rough texture and dull-looking skin – yikes!

In the first part of this article I want to discuss the three types of exfoliation and their respective sub-categories and how to determine which one would be right for your skin. Stay tuned for my personal exfoliant favourites –  coming to my page this Thursday. There is a lot to cover in this two-parter, so I did us all a favour by separating the content so you get the most out of the material.

There are two types of exfoliators: physical and chemical

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Physical exfoliation

The internet makes physical exfoliation seem like the devil by highlighting the risks of over-exfoliation using sometimes harsh and abrasive products like scrubs and cleaning brushes.

Personally, I don’t think physical exfoliation is as “evil” as some would suggest, and it is shown that dermatologists and aestheticians utilize treatments such as microdermabrasion on their clients. Microdermabrasion treatments helped me significantly in my skincare journey to achieve acne free skin (shout out to my aesthetician for helping a girl out!).

Although I must say when I was dealing with my breakouts, my aesthetician decided it was best to start off with chemical peels because it wouldn’t be as harsh on my skin – go figure! After my acne started to subside, we then started using microdermabrasion treatments.

Generally, if you have acne-prone skin, you want to be careful with physical exfoliation and really look into what ingredients are included in the scrub you are considering. That being said, physical exfoliators can be just as advantageous on your skin goals, as long as you’re mindful with how often you use them. General rule of thumb: you want to exfoliate about 2-3 times a week.

Cleansing brushes

Now let’s take a look at the infamous use of cleansing brushes. They used to be crazy popular years ago and I personally loved using them to cleanse my skin (we are talking about about 6 years ago here!) Here’s the thing I didn’t know at the time: cleansing brushes are not only effective in giving that feeling of a deep clean, but they also act as an exfoliator. SMH, and I used them daily. Every. Single. Day! AND, on top of that, I wasn’t wearing sunscreen! Oh, if only I knew then what I know now. Thus, the beauty of educating yourself constantly. That’s why we are all here, aren’t we? 😉

Given that discovery, I still do like to use cleansing brushes from time-to-time. Three years ago, I purchased the Foreo Luna Mini 2 (conveniently on sale FYI!) because I was interested in their technology and they were generally perceived as being more gentle (especially if you’re experience breakouts)  than the traditional cleansing brushes (think the Clarisonic). Another big bonus and cost-saver: you don’t have to purchase replacement heads every few months!

Chemical exfoliation

 And now on to my favourite type of exfoliators! Truly, they’ve done so much for my skin, I can’t even begin to praise their effectiveness! To quote DermaFix, and I couldn’t have said it any better myself I might add,

“[Chemical exfoliation] includes the use of enzymes and acid-based products that have an exfoliating effect as they dissolve the protein bonds that exist between dead skin cells, allowing for dead skin cell removal.”

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Chemical exfoliators are divided up into different categories. They all, of course, have the same function. Trust me, chemical exfoliators and its use of “acids” are not as scary as you might assume! They are specifically formulated in a way to remain gentle on your skin. However, you also can over-exfoliate with chemical exfoliants – I would suggest not using these products daily. Typically, you want to use them about 2-3 times a week and you should be good to go.

Glycolic Acid (AHAs)

Glycolic acid is the most common type of AHA, also known as Alpha Hydroxy Acids, are water-soluble acids that are made of sugary fruits. The goal is to peel away the surface of your skin so that new pigmented skin cells can generate. This results in a smooth and glowy finish.

Lactic Acid (AHAs)

Lactic acid is also part of the AHA family, yet it’s gentler and great for sensitive skin. Healthline reports it also has great anti-aging benefits.

Typically, AHAs are recommended for normal, dry, and sun-damaged skin because they also act as a hydrator, which results in skin projecting that ever so desirable radiance.


Also known as Polyhydroxy Acids, these are also part of the AHA family. The difference is that PHAs are much larger when compared to glycolic/lactic acid and work on the outer layers of the skin. They are also great for sensitive skin, especially for those suffering from rosacea and eczema and find it difficult to tolerate AHAs and BHAs.

Salicylic Acid (BHAs)

Salicylic acid, otherwise known as beta hydroxy acids, also help to nourish the skin, in addition to having the ability to penetrate and clean out the pores on your face. They are oil-soluble and typically recommended for those who have normal, oily, or acne-prone skin (and all the frustrating skin issues in between).

The FDA does note that salicylic acid is not a true BHA ingredient, according to a chemist’s perspective.

Fruit enzymes

There are enzymes that can be found in some fruits and berries that break down keratin proteins attached to dead skin cells. These help to improve overall skin glow and brightness.

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I can’t stress this enough, using these exfoliating products make your skin more sensitive, which in turn make sunscreen application absolutely essential. Further supporting this, the FDA states this fact loud and clear:

“[A] product contains an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun and particularly the possibility of sunburn. Use a sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and limit sun exposure while using this product and for a week afterwards.”

The FDA says the same thing about wearing sunscreen when using BHA products.

Integrating exfoliants to your skincare routine

By including the use of physical exfoliants, you want to ensure your face is properly cleansed beforehand, then following with your product of choice.

When it comes to chemical exfoliants, you want to use these after cleansing and toning. Also, you don’t necessarily have to wait until it has completely dried – feel free to apply your serums right after the fact.

Again, limit it 2-3 times a week at most. If you’re just starting out with chemical exfoliators, it’s suggested to start once per week and increasing use over time. Remember, listen to your skin!

Michelle from Lab Muffin Beauty Science actually debunks the myth that chemical exfoliants should only be used in the evenings. It is noted that since chemical exfoliants, in this case, AHAs, alter the structure of your skin, thus making it more sensitive. You can imagine what happens when sensitive skin goes under the sun when not wearing SPF – sounds painful just saying it.

She also states that “this effect can last for over a week after you’ve stopped using the exfoliant, so it doesn’t matter if you use it morning or night: your skin is still more likely to get sun damage.” Regardless, it should go without saying by now that you are ALWAYS wearing your sunscreen and reapplying as needed (even when you’re inside!)

Finding the right exfoliant for your skin type

The truth is, it’s entirely up to you if you decide to use a physical or chemical exfoliant. I think with both exfoliators, it’s more or less a trial and error type process. You have to determine which scrubs are gentle enough for your skin and alternatively, too abrasive. The same goes with different types of cleansing brushes. Remember, when you do scrub, you still have to be gentle!

If you want a quick chemical exfoliant guideline, dry skin typically reacts better to AHAs and oily skin reacts better to BHAs.

Phew, what a lengthy exfoliant introduction we’ve covered thus far! Now that you know what types of exfoliators exist and how they can impact your skin, what do you say we take a look at what’s on the market? Stay tuned this upcoming Thursday for part deux, where I’ll share my current favourite go-to exfoliant products.

In conclusion, I have found that my combination oily/acne-prone skin can adequately handle AHAs and BHAs. l prefer to use AHAs in the winter for that much-needed hydration (unless I’m breaking out, of course) and BHAs in the summer for oil control and to combat clogged pores. I swap physical/chemical exfoliants based on what my skin needs – it’s all part of the exciting process of personalizing your skincare routine.

Feel free to let me know what type of exfoliants you prefer using and what are some of your fave products!

Until next time!



  • Natalie Richardson says:

    Great post Fleur – thank you for sharing this information!

  • Dutchie says:

    Thanks for publishing such informative article, Fleur. In Europe we adore the sun and using SPF is not a very common thing. Also, I remember that in the early days, SPF didn’t go higher than 30 and we only used it while on the beach. And when someone got a sun burn, we just laughed and put slices of cucumber on it to cool it down. You are absolutely right, we need to include SPF in our daily skin routine. Now one more challenge to go: introduce this to my husband.

    • Fleur Boomsma says:

      Thank you for sharing this little story! If we can normalize the use of sunscreen a lot of skin cancer could be prevented! Luckily the skincare companies are getting more innovative with their formulas to make sunscreen attractive for everyone of all skin colors/conditions/types!

  • Eva B says:

    So informative! Thank you for the sunscreen recommendations xx

  • Jennifer says:

    Sunscreen can save your life!!

  • Sue says:

    Your hair looks lovely. I want to try this now.

  • Celine says:

    Hello! I want to ask, after using the innisfree super volcanic mask, you rinse it off and then do you apply your skincare after that? or do you just leave your bare face after rinsing the clay mask off?

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