What Type of Exfoliant is Best for My Skin?

What Type of Exfoliant is Best for My Skin?

Feb 13 , 2018

Emoni Rochelle

Nowadays there are so many options when it comes to exfoliators. Between scrubs, acids and enzymes, it can be difficult to know which type of exfoliant is best for your skin type. Keep reading to find a complete guide to exfoliants and which option may be best for you.

Beginner's Guide to Exfoliants

Exfoliants are products that are meant to remove dead skin cells and reveal softer, smoother skin. Exfoliants are essential for any skin care routine. Their benefits include, unclogging pores and preventing buildup which leads to breakouts. They also help with dryness and flaky skin, as well as discoloration and hyperpigmentation. While exfoliation is important no matter your skin type, it can be confusing on which type of exfoliant is best to use and when? This guide will lay out the different types of exfoliants, as well as their benefits for different skin concerns.

Acid Exfoliants

AHA's or Alpha Hydroxy Acids come from fruits and milk products. Common AHA's found in skin care products are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid and citric acid. AHA's work by breaking down the bonds that keep dead skin cells intact. This process allows the skin to regenerate quickly and results in a tighter, smoother complexion. These ingredients also help to encourage cell growth and increase collagen production. This process will help to reduce the visibility of fine lines and discoloration. AHA's are water-soluble and do not penetrate the pores as effectively as BHA's.

BHA's or beta hydroxy acids are lipid-soluble which means they are better able to penetrate the skin and the pores. For this reason, BHA's tend to be beneficial for those with oilier skin types. Salicylic acid, one of the most common BHA's, is used to treat acne and is very effective for those with combination to oily skin as it gets deep within the pores to treat bacteria and buildup. BHA's are typically included in lower concentrations in skin care products as opposed to AHA's which maybe within the first few ingredients.

Acids are best for: Those who struggle with acne-prone skin, blemishes, blackheads, fine lines, dry skin, flakiness, uneven skin texture, and hyperpigmentation/discoloration.

Enzyme Exfoliants

Enzyme exfoliants help to speed up the rate at which dead skin cells are removed. Enzymes work to breakdown the connections that hold dead skin cells together. Because enzymes are derived from fruit and do not contain acids, they generally work more gently than AHA's, yet are still effective at speeding up the skin's natural exfoliation process. While you may experience a slight stinging or burning with acids, enzymes work better for sensitive skin types. Some of the most common fruit enzyme exfoliators come from pumpkin, pineapple, pomegranate, and papaya.

enzyme exfoliant

Enzyme Exfoliators are best for: Those who suffer from breakouts, blemishes, clogged pores, dull, dry and flaky skin and hyperpigmentation/discoloration. Enzymes are also best for those who have sensitive skin and can not handle the effect of acid exfoliants.

Scrubs and Physical Exfoliants


Some of the most common exfoliants are scrubs with beads, seeds, or other types of physical exfoliants. These types of exfoliators work to lift dead skin cells through physical stimulation. Cleansing brushes such as the Clarisonic are also a type of physical exfoliant which work to physically lift the dead skin cells from the skin's surface.

Scrubs are best for: All skin types. Even those with sensitive skin can make regular use of facial scrubs. When using any type of physical exfoliant whether a scrub or cleansing brush, be sure to limit the amount of pressure you apply to the skin. You don't want to scrub your skin too hard which can cause redness and irritation.

How Often Should I Exfoliate?

No matter what type of exfoliant you use, it's important not to over-exfoliate your skin. All exfoliants are skin treatments which should be limited to 1-3 uses per week. You should also not combine different types of exfoliants as this will be too harsh on the skin. For example, if you are using a scrub, you do not need to also use an enzyme or acid. It's fine to try different types of exfoliants, although you shouldn't combine two in one skin care session.

Instead, try designating one day where you'll use a facial scrub. Then choose another day where you'll use an acid or enzyme exfoliator. For the other days of the week, use a specialty serum for your skin type in addition to your moisturizer.

Not sure of your skin type? Learn more about your skin's specific needs with our article on skin types.