To peel or to scrub …. the exfoliation question

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Regardless of your skin type or complexion concerns, gentle exfoliation is your easy way of to get rid of those pesky dead skin cells that can cause bacteria, clog your skin and sometimes even leave it looking a bit flaky…. nice!  Yes, dear reader, our clever skin does exfoliates itself of dead skin cells naturally everyday, however sometimes it needs a little bit of a helping hand …. and a bigger hand the older we get when our skin cell turnover rate declines.

Using an exfoliator stimulates the formation of fresh skin cells and you can choose to exfoliate in two ways, chemically or physically. Much like a great pair of jeans, there is no one size fits all when it comes to exfoliating. Everyone has different skin types, preferred usage or concerns and it is about finding the one that works best for you and your existing routine. So let’s begin, let’s talk about the two exfoliating teams…. Chemical vs Physical exfoliation.


Let’s get physical

Keeping it simple and as some would say old school, physical exfoliation physically scrubs your skin clear of layers of dead skin and debris.  Think scrubs, clays, konjac sponges, exfoliating powders, brushes or tools. By rubbing or scrubbing, gentle manual exfoliation once or twice a week is a perfect way to dislodge any dead skin cells. The massage action also boosts circulation in the area, immediately introducing a rosey tint to your face.

Out of the two types of exfoliators, many people find manual or physical to be the most instantly gratifying as it allows your skin to have an improved texture and feel so much softer immediately. Thankfully we have come a long way since those pharmacy bought apricot smelling and harsh scrubs of yester year…. I am fairly sure that they actually did more harm to my skin than good! Shall we also just leave the other example of bad exfoliators with those banned plastic microbeads …. which were not that great for you skin and worse for the environment!

Working on the top level of your skin, physical exfoliators can be introduced without ill effect to most other products used in your skincare regime. Modern physical exfoliators are also less likely to cause micro-tears to your skin.  Let’s look at exfoliating powders as an example. Add them to your favourite cleansing oil and these super fine plant and mineral powders transform and refine your skin wonderfully.

Yes it can be a little messy, but that is half the fun when these exfoliators truly refine your lacklustre complexion. Say yes to instantly leaving your skin with a radiance boost and without aggravating any skin sensitivities.


Chemical Brothers or Sisters

Putting it out there, chemical exfoliation sounds way more scary than it should. Modern chemical exfoliants are safe enough to use at home and will not leave you looking like an inflamed flaky pastry, especially if you follow the instructions properly.  Working gradually, the acids or enzymes just sit on the skin quietly dissolving the so-called glue that binds the skin’s dead cells together. No scrubbing required and honestly, more often than not, I often forget they are actually on. There is no cloth or brush used that can harbour bacteria over time. Often why chemical exfoliation type is preferred for more problematic or sensitive skin.

There are two main chemical exfoliators, AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) and they normally come in the form of cleansers, toners or masks and with varying percentages. In comparison, chemical exfoliators tend to work deeper into your skin, continue to work after application and have longer lasting effects than their physical counterparts. But what are these acids? I learnt a whole lot about acids and enzymes from the skincare doyenne that is Caroline Hirons.  Thoroughly recommend you checking her out on YouTube if you have not already.

What I find most exciting is that this type of exfoliator is not just about the smooth a baby’s bottom complexion, they will also become your best friend in your efforts to stimulate collagen production, reduce wrinkles, firm and brighten skin!

To start you off, here is my quick and dirty run down of the acids you may hear banded around.  Please always check all brand specific instructions and contraindications on any exfoliators packaging or website before using.



Alpha hydroxy acids are often naturally derived from fruit or food and work by superficially exfoliating debris from the skin’s surface at the same time as improving moisture content. A chemical reaction, called desquamation, causes the removal of these dead skin cells by dissolving the connection between the old and new cells, allowing new cells to come to the surface. The result …. glowing skin. Simply put AHAs are best for normal and sensitive skin or skin concerns deriving from sun damage, pigmentation or uneven texture.

By increasing the amount of collagen producing cells called fibroblasts, AHAs leave your skin with a texture that is more even, brighter, firmer and with a reductions of fine lines.  Here are a couple of AHAs to look out for.

Glycolic acid is the one I broke my acid virginity with …. anyone else? Derived from sugar this acid is great for most skin types with the exception of sensitive skin. Glycolic acid brightens the skin by dissolving dead skin cells, softening fine lines, smoothing texture and stimulating collagen production.

Lactic acid works in a similar way to glycolic acid but doesn’t penetrate the skin as much due to its larger molecules. As a result it is less likely to cause irritation.  Derived from milk, lactic acid is often described as a moisturising exfoliant. Great for those with drier or more sensitive skins because it hydrates and plumps the skin at the same time as giving an overall smoother texture.

Malic acid is often used to help with milia and acne prone skin. Malic acid helps retain hydration as well as smoothing the skin’s texture and is good for most skin concerns with the exception of sensitive skin.

Mandelic acid is great for those with uneven skin or hyperpigmentation including as a result of acne.  Derived from bitter almonds, mandelic acid gently helps to regulate oil production and is especially those with oily, sensitive and acne prone skin.

Tartaric acid perfect for dry skin concerns. This acid contains antioxidant properties, softens fine lines and dissolves dead flaky skin.

AHAs are soluble in water, but they can’t penetrate into pores like their oil soluble chemical friends…. BHAs.



Beta hydroxy acids penetrate deeper through pore clogging dead skin cells to exfoliate as well as remove excess oils. Often preferred by those with oily skin, blackheads, milia or large pores, other benefits include their anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Salicylic acid is an example. It is great for oily skin and clearing out clogged pores with anti-bacterial, skin calming and anti-inflammatory benefits. A good starting point for those who want to reduce blackhead and whiteheads without irritating the skin in the same way AHAs may.


Complexion goals

Over-exfoliating can damage your skin barrier leading to inflammation and loss of hydration so it is important to start of gently. More is not necessarily more when it comes to acids in particular. Start off with a low percentage and always make sure you are wearing an spf. Finally, get nourishing, good exfoliants include skin soothing or hydrating properties but once exfoliated you will want to look after this gorgeous fresh layer of skin!

These are some of my go to exfoliators.



fifi friendly exfoliators

REN – Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial

A skin super charging chemical mask that gently resurfaces your skin as you sleep. Ingredients include fruit derived glycolic and lactic acids along with omega 3 oil.  Leaves my skin visibly brighter the next day.


De Mamiel Brightening Cleanse & Exfoliate

Described as their “ultimate skin fix it, this powder is a jammed packed powerhouse of active healing clays, plant and gem extracts. The result is smoother, rejuvenated, purified and more polished skin.


REN – Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask

The first chemical exfoliating product I ever tried. Super simple to use and smells deliciously like Refreshers. Leave it on for 10 minutes and this mask instantly refreshes the complexion with a blend of fruit acid complexes (lactic, glycolic, tartaric and citric) & papain (from papaya) enzymes.


Vanderohe No.1 Exfoliating Powder

The newest product in my exfoliating arsenal and already a firm favourite. Mixed with their Purifying Cleansing Oil ( review on both coming soon), this 100% natural, finely milled and hand crafted physical exfoliator is one of the best I have tried. It cleanses my pores, soothes any inflammation and is my one top shop for truly refined and brightened skin.  I adore the invigorating moringa aroma too.


REN – Ready Steady Glow

After cleansing, sweep away any dead skin cells with this AHA tonic to reveal a brighter and smooth your skin. Gentle enough to be used morning or night, this tonic contains exfoliating lactic acid and willow bark extract as well as azelaic acid to boost radiance and hydration.


Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask

Another award winning product from the house of Tata Harper. This all natural  yet high performing BHA based mask has a jelly like consistency and clears congested pores whilst gently exfoliating. It contains pink french clay (cleanser, tones and moisturises), white willow bark extract (anti- inflammatory, exfoliates and glow giver, aloe vera (hydrates), pomegranate (elimintates free radical and increases cell turnover) and beetroot extract (strengthen skin cells).


Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial

Looking for an AHA & BHA option, this one by the ingredient conscious Drunk Elephant uses high levels (27% total… yikes) of AHA and BHA in the form of glycolic, tartaric,citric acids salicylic acid to help dislodge dead skin cells.  Yes it has a higher level of acids than other at home products, but this isn’t call Babyfacial for no reason. It is gentle due to the soothing antioxidant-packed ingredients like matcha tea, vitamin C, niacinamide,  hyaluronic acid, plant oils and fruit extracts that help keep the skin’s PH level down.


Alpha H Liquid Gold

This leave on liquid peel is best used at night on cleansed face and as Caroline Hirons would say “take it to the tits”! If you go to the company’s website you will notice a long claim list of everything this product can do. Does it live up to the hype? For me, yes. The glycolic acid helps drop your skin’s PH level as you sleep meaning that your skin cells have to work pretty hard to raise it again. Think of it as a bit of a HIIT class that leaves your skin firmer. The glycolic acid brightens your skin by helping to slough away the dead skin cells at the same time as improving your skin’s collagen and hyaluronic acid production. My skin loves it.


Complexion goals?

So there we have it a quick dive into the world of exfoliants. Regardless if you use physical or chemical, they both essentially do the same thing and remove dead cells. Interestingly enough although chemical exfoliants can often be the more gentle option, although they sound the more hardcore! By choosing to introduce at least type of exfoliator into your skincare regime will help bring out a complexion that is smoother, brighter and clearer.   Say goodbye to dull and bleugh complexions and hello to reveal fresher, healthier and more radiant skin. All of your skincare products will sink into your skin and work a whole lot better afterwards this part of your skincare regime.

Complexion goals…. right there!



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