Physical vs Chemical Exfoliation: Which Is Best For Acne Skin?

September 14, 2022

Breakouts From Excessive Exfoliation

If you suffer from acne skin, chances are you're already confused if exfoliation helps or worsens your skin condition.

Exfoliation is an essential step in a weekly skincare routine that helps to remove dead skin cells and unclog your pores. This prevents breakouts, brightens your skin, and allows your skin to absorb other skincare products better. However, exfoliation must be done cautiously. Excessive exfoliation may irritate your skin and make your skin dry. This will lead to your skin producing more oil, resulting in severe acne and breakouts.
That is why you must choose the right type of exfoliants for your skin. Some exfoliants help to minimise your acne and acne scars, while others may cause further damage to your skin.
Read on to determine the difference between physical and chemical exfoliation and determine which is best for acne skin.


What is physical exfoliation?

In simple terms, physical exfoliation is exfoliating your skin manually using physical exfoliants like gritty scrubs, rough cloths and cleansing pads, and microdermabrasion procedures.

Most often, physical exfoliants like scrubs, rough cloths, and cleansing pads come in grainy and gritty textures. They can scrape away your dead skin cells, stubborn dirt, and all other impurities from your skin. Though this can smoothen and enlighten your skin, you must handle the physical exfoliants gently on your skin. Otherwise, they may cause micro-abrasions or tiny cuts on your face.

So, if you're opting for physical exfoliation, avoid exfoliants containing large fruit pulps or nuts. This is because the large, sharp edges of the exfoliants may irritate your skin and even cause micro-tears or tiny cuts on your face. It will also help to avoid exfoliants containing harmful chemicals like parabens, phthalates, synthetic colours, fragrances, etc.


What is microdermabrasion?

This procedure uses a very gentle abrasive tool to remove the thicker, irregular outer layer of your skin. Microdermabrasion thickens your collagen to give your skin a younger appearance and a better complexion.
Here are some of the benefits of microdermabrasion:
  • Reduces hyperpigmentation, age spots and blackheads
  • Reduces fine lines and wrinkles
  • Prevents enlarged pores
  • Treats acne and acne scars 



 Younger Appearance With Microdermabrasion

Is microdermabrasion safe for acne skin?

Though microdermabrasion treats acne, it is not a recommended procedure for you if you suffer from severe acne conditions.

The procedure can further irritate your skin and worsen the inflammation. Not to mention the pain you will suffer post-procedure.

However, once you have treated your acne reasonably well, you can opt for a microdermabrasion procedure after consulting your dermatologist.


Is physical exfoliation suitable for acne skin?

The answer is no. You should avoid physical exfoliation if you're suffering from acne or even sensitive skin. The reason is that physical exfoliants can further aggravate your skin and cause inflammation and redness, so you should go for exfoliants that can be very gentle on your skin, like chemical exfoliants.

Let's look at what chemical exfoliation is all about.


What is chemical exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliation is a gentler version of this skincare procedure. It acts by breaking down the chemical bonds between your dead skin cells using substances like fruit enzymes and soft acids.

Chemical exfoliation brightens your skin, enhances your skin texture, and minimises pigmentations and discolouration of your skin.

Below are some examples of the substances that are used in chemical exfoliators.


Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

Commonly known as AHAs, these acids include mandelic, glycolic, and lactic. These acids offer your skin the following benefits:

  • Reduces acne and acne scars
  • Brightens your skin and improves skin texture
  • Works on damage caused by the sun
  • Treats hyperpigmentation and melasma
  • Enhances the ability of your skin to hold water and prevents skin dehydration


Beta-Hydroxy Acids

Salicylic acid is the most widely used beta-hydroxy acid in chemical exfoliators. This acid works by penetrating deep layers of your skin to remove dirt, excess oil, and other impurities that have clogged your pores. This, in turn, reduces inflammation and significantly prevents acne breakouts.



This substance is an antioxidant. It triggers cell turnover in deeper layers of your skin to treat the early symptoms of ageing. This process may cause your skin to become flaky at first, but the layer of your dead skin cells is peeling off.

  • Retinol offers your skin the following benefits:
  • Treats acne, mild scarring, and hyperpigmentation effectively
  • Stimulate collagen production in your skin to increase skin elasticity
  • Stimulates the production of fresh blood vessels to your skin to enhance skin complexion


Fruit/Plant Enzymes

As the name suggests, this substance is derived from fruits and plants. Some common examples are papain (sourced from papayas) and bromelain (derived from pineapple). These enzymes work by dissolving the outer layer of your skin.


What are chemical peels?

Chemical peels are also known as derma-peeling or chemexfoliation. This procedure improves the appearance of your skin by using a chemical solution that first causes injury to your skin. Gradually, the layers of your skin will peel off to reveal fresh new skin with a brighter and smoother complexion and lesser lines and wrinkles.


Chemical Peels In Malaysia

What are the benefits of chemical peels?

Chemical peels treat certain skin conditions and offer excellent benefits to your skin when used correctly. Here is a list of advantages you can expect from chemical peels:

  • Minimises fine lines and wrinkles on your face
  • Reduces acne
  • Reduces the appearance of mild scars
  • Treats damage to the colour of your skin caused by the sun
  • Improves actinic keratosis, a form of precancerous scaly spot


Are chemical peels safe for acne skin?

In general, chemical peels can be used for all skin types, but if your skin is of a darker tone, you may likely experience skin darkening post-chemical peels. This condition is referred to as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. So, you should consult your dermatologist for an alternate procedure.

Besides having a darker skin tone, you shouldn't consider chemical peels if you suffer from the following skin conditions:

  • Abnormal skin scarring
  • Have multi-coloured scars
  • Under medications that can make your skin sensitive
  • Cannot stay out of the sun during the healing period post-chemical peeling


Is chemical exfoliation suitable for acne skin?

Except for chemical peels, the answer is yes. Since chemical exfoliants work gently on your skin, chemical exfoliators work well on all types of skin, especially acne-prone and sensitive skin. However, you must be sure to use it with caution to avoid harming your skin.

Here are some measures to follow when using chemical exfoliators:

  • Do not mix up different types of chemical exfoliators in a single skincare session
  • Never use different types of exfoliators simultaneously
  • Avoid layering your skin with multiple exfoliating skincare products


How often should you exfoliate acne skin in a week?

You should only exfoliate your skin once or twice a week to save your skin from irritation and becoming dry and flaky.

Be sure to check the contents of your other skincare products, as most of the products these days contain some exfoliation elements. Using various exfoliants at once can over-exfoliate your skin.

Are you looking for the right chemical exfoliator for acne skin in Malaysia? Visit allyoung now!

Check out our collections of gentle and safe chemical exfoliators at allyoung if you're looking for the right one for your skin in Malaysia. From chemical exfoliators for acne skin to oily and even sensitive skin - we've got you covered.

At allyoung, we are committed to providing all our customers with quality skincare and body care products. Here, you get to experience an enjoyable shopping experience and receive lifestyle tips and information that holistically complement your health and beauty journey.

Don't miss out on the best deals – visit allyoung today and grab the best chemical exfoliator for your skin type!