Which exfoliant is right for your skin?

In the world of skin care, there are many conflicting opinions on what your skin needs for it to look its best. One thing I’ve found in common, though, is that beauty experts emphasize the need for exfoliation. Our skin naturally sheds off dead skin cells but sometimes, the process is slower than usual. To help it along and allow the skin layer to be renewed, exfoliating products can be used to either physically or chemically speed up the process.

Paula Begoun, best-selling author and maker of Paula’s Choice Skincare, claims that all skin types can benefit from a good exfoliant—it’s just a matter of choosing the right products. Proper exfoliation should not damage the skin and would actually boost the effectivity of other skin care products since the barrier of dead skin cells is removed. Over time, it helps solve issues including dullness, clogged pores, blemishes, and uneven skintone. With regular use, expect to get soft, radiant skin sans blackheads, pimples, and fine lines!

Is exfoliation a regular part of your skin care routine? I’ll have to admit that I only added this to my skin care a year ago (late bloomer here). I thought I wouldn’t find be able to find an exfoliant that will work for my sensitive, combination skin. As it turns out, there are many options! How many ways can you exfoliate? Let me count the ways:


A scrub physically works on dry flakes, revealing the healthy skin underneath. This removes the topmost layer of dead skin cells manually by friction. Common components include microbeads (which you may want to avoid for the sake of the environment), ground nuts (which you might also want to avoid as these might damage your skin), seeds, sugar, salt, and even coffee grounds.

If you have stubborn dry flakes, this is a great option for you. It’s not recommended for those with very sensitive skin, though, as using this might worsen redness or irritate skin. There’s even an ongoing lawsuit against St. Ives for their apricot scrub, which contain walnut shell grounds that supposedly cause microtears in the skin. Instead, go for gentler scrubs like those made with sugar or seeds of very small fruits (like strawberries). They won’t have the added benefit of skin-caring ingredients but you can also get the same results by using your regular facial wash combined with cleansing tools or a dampened towel. Use scrubs sparingly, at a maximum of twice per week. Make sure to apply with a light hand to avoid over-exfoliating your skin - scrubs aren’t meant to induce pain!

Try: Nuxe Gelee Exfoliante Douce (Gentle Exfoliating Gel) for sensitive skin (available at Nuxe); Origins Modern Friction (P1,900 at Origins); Human Nature 100% Natural Purifying Facial Scrub (P99.75 at humanheartnature.com)

Peeling Gels

Despite its name, peeling gels don’t actually peel the skin - those little white bunches that appear after scrubbing into the skin are mostly made up of acrylates, carbomer, or cellulose from the product itself. These substances pill after applying friction and bind to the oil and dead skin cells in your skin. Some gels may also contain fruit enzymes that may have an added effect of chemical exfoliation.

Since it exfoliates mostly by balling up into very soft mounds, peeling gels are very gentle and would work great for all skin types. Still, we don’t recommend using this every single day - your skin still needs a protective layer from possible irritants. Those with ultra-sensitive skin may also want to do a spot check first, just to be sure!

Try: Cure Aqua Gel (P1,500 at Beauty Bar); Baby Smooth Skin Clear Peeling Gel (P699.75 at Watsons); iWhite Korea 2 Minute Whitening Miracle Gel (P24 at Watsons);Tony Moly Appletox Smooth Massage Peeling Cream (P528 at Tony Moly)


We understand the hesitation in trying out skin care acids. They’re the most effective way to improve skin clarity and texture but as potent as they are, extra care must be taken when using these products. It’s well-worth the time and effort to understand though because unlike manual exfoliants, acids can go beneath the surface of the skin, drawing out deep-seated clogs, debris and other impurities. Even better, there are two main kinds of acid exfoliants to choose from: Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs). Both do a great job of exfoliating skin without all the rubbing, plus they can also address different skin issues!

AHAs work on the upper layers of the skin, so this is a great option for those with fine lines, wrinkles, whiteheads, hyper pigmentation, and other surface blemishes. BHAs can go even deeper, so they can flush out skin troubles like blackheads and acne. All skin types can benefit from a leave-on acid exfoliant but do take great care in moderating its use! Those with multiple skin issues can use both, avoiding the eye and lip areas.

Take your time introducing these acids into your routine and experimenting with how it would best fit in with other products you love using. It’s recommended to apply BHA right after washing (and drying) your face so it can sink right in. Follow it up with your AHA then layer on the rest of your skincare. Do take note that AHAs can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for up to a week after usage so make sure to apply sunscreen religiously!

Try:  CosRX AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid (P810 at skincarecurator.com); CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (P963 at skincarecurator.com); Etude House Berry AHA! Bright Peel Boosting Serum (P898 at Etude House); Clinique Clarifying Lotion 3 (P1,500 at Clinique), Doll Face Face Polish (P1,250 at Beauty Bar)

With all these options, I’m pretty sure you can find at least one that would work well for your skin type and issues. And if you haven’t yet, do consider adding regular exfoliation to your routine! Have you tried any of these recommendations? Which exfoliants have you tried and what were your results? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

SourcesPaula’s Choice Beautypedia, Lab Muffin, Fifty Shades of Snail