exfoliating cleansers

You need cleanse and exfoliate. These steps AREN’T optional.

Why not buy an exfoliating cleanser and do both at the same time? It’ll save you money and time in the evening, right?

Not so fast…

There are two types of cleansing exfoliants: physical and chemical. One of them doesn’t work. The other one does, but it’s not that good for your skin.

Here’s what I mean:

Do Exfoliating Chemical Cleansers Work?

Chemical exfoliants dissolve the glue that holds skin cells together, allowing them to slough off. The most common types of chemical exfoliants are:

  • Glycolic acid: It also hydrates skin and (in high doses) stimulates collagen production, so it’s perfect for dry and sun-damaged skin.
  • Lactic acid: It’s hydrating and gentle, so it’s the best option for sensitive skin.
  • Salicylic acid: It exfoliates pores from within and treat breakouts, so it’s ideal for oily skin.

These acids work wonders when left on the skin for hours. But in a cleanser?

If you massage them onto your skin for several minutes, some exfoliation will occur indeed. But, as you rinse the cleanser off, they end up down the drain, too.

If you want to see some serious and quick results, get yourself a leave-in exfoliant. You can check out my fave picks here.

Related: Why I Prefer Chemical Exfoliants


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Do Exfoliating Physical Cleansers Work?

Physical exfoliants mechanically remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. The most common types of physical exfoliants are:

  • Apricot kernels
  • Plastic microbeads
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Walnut shells

In other words, exfoliating physical cleansers are scrubs, but in a cleanser form.

Exfoliating physical cleansers work. But, in my opinion, that’s irrelevant. Let me explain.

These small grains and particles often have uneven, jagged edges that can tear at the skin and scratch it. Apricot kernels are the worst offenders (for the love of your skin, stay away from those St Ives scrubs!).

Plastic microbeads are the gentlest, as the tend to have even, rounded edges that don’t harm skin. But, they’re bad for the environment, which is why there’s talk of getting them banned soon.

Exfoliating physical exfoliants will get dead cells off the surface of your skin while you massage the cleanser on, but they often cause irritation in the process.

Thank you, but no thank you.

Related: Physical VS Chemical Exfoliants: Which One Is Right For You?

The Bottom Line

Exfoliating cleansers aren’t the awesome idea they seem to be. Do your skin a favour, and cleanse your skin first, and exfoliate it later. With two separate products. It’s a bit more time-consuming and expensive, I know. But, it works so much better.

Do you use exfoliating cleansers? Share your experience in the comments below.