How to Mask with Exfoliators: Physical vs. Chemical Masks

Exfoliation is the removal of the dead skin cells that are located on the skin's outermost surface. It can be done physically and chemically. As my skincare routine has evolved, my masking routine has also as well. It may sound odd, but I try to mask at least 5 days a week. Keep in mind I’m not using the same type of mask everyday. I take the necessary time each day to assess my skin and to determine what it needs.

Further Reading Blog Post Masking 101

I have combination skin, which means my t-zone gets oily and the remainder of my face stays normal. During the winter months my skin is pretty much normal with a few dry areas. Many dermatologist recommend to exfoilate 2-3 times a week for those who have normal to combination skin. Those who have sensitive skin it is recommended to only exfoliate once a week.

As seen in the picture, I rotate and use multiple types of exfoliators during the week. I do exfoilate twice a week. Typically on Sunday with a chemical exfoliator and then later on the week I exfoillate with a physical exfoliater. You may wonder why I use two different type of exfoilators. Well I get different results from both types.

How to properly exfoliate?

Exfoliation should be done with proper care. Using products that are not meant for your skin type or using them incorrectly can be very harmful to your skin.

I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with the St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub. In my teens this was my favorite face mask. I used to scrub (literally) my face with this mask several times a week. I loved how the scrub used to make my face look dry. Yeah, the scrub made my face look dry because it was drying out my skin and this was being done by using very abrasive physical exfoilator. The young me didn’t know that this scrub was actually causing damage to my skin instead of fixing my problem of oily skin.

For those that don’t know- when using a physical exfoliator, if the particles are too abrasive or harsh, you can actually create micro-tears in the skin. According to Paula Begoun, founder of Paula’s Choice, '“micro tears make your skin more vulnerable to environmental damage, pollution, and sun damage." Long-term effects include inflammation, which leads to aging skin. I think my past usage of these types of scrubs have caused my pores to be enlarged and as a result I get more blackheads and whiteheads.

Is it necessary to exfoliate?

Just as it’s important it is to exfoliate your body, it’s just as important to exfoliate your face. As I previously mentioned, exfoliating removes the top layer of dead skin cells. I would also imagine dead skin may also clog your pores. Exfoliating also helps prepare the skin to better absorb skincare products and reveal brighter skin.

What happens if you exfoliate everyday?

Exfoliation should not be an everyday step within your skincare routine. Too much exfoliation can be very bad it strips your skin of natural oils and can irritate your skin causing further problems.

Physical Exfoliate vs. Chemical Exfoliate

I’m aware that my skincare routines may be more advanced or “extra” to some. I’m really trying to maintain the integrity of my skin and keep it looking youthful, therefore my routine is a bit extensive. In my opinion I get different results from both types of exfoilators and that’s why I chose to use both types. With the knowledge and experience that I have now, I’m super picky on the physical exfoliators that I use now.

Physical exfoliators are know for the following:

  1. providing immediate results

  2. easy to integrate with the other products in your skincare routine

  3. quick and easy to use

Chemical Exfoliation: Usually made with the following

  1. Glycolic acid

  2. 2. Salicylic Acid

  3. Lactic acid

  4. Papain (enzyme derived from papaya)

  5. Bromelain (enzyme derived from pineapple)

My current Physical and chemical Exfoliators collection

Ole Henriksen Transforming Walnut Scrub $28

Suggested Usage: 
-Apply to wet skin and gently massage in an upward, circular motion. Rinse thoroughly. 
-Use three times per week. 

I’ve been using this Ole Henriksen Transforming Walnut Scrub for the past 4-5 months and it’s one of my favorite physical exfoliators. It’s described as a scrub intended to exfoliate and cleanse at the same time. Although the directions recommends to use it three times a week, I only use it once a week. For one, I like that the physical particles of the scrub are very gentle. I never at any point feel that the scrub is too abrasive or harsh for my skin. The mask is recommended for all skin types and I truly do think it would for even someone with the most sensitive skin.

Many exfoliators tend to leave you skin feeling “tight” or dehydrated afterwards. But to my surprise the Ole Henriksen Walnut scrub actually leaves my skin feeling hydrated and soft. For $28 dollars the package contains 3 ounces of product. A little of the product goes a long way and even if were used it multiple times per week, it would still last several months. Many people claim that the scrubs helps to alleviate blackheads and whiteheads. I can’t attest to this claim as I rotate between multiple products.

I do know I really enjoy using this mask and would likely repurchase it in the future. For someone that likes trying out new products and reviewing, it says a lot if I’m repurchasing a product, especially right away.

Ingredients: Water, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Juglans Regia (Walnut) Shell Powder, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Prunus Armenaica (Apricot) Seed Powder, Cetyl Alcohol, Sorbitol, Acrylates Copolymer, Parfum/Fragrance, Benzyl Alcohol, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Sodium Benzoate, Glycol Distearate, Cocomidopropyl Betaine, Hexylene Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Tetrasodium EDTA, Laureth-4, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract, Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lecithin, Allantoin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Citric Acid, Linalool, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene.

Kate Somerville Exfolikate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment (price varies with size)

Suggest Usage:
-Use once or twice a week, AM or PM.
-Apply a thin, even layer to a clean, wet face, massaging in a circular motion for 30 seconds.
-Leave on for up to two minutes.
-Rinse and gently pat dry. 

The Kate Somerville Exfoilkate Mask is known as the Hollywood 2 minute facial. Its both a physical and chemical exfoliator. The physical particles contained in the mask helps to remove dead skin cells on the top layer of the skin. The fruit enzymes and lactic acids help to exfoilate the skin and provide a great glow afterwards.

I really like that this mask works quickly and allows me to follow-up with my regular skincare routine immediately after. The mask is a green color and smells very spa-like. It contains fruit enzymes that act as chemical exfoilator along with small exfoliating particles. I don’t find the particles to be too harsh or abrasive to the skin. Although I don’t find the Exfoilkate very drying to the skin, I really do believe in adding hydration back into your skin after exfoliating. The Exfoilkate is recommended for all skin types and I do believe that to be true. Those who have skin textures that are on the drier side may want to add additional hydration in the form of a serum or even double masking directly after.

This mask gives me a nice glow along with my face feeling smooth to the touch. As I mentioned, I really like how quickly this mask works. Based on these attributes I’ll definitely be repurchasing this mask. Being that I have a decent amount of face masks that I rotate through, I think a mini size it a great size that will last a several months.

Ingredients: Water, Lactic Acid, Silica, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Pectin, Cetearyl Alcohol, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit, Ceteareth-20, Cetyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Dehydroxanthan Gum, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Salicylic Acid, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Alcohol Denat., Sorbic Acid, Cinnamal, Honey/Mel/Miel, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Eugenol, Potassium Sorbate, Limonene, Linalool, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Beta-Carotene, Chlorophyllin-Copper Complex, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Bromelain, Papain, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Cinnamomum Cassia Leaf Oil, Acetic Acid, Pogostemon Cablin Oil, Geranium Maculatum Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor Exfoliating Clay Mask $35

The Philosophy Purity Pore Extractor mask is dual mask as it’s a clay mask that draws out impurities and also contains salicylic acid to treat blackheads. The directions recommends to use it two times per week focusing on oily areas. I think the directions are spot on for those who have oily skin textures. However, I only use this mask once every other week or so. I use it only in the areas of my t-zone and sometimes on pesky spots as a spot treatment mask.

How to Use- Gently massage onto clean, dry skin focusing on your t-zone and oily areas. Leave on skin for 5-10 minutes, or until the clay is completely dry. Rinse with warm water. For deeper exfoliation, increase the massage intensity when applying, and while removing with water, perform a second massage.

I noticed that the Salicylic Acid can be quite drying, therefore I have to limit my usage of the mask during the drier colder months. I do think this mask helps to remove impurities and I like that it also turns into a light physical exfoilator when it’s being rinsed off. After using the Purity Pore Mask I usually follow-up with a hydrating sheet mask. I tend to follow up my clay masks with a sheet mask or some type of hydrating mask to restore the moisture levels back to my skin. This 2 step mask treatment can be quite tedious and this is another reason why I couldn’t imagine using a mask like this multiple times a week.

Even with that being said, I do enjoy using the mask. I imagine the full size lasting quite a long time as the mask is not meant to be applied to the entire face. I’m undecided at this point if I’ll repurchase it again, but for the time being I will continue to use it and enjoy it.

P.S. Those who have dry or even normal skin textures would find this mask too drying and I would not recommend.

Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Kaolin, Solum Diatomeae/Diatomaceous Earth/Terre De Distomees, Propanediol, Bentonite, Decyl Glucoside, Alchol Denat., Lauryl Glucoside, Propylene Glycol, Polysilicone-11, PVP, Xanthan Gum, Salicylic Acid, Sodium PCA, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Parfum/Fragrance, Chlorphenesin, Linalool, Disodium EDTA, Limonene, Laureth-12, Phenoxyethanol, Geraniol, Vanillyl Butyl Ether, Ethylhexylglycerin, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial $88

This is one of my favorite chemical exfoliant masks. I use this mask once a week - usually on Sundays, as a reset for my skin. I know the mask is pricey, but the results that I see immediately and the following days makes it so worth the price.

I have a previous review on the Drunk Elephant Baby Facial (here), check it out to see my full thoughts on the mask.

Ingredients: Water, Glycolic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Glycerin, Sodium Hydroxide, Salicylic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Lactobacillus/Pumpkin Ferment Extract, Lactobacillus/Punica Granatum Fruit Ferment Extract, Opuntia Ficus-Indica Extract, Pyrus Malus (Apple) Fruit Extract, Silybum Marianum Seed Extract, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Powder, Cicer Arietinum Seed Powder, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Passiflora Edulis Seed Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Sodium Hyaluronate Crosspolymer, Sodium PCA, Allantoin, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Dextrin, Polydextrose, Sorbitan Isostearate, Amylopectin, Niacinamide, Phytosphingosine, Lactic Acid, Propanediol, Citric Acid, Titanium Dioxide, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Polysorbate 60, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol.

Do you enjoy masking? Leave me a comment with your favorite mask. I enjoy buying and trying out different types of masks.

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