What’s the Difference Between Physical, Chemical and Enzyme Exfoliants?

Exfoliating helps to remove dead skin cells, unclog pores and helps to remove dry, dull skin to leave soft, radiant, glowing skin. There are three ways you can exfoliate: physical exfoliants which are scrubs; chemical exfoliants which are acid; and enzymes which come from fruits.

Physical Exfoliants

Physical exfoliants only work on the upper layer of the skin. They include exfoliants which are small particles, like sugar, salt, and ground coffee to remove dead skin cells, and remove dirt and oil.

Physical scrubs if used incorrectly can cause micro-tears in the skin, so when using them it is important to make sure that you don’t scrub too harshly or be overzealous when you use them, as this can lead to irritation and redness.

Pick one that is not too abrasive on your skin, and with a gentle exfoliant. They do not need to be used daily and should be used 1-3 times a week depending on your skin type, and whether your skin is sensitive.

Physical exfoliation leaves you with immediate results and helps to stimulate circulation for a brighter complexion.

Chemical Exfoliants

Gently Exfoliating AHA and PHA Toner for Sensitive Skin

Chemical exfoliants penetrate deeper into the skin layers and use fruit acids and enzymes. Chemical exfoliants are beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), which includes salicylic acid, and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which includes lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid, and polyhydroxy acid (PHA) which includes gluconolactone, galactose and lactobionic acid. Our Exfoliating Tonic contains a blend of gluconolactate and acb fruit mix AHAs. These give your skin a mild exfoliation, and in most cases are gentler for those with sensitive skin.

AHAs are water soluble and work by dissolving the bonds that bind dead skin cells to the skin’s surface to reveal new, radiant skin.

PHAs are a gentle exfoliant that have a larger molecule size compared to otehr acids and help to enhance cell renewal and exfoliate away dead skin whilst also providing moisture to the skin. 

BHAs are oil soluble and go deeper into the skin and pores and help to unclog your pores. AHAs and PHAs are great for those with sensitive skin as they don’t cause irritation, whilst BHAs are good for those with oily and acne prone skin. 

When using chemical exfoliants it is important to use SPF as new skin is brought to the surface which increases sun sensitivity. Some AHAs on the market are high strength so always check the instructions on whether they should be left on or not. If unsure you’re always best to patch test before applying to your whole face.

Chemical exfoliants take a little bit longer for results to show, but they help with hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.

pineapple enzyme face mask different types of exfoliators

Enzyme Exfoliants

Contain proteolytic enzymes which essentially means that they break down and digest proteins. They specifically work on the outer layer of the skin and break down the keratin protein that binds the top layer of the epidermis known as the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is what you can see in the mirror, it is made up of 25-30 rows of flat, dead keratinised cells. Want to know more about the skin structure and functions? Read our handy blog here.

When looking at exfoliants, enzymes are the gentlest on the skin, making them a great option for those with sensitive skin.

Our Moringa & Pineapple Enzyme Face Mask uses pineapple enzymes to exfoliate the skin, it contains the proteolytic enzyme bromelain, which helps to gently break down and digest large proteins that have accumulated.

The addition of pineapple enzyme helps to increase cell renewal, which in turn helps to remove dead skin cells, sebum and dirt on the skin which often causes clogged pores. It helps to minimise the appearance of fine lines and brightens dull skin. The enzymes leave the skin feeling soft, smooth and rejuvenated.


It’s always best to discover what works for your skin. It’s great to include both chemical and physical exfoliants into your routine though we recommend that you don’t generally use them both on the same day and always make sure you follow the recommendation on how often you should use them, to avoid over-exfoliation as this can lead to drying out your skin and irritation. Exfoliation can cause the skin to dry out, so make sure that you apply moisturiser after using, even if you have oily skin.  You can use a physical scrub 1-3 times a week, and then plan to your use chemical exfoliant around this. As mentioned, it’s always best to find out a routine that works best for your skin.

Exfoliation allows serums, treatments and moisturisers to work more effectively. Incorporating physical and chemical exfoliators in your skincare routine can help increase cell turnover, remove dead skin cells and leave you with a glowing, smoother complexion.

Shop the Lucy Bee Skincare range here.

About Lucy Bee

Lucy Bee is a lifestyle brand selling food, skincare and soap products all completely free from palm oil and with minimal use of plastic. Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, organic, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and empowering people to make informed choices and select quality, natural products for their food and their skin.

Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. We always recommend referring your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.

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