When it comes to exfoliation, what is the best physical or chemical exfoliation?

exfoliation what is the best


Exfoliation is an effective solution for many skin concerns like acne, aging skin, hyperpigmentation, ingrown hair and more. Dull, faded tattoos are receiving attention for their appearance post-exfoliation. Brighter and fresher tattoos are easy to achieve with exfoliation and hydration.

No matter what the skin concern, when you exfoliate the skin, you will choose a physical or chemical method. What’s the difference? Which is better?

Chemical exfoliation is created by applying an acid to the skin therefore dissolving the dead skin cells. It can be in the form of a cleanser, serum, chemical peel, mask, or moisturizer.


AHA and BHA acids do the heavy lifting to dissolve the dead cells and congestion.

exfoliation with cirepil

AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid, includes glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic and mandelic acid. BHA, or beta hydroxy acid, with the most common being salicylic acid. 

AHA’s dissolve and remove dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. 

BHA’s go deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and congestion in the skin. 

AHA’s have a smaller molecular structure making them stronger. When looking at acids for exfoliating the skin, you may want to consider the Ph and the % of the acid to determine which one may be stronger than another.

Different acids are best for different skin concerns. Look up any article regarding the best acid for any skin condition and you will find conflicting information. That is because all skin is different. One person may have success with lactic acid and another may favor salicylic. 


But overall, each chemical exfoliant has its strength. Lactic acid is hydrating which makes it nice for dehydrated skin. Salicylic acid is less irritating and great for sloughing and going deeper into the pores. For tattoo brightening or to freshen a tattoo, look for salicylic acid as the main ingredient due to its gentle nature. Glycolic is a go-to for mature skin for its smoothing ability and its strength due to its small molecular size.



Physical exfoliation is the physical action to remove surface cells on the skin, such as using a scrub, a brush, dermaplaning or microdermabrasion. Any action vs. product application that performs the exfoliation would be considered a physical exfoliation. For rough dry flaky skin, a physical exfoliation is a nice choice. For acne, not so much. 

Even the act of waxing could have an exfoliating effect, but only if the wax has been tested and proved to do so.

Some types of wax do not provide exfoliating benefits. Tattoo Wax is the first and only patented wax that is both hydrating and exfoliating making it great to brighten older tattoos


For acne, a chemical exfoliant is a great choice. The physical exfoliation like a rough scrub or a cleansing cloth could spread the bacteria or irritate the acne exacerbating the condition. Rosacea is another example of a chemical exfoliant being a better choice than a physical exfoliant.


Can you do both, physical and chemical? For a skin condition like keratosis pilaris, the combination of both chemical and physical is ideal.

For tattoos as well! To brighten a dull tattoo, the combination of chemical and physical exfoliation is the magic bullet. Waxing with Tattoo Wax paired with Tattoo Sublim Exfoliation & Illuminating Lotion works so well that is has resulted in a new service being offered in the waxing world-Tattoo Waxing!!


Tattoo Wax in video:

Article Written by Cali VanAelst, National Training Director at Perron Rigot Inc., 12 July 2021.