Exfoliation is one of the key components to a proper skincare routine. Besides smoothing out your skin’s texture, sloughing off excess dead skin cells helps minimize signs of pigmentation and promotes your skin’s elasticity. With the steady influx of new and advanced exfoliation products on the market, an important question often arises in connection to exfoliation—what’s the more favorable option, a chemical or physical exfoliant? Various physical exfoliants have been around for decades, but in terms of chemical exfoliants, many new formulations have come to market in the past few years. We asked Shiffa Beauty founder and skin expert, Dr. Lamees Hamdan to weigh in on the particulars of sensible exfoliation methods. Hamdan, who has steadily been on the skincare radar of women across the Middle East and Europe for over a decade, quite candidly reveals in detail why chemical exfoliations, particularly fruit acids, will serve your skin better in the long term.
Let’s talk chemical vs. physical exfoliants: what are the ins and outs to know, and why do you prefer a chemical exfoliant over a physical one?
Physical exfoliants, usually granules or brushes that remove dead skin, are not the best for both dry and oilier skin types. They tend to be too harsh for drier skin types and disrupt the skin’s barrier protection, which is made up of sebum. For oilier skin types, it tends to compound the problem of oiliness.
There are two chemical exfoliants that are common solutions, fruit acids and enzymes. Why are you a fan of fruit acids and not enzymes?
In terms of chemical exfoliants, I most definitely prefer fruit acids. Enzyme exfoliants are popular because you think you are seeing your skin flake off when you use them. The truth is, sadly, very little of it is your skin—the rest is the product itself. So I feel it’s a little bit dishonest, as a doctor, when I see videos that allow the consumer to think it’s all their dead skin coming off. I mean two things: either the brand is unaware, or they have no clue how the product they’re launching and marketing works. It’s a little upsetting because fruit acids, in a visual sense, don’t do this. So people mistakenly think an enzyme peel is better. They switch to enzymes, and leave their fruit acids, which can be beneficial to your skin, both in the short and long term. Enzymes give you a temporary glow, but to get long-term benefits, fruit acids come out on top. That’s why, if you aren’t sensitive to fruit acids, they are your best bet.
Another downfall enzyme peels have is that, for active acne, again: fruit acids are much better, as they help treat the cause and prevent breakouts. Bacteria is a key player in acne development, and fruit acids help make the skin’s PH more acidic, which bacteria don’t like. Enzymes don’t do that.
What do you say to the long line of people indulging in inexpensive drugstore scrubs?
Again, different skin can be different in many ways. I wouldn’t berate you for it, but I would try to get you to change to a fruit acid-based one—and you might need to try a few to choose one that suits you. People with dark skin tones need to be extra careful, as physical exfoliants can irritate and lead to hyperpigmentation issues. The same can occur with fruit acids that are too harsh and strong as well.
In terms of physical exfoliants, I’ve heard you speak about muslin cloths to wash your face. If someone uses their favorite gel or cream cleanser with a muslin cloth, does that count as a physical exfoliator? And should you be using the cloth and cleanser combo day and night?
Technically, a muslin cloth is a physical exfoliant, but it is so gentle that many doctors don’t consider it as an exfoliant. Use the cloth and cleanser at night. And in the morning, if you have sensitive skin and you find it a bit much, you don’t need to use the cloth. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all skincare routine—it’s what is best for you.
Should a fruit acid exfoliator be done at night?
I would advise it, as nighttime gives your skin time to adjust after the peel before sun exposure.
Does this affect skin’s sensitivity to sun the next day—given it’s the tail end summer and exceptionally hot out?
Always, always use sunscreen, whether you are using acids or not. Any type of proper exfoliation (I am not including the muslin cloth approach here) whether fruit, enzyme or physical, strips the skin of its outer layers (and fruit acids do a better and deeper job of this) so your skin is sensitive to the effects of sunlight.
How often are you supposed to use a fruit acid?
I recommend my own Shiffa Tri-Acid Radiance Peel twice a week only. Definitely not every day, because it will thin out your skin and make it more susceptible to damage. You want to keep your skin thick, plump, and elastic.
Do we ever need to exfoliate in any way around the eyes? I know it’s a delicate area, but does that thin skin also get buildup?
I don’t think we need to. We run the risk of being too harsh there, and creating deeper wrinkles and pigmentation issues. I think normal cleansing with a muslin cloth, cotton pad, rubbing your skin dry with a towel, is exfoliation enough—plus the use of gentle retinoids. I would only advise chemical peels under the eye preformed in a doctor’s office.