Physical exfoliants

We’re all familiar with scrubs, body brushes and loofahs, but did you know these are technically classified as physical exfoliants? Physical exfoliants are one of the two main ways to exfoliate the skin, and have been used for eons to remove dead skin cells and brighten dull, dry skin. However, they can cause skin irritation and sensitivity, so they may not be for everyone. 

What is exfoliation?

As we get older, cell turnover slows down and dead cells can build up on the top of the skin, leading to a dry and dull complexion. Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin.  

What are the benefits of exfoliating?

]By removing dead cells from the surface of the skin, exfoliating can lead to a brighter, more even complexion. In addition, exfoliation can help to unclog pores and improve the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads, fade uneven pigmentation, and can help your other skincare products work more effectively. 

How do physical exfoliants work?

Physical exfoliants mechanically loosen and lift off dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin, revealing a smoother, brighter complexion. Examples include grains, scrubs, peeling gels, face cloths, brushes, microdermabrasion, and exfoliating mitts.

What are the drawbacks?

Physical exfoliation can cause minor injuries to the skin and disrupt the skin barrier, resulting in dryness and irritation. It’s important not to overdo it. Many dermatologists are of the opinion that physical exfoliation isn’t necessary and may actually do more harm than good. You may be safer using chemical exfoliants – just not too often.



Rodan K, Fields K, Majewski G, Falla T. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2016;4(12 Suppl Anatomy and Safety in Cosmetic Medicine: Cosmetic Bootcamp):e1152. 


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Spotlight on Skin was created by award-winning Melbourne-based dermatologist, Dr Julia Rhodes.

Julia knows first-hand how overwhelming the skincare world can be, and that’s with over 10 years of experience practicing dermatology. Given that even she gets overwhelmed, she appreciates how hard it can be for those of you without a scientific background to make sense of all the information available, and choose products that are right for your skin…