Are you stressed about having dull, rough, or bumpy skin with acne scars, or hyperpigmentation? Or are you looking for a simple-but-effective solution to get clear skin and prevent clogged pores which may lead to breakouts, blackheads, and enlarged pores?
Exfoliation can be one of the best things that can help with all of these unwanted issues. Have you crossed paths with the famous term—10-step Korean skin care routine? Exfoliation is one of the critical parts of the Korean women’s beauty regimen and this is something that all of us can easily do right at home.
When you’re using the right product to exfoliate, your skin will experience a faster rejuvenation process, leaving it look more youthful and feel smoother.
Still unsure how to do it right? Here is the K Beauty World’s comprehensive guide for you to learn how to exfoliate your skin properly, along with a list of ten of the best Korean exfoliators that you can feel good about integrating into your beauty steps.
At its most basic level, exfoliation simply means the process of removing dead skin cells or dirt from the surface of the skin using a chemical, granular substance, or tool as known as an exfoliator.
Exfoliating can help cleanse skin, speed up the skin’s turnover process, smoothen out skin texture, even out the skin tone, and prevent blackhead and whitehead formation.
Skin peeling also helps unclog congested pores which can be a cause of acne breakouts. If your skin is riddled with dead cells, a potent serum or moisturizer may not be able to penetrate deep into the skin and do their work making those steps less effective.
Why is it Important to Exfoliate?
Our skin naturally sheds dead skin cells through normal daily activities and regenerates itself at around a 28-day cycle for an adult and 3-5 days for a baby — this is why babies have a such a soft complexion.
Sometimes, the dead cells don't shed as they often as they should due to various factors, such as genetics, sun damage, environmental stressors, dryness or oiliness.
In addition, as we age, the process of natural skin shedding (skin turnover) and oil production reduces. This causes the dead skin cells to continue accumulating on the surface of your skin and it becomes dry, lacklustre, flaky, and patchy.
Regular exfoliation routine can prevent these issues and enable the face and body to maintain a healthy, natural glow and vitality of the skin.
What is the Best Type of Exfoliator?
Exfoliators can be categorized into two different kinds, which are designed for different skin types and needs—physical (mechanical) and chemical. All of them offer equally great benefits but for the best result, choose the one that fits the best for your skin type.
Physical exfoliation involves manual scrubbing or rubbing your skin’s surface using mechanical exfoliating tools or products, which contains some types of rough/mildly abrasive materials or physical particles that rub against the skin to slough off the dead skin layer.
Commonly known fine granules of physical exfoliants are sugar, salt, walnut shell, sand, rice bran, clay, baking soda, pumice stone, and silica.
If you want to soften, smooth skin texture and remove visible flakes, physical exfoliation would be a great way to get quick result.
Some mechanical examples include:
- Face scrubs/Wash-off masks
- Peeling gels, lotions, creams
- Exfoliating mitts
- Peeling pads
- Dry brushes
- Facial sponges
- Pumice stone
- Microneedling or derma rollers
Chemical exfoliants are acids that weaken the bonds between skin cells making it easier for dead skin cells to break away. They can go deep into the pores and extract built up dirt and impurities on skin.
The most common chemical exfoliators that are added to cosmetics and skincare products are alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA), polyhydroxy acids (PHA), Lipohydroxy Acid (LHA), plant-based enzymes, and retinols.
These leave-on exfoliants are available in different concentrations and forms, such as facial cleansers, serums, essences, toners, masks, and creams.
You would get the most benefit from a chemical exfoliant if your skin concerns are more likely from deeper level of the skin such as acne, hyperpigmentation, or blackheads.
What are Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)?
Naturally derived from fruits, nuts, milk or sugarcane. AHAs are tiny molecules of hydrophilic (water-soluble) acid. They exfoliate and dissolve dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and stimulate the renew of the skin cell process.
Alpha hydroxy acids help smooth out pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, and acne scars while brightening and even out your skin tone.
The most popular AHAs in cosmetics include glycolic acid, citric acid, lactic acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and mandelic acid.
What are Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)?
Within skincare, the most common of which is salicylic acid! Derived from willow tree bark, wintergreen leaves, and sweet birch bark.
As an acid exfoliant, salicylic acid is lipophilic (oil-soluble) and works by softening and dissolving keratin. It easily penetrates deep into the pores and clears out excess sebum and dead skin cells while preventing whiteheads, blackheads and acne breakouts.
What are Retinoids?
Retinoids are the umbrella term for retinol products—which are a class of skin supplements derived from vitamin A. They work to improve texture, pigmentation, tone, and reduce fine lines and wrinkles by increasing the production of collagen.
Retinols help protect skin from free radicals and promote skin cell turnover, leaving the skin clearer, smoother, and brighter.
There are several different topical retinoids available in the market including retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene, alitretinoin, bexarotene, Retin-A, Retin-A micro, retinyl palmitate, retinaldehyde, adapalene, and isotretinoin.
They vary in concentration— OTC (over the counter) options are great for retinol newbies, which contain a lower concentration of the active retinoic acid ingredient. If they’re not working, talk to a dermatologist as prescription retinoids have a much stronger formula.
What Are Benefits of Exfoliating Your Skin?
Exfoliation helps to restore the natural process and bring fresher, healthier cells to the surface of the skin. With newer cells, your skin can hold moisture better and allow skincare products to penetrate better. As a result, your skin will look ultra-dewy and feel baby-soft with its healthy natural glow.
- Unclogs pores
- Diminishes the appearance of sun damage, enlarged pores
- Increased cell turnover
- Clears out breakouts and acne
- Smooths rough, bumpy texture
- Lighten skin pigmentation, acne scars
- Enhances the effectiveness of products
- Reduces the signs of aging
- Evens out skin tone
- Stimulates collagen synthesis
- Hydrates skin
How Often Should You Exfoliate?
The frequency of exfoliation depends on your skin type, concerns, personal preferences, and the strength of the formula.
If you have very oily skin, you can get away with exfoliating every other day or as often as needed. For skin that’s dry or sensitive, do it once or twice a week and for normal to combination skin, it’s recommended to exfoliate two to three times per week.
It’s good practice to start with once or twice a week and add days depending on how your skin reacts!
How to Choose an Exfoliator for Your Skin Type?
If you have oily skin that is prone to acne and blemishes, use either a physical or chemical exfoliant with salicylic acid, which can help clear out clogged pores that often lead to breakouts.
Dry and sensitive skin is already more fragile so rather than using a physical exfoliant use a chemical exfoliant with AHAs such as glycolic acid or lactic acid.
It helps enhance the skin’s moisture-retaining ability and fade pigmentation faster by accelerating skin cell renewal process and stimulating collagen production.
How to Exfoliate Your Skin?
Use an exfoliant after (double) cleansing and right before toning. Afterwards, follow up with your essence, serum, moisturizer and broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher during the AM routine.
Because AHAs and retinols can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and UV it is very important to use sunscreens with them and better to incorporate it into your nighttime regimen.
For physical face scrubs, it can be used one to three times per week, based on the products you use and your sensitivity level.
Apply quarter-size amount to damp skin and gently massage in a circular motion, avoiding the eye area. Make sure to use gentle pressure to prevent irritation, micro-tears and PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).
For chemical exfoliants, start with a pea-size amount of the product once or twice a week to see if your skin reacts and gradually work up to every other day or three times a week. Also, test with different strengths to find the best formula for your skin.
If it’s a liquid formula, sweep it over your skin with cotton pads; If it’s a lotion, gel, or cream, use your fingertips to apply it over the face being careful to avoid the eye and lip areas.
Do not mix with active ingredients, such as retinol, vitamin C, benzoyl peroxide, and AHA/BHA acids. This may cause irritation, redness, pain, discomfort, peeling, and even cracking.
10 Best Korean Chemical & Physical Exfoliators
Benton Aloe BHA Toner
Powered with 80% aloe barbadensis leaf extract to hydrate and soothe irritated, dry, and troubled skin. Snail secretion filtrate repairs damaged skin, improves skin texture and tone whilst BHA eliminates flakes, dead skin cells, and impurities.
This soothing toner is made of gentle and clean ingredients, making it suitable for all skin types—especially those with sensitive, dehydrated, red, and blemished skin.
❤️ Shop Now for Benton Aloe BHA Toner
Some By Mi AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner
Formulated with a mix of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs to work together to help slough off dead skin cells, excess sebum while clearing away and preventing breakouts.
In addition, this multi-tasking toner contains tea tree extract, which act as a zit zapper and a pore purifier, helping to achieve a clearer and healthier looking skin.
This is currently one of the most popular acne-fight toners in the global beauty market, especially in Southeast Asia.
❤️ Shop Now for Some By Mi AHA BHA PHA Exfoliating Toner
Huxley Sweet Therapy Scrub Mask
A purifying scrub mask helps to buff away dead skin cells with natural ingredients to unveil a clean, soft appearance.
The key ingredient, prickly pear seed oil and cactus extract, which has a powerful antioxidant effect that helps nourish, hydrate, calm and cool skin. Formulated with natural exfoliants, such as sucrose and walnut shell powder for gentle exfoliation.
❤️ Shop Now for Huxley Sweet Therapy Face Scrub
Cosrx AC Collection Calming Liquid Intensive & Mild
An upgraded version of Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol, a fast-acting liquid is a hypoallergenic exfoliator that speeds up the calming process of cystic acne, blemishes.
Featuring CentellAC-RX formula, which contains three legendary calming ingredients— Madecassic acid, Asiaticoside and Asiatic acid.
Powered with 60% propolis extract, BHA, Zinc PCA, AHA, this chemical exfoliant helps maintain the skin’s oil and moisture balance while clarifying and repairing damaged skin.
Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel
This obagi-type exfoliator offers deep moisture while removing unwanted skin cells and makeup residues. Filled with Betaine Salicylate, derived from sugar beets and allantoin extracted from comfrey leaf and root that provides calming and healing effects.
Free from parabens, synthetic fragrance and colors, this hypoallergenic peeling gel has gel-like texture that turns into a milky-foam in contact with water.
❤️ Shop Now for Pyunkang Yul Peeling Gel
Isntree Clear Skin BHA Toner
Great for oily, combination, and acnegenic skin, this toner contains natural exfoliating agents—Salix Alba(willow bark extract) and Betaine Salicylate, which is a mixture of salicylic acid and betaine derived from beet.
The seaweeds complex—hijiki, sea staghorn, sea trumpet, and agar— is loaded with numerous vital nutrients and minerals that helps detoxify and improve skin’s overall conditions.
This gentle exfoliator gets rid of unnecessary keratin inside the pores to keep the skin clearer and brighter and enhances the absorption of active ingredients in the next steps of the skincare routine.
❤️ Shop Now for Isntree BHA Toner
Klavuu Pure Pearlsation Revitalizing Intensive Peeling Gel
An effective yet non-irritating peeling solution is formulated with ECOCERT-certified cellulose from pine trees. They work to effectively peel away dead skin cells and wastes, improving skin texture and bringing your natural glow and radiance back.
This microplastic-free formula contains Korean pearl extract and nutrient-rich seaweed complex that helps hydrate, brighten, and restore the moisturizing barrier. Suitable for all skin types.
❤️ Shop Now for Klavuu Revitalizing Peeling Gel
Cosrx AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
Although it’s an acid-rich formulation, this is a very mild toner that can be used for all skin types. Enriched with 10 percent willow bark water and glycolic acid, which works for a gentle exfoliation to improve skin clarity and resurface skin.
Featuring natural mineral water, panthenol and allantoin to soothe and hydrate skin. This gentle peeling solution helps reveal a brighter, clear complexion while minimizing the appearance of whiteheads, blackheads, and breakouts.
❤️ Shop Now for Cosrx AHA BHA Clarifying Toner
Cosrx Two in One Poreless Power Liquid
This pore-tightening toner cleanses and clears up congestion, impurities, and excess sebum with Betaine salicylate, which is a gentler form of salicylic acid(beta-hydroxy acid).
Filled with willow bark water, which also contains BHA that acts as a natural exfoliant to minimize the appearance of enlarged pores and blackheads, leaving the skin look visibly clearer and feel smoother.
❤️ Shop Now for Cosrx Poleless Liquid