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Exfoliation, Scrubbing: What's the difference?

Exfoliation, scrubbing... although we know what we're talking about, namely the removal of dead cells from the skin's surface, these terms are often confused. Indeed, one is a type of skincare and the other denotes an action. For appropriate use, however, it is essential to understand the difference. Let's clarify in this article.

Summary
Published February 8, 2024, by Manon, Scientific Editor — 5 min read

Exfoliation or Scrubbing: Are we talking about the same thing?

In dermatology, exfoliation is a term encompassing all techniques aimed at removing dead cells present on the skin's surface. Broadly speaking, it refers to the action of detaching superficial skin cells and impurities accumulated on its surface to promote cellular renewal. This process can be mechanical, chemical, or enzymatic. These methods differ in the way they work to remove dead cells from the skin's surface.

Mechanical exfoliation.

This type of exfoliation primarily involves a "mechanical" action through circular movements or rubbing during the application of the treatment. This can be achieved through treatments containing granules, known as scrubs, which lift dead cells from the epidermis. Mechanical exfoliation can also be performed using gloves or brushes applied directly to the skin.

Mechanical exfoliation is precise because, thanks to mechanical movements, it is easier to target the areas to be treated. However, when used too harshly on the skin, mechanical exfoliants often end up damaging the hydrolipidic film that protects the epidermis. Moreover, this type of exfoliation is not recommended for acne-prone skin as manual rubbing can irritate the skin that is already inflamed.

Chemical exfoliation or peeling.

Chemical exfoliation does not require scrubbing and relies on the action of acidic molecules that remove dead cells by breaking ionic bonds, thereby destabilising the horny layer and causing its gradual detachment. Among the active ingredients used, we can mention: glycolic acid or salicylic acid.

Chemical exfoliation can penetrate deeper layers of the skin. This type of treatment is ideal for dry, sensitive or problematic skin. However, chemical exfoliants should not be left in contact with the epidermis for too long as they may cause irritation or allergies.

The enzymatic exfoliation.

Enzymatic exfoliation differs from chemical exfoliation in terms of the type of exfoliating actives used. This process utilises fruit acids such as AHAs and BHAs which act as proteases, breaking down the glycoprotein bonds that connect dead cells to the stratum corneum. This type of exfoliation is gentler than mechanical exfoliation. However, the acids may not be suitable for sensitive and reactive skin types.

Thus, exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead cells from the skin's surface, while scrubbing refers to the treatments used to exfoliate the skin.

Which treatments should be prioritised?

For mechanical exfoliation:

  • Regarding mechanical exfoliants, it is necessary to use grain-based scrubs by making circular movements. For this, we have developed facial scrubs like our radiant facial scrub with rosehip oil. The apricot kernel powder it contains is very fine and gently removes dead skin cells. For the body, you can use our nourishing body scrub which is composed of organic sweet almond oil to nourish the skin and apricot kernel powder to gently remove accumulated dead cells on the skin surface.

For chemical exfoliation:

  • A.H.A.s, or alpha-hydroxy acids, are acids typically used in peels. They are particularly recommended for dry skin as they exfoliate the surface while keeping the epidermis hydrated. There are many A.H.A.s, including glycolic acid, glycolic acid and also mandelic acid. You can find these active ingredients in our products specifically dedicated to gentle peeling, such as our serum with lactic acid , which has an exfoliating effect on the superficial layers of the skin.

  • B.H.A.s or beta-hydroxy acids act on the surface of the skin and within the pores. Thesalicylic acid is the most common B.H.A. It has a keratolytic action and purifying effect that promotes the removal of dead cells on the surface of the epidermis and stimulates cell renewal.

  • With a higher molecular size than A.H.A. and B.H.A., the P.H.A. penetrate less deeply into the epidermis and are more suitable for atopic and/or skin with cutaneous afflictions. Our gentle peeling mask with A.H.A. and P.H.A. is composed of gluconolactone. This gentle chemical exfoliant ensures a micro-exfoliation that complements the action of the AHA.

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