Chemical and Physical Exfoliation: Why Your Skin Needs Both

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated on: April 30, 2024


During the month of May, when you purchase a full-size (50 mL) Microderm for your face, we’ll send you the body edition to try. It’s on us, until we run out—enter code BODYGIFT at checkout. (And you can see the full terms and conditions here.)

Exfoliating is Gwyneth’s favorite skin trick, and it really works. One of the easiest ways to boost glow, help clear up your skin, and minimize the appearance of sun damage, exfoliating regularly helps you maintain a beautiful complexion like nothing else. Not only does sweeping away dead skin cells, grime, pollution, and makeup residue have the instant benefit of deep-cleaning your pores to make your skin look brighter and feel silkier; it also allows any serums, treatments, and moisturizers you apply afterward to penetrate deeper and work more effectively. How often and how intensely you should exfoliate depends on your skin type and how sensitive it is, but just about everyone’s skin benefits from a combination of both physical and chemical exfoliation.

  1. Every Day (Physical)

    goop Beauty
    Cloudberry Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser
    goop, $35SHOP NOW
  2. Nightly (Chemical)

    goop Beauty
    Dark Spot Exfoliating Sleep Milk
    goop, $98SHOP NOW
  3. Every Few Days (Physical and Chemical)

    goop Beauty
    Microderm Instant Glow Exfoliator
    goop, $125SHOP NOW
  4. Once a Week (Chemical)

    goop Beauty
    15% Glycolic Acid Overnight Glow Peel
    goop, $125SHOP NOW

Both chemical and physical exfoliants remove dead skin cells and other debris, helping speed cell turnover, so they can leave your skin fresher, brighter, and clearer, with minimized pores and a smoother surface.

The main difference is that chemical exfoliants use acids or enzymes to dissolve and loosen the cells, while physical exfoliants—products containing small particles, or any sort of textured surface, like a washcloth—work by scrubbing away the dead skin and debris. The two approaches actually complement each other if used correctly, optimizing cell turnover to smooth, polish, and retexturize your skin.

It’s important to note that whether you’re using physical, chemical, or both types of exfoliants, it’s possible to overdo it. Exfoliating too much strips away the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to sun damage, dryness, and even infection. For example, you wouldn’t want to use other exfoliants for at least 24 hours before or after using the goop Beauty overnight peel, as it’s (brilliantly) super powerful. Similarly, on a day you used the Microderm face scrub, you might avoid using more powerful daily treatments like the salicylic acid toner from Alpyn Beauty or the mandelic acid serum from Sofie Pavitt.

  1. Alpyn Beauty
    Pore Perfecting Liquid with 2% BHA + Borage
    goop, $39SHOP NOW
  2. Sofie Pavitt Face
    Mandelic Clearing Serum
    goop, $54SHOP NOW

To figure out your skin’s perfect exfoliation balance, take it slow at first. Never use a product more often than recommended, and never layer products in the same session. As your skin acclimates to exfoliation, you may be able to increase the frequency with which you use some products, but the moment your skin starts to feel at all irritated or stripped, dial it back down. Once you find the sweet spot for your skin, the results should be noticeable—smoother, brighter, fresher, and clearer, with a glow that just won’t stop.


  1. Moisturizer

    goop Beauty
    72-Hour Supercharged Hydrating Water-Cream
    goop, $68SHOP NOW
  2. Serum

    goop Beauty
    20% Vitamin C + Hyaluronic Acid Glow Serum
    goop, $125SHOP NOW
  3. Body Polish

    goop Beauty
    Microderm Instant Glow Body Polish
    goop, $48SHOP NOW
  4. Mineral Sunscreen

    Everyday Mineral Face Sunscreen SPF 30
    goop, $47SHOP NOW