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  • Writer's pictureAndi Johnson

Polishing the Soul: The Synergy of Physical and Chemical Exfoliants in Unveiling Inner Radiance

Updated: Apr 28

Sunset at Helen Putnam Regional Park in Sonoma County California

Now that we have covered the basics of cleansing the skin in Cleansing: The Foundation of Healthy Skin, I want to talk about physical and chemical exfoliants. You might be asking, aren’t all exfoliants created equal? Well, no! Physical exfoliants are exactly that, things we can see with our physical eyes and feel physically. Whereas, chemical exfoliants are those we can’t see with the naked eye, or feel when applied. Such as acids and enzymes which are great for daily use to build over time.

Just as daily use of chemical exfoliants is a key factor for radiant skin, doing the inner work on ourselves is what helps to shed that which no longer serves us. Inner work refers to the intentional practice of self-reflection, self-awareness, and personal development. It involves dedicating time and effort to nurture our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. While it may seem daunting or even unnecessary in the busyness of our lives, I want to emphasize that daily inner work can bring about lasting effects that ripple throughout every aspect of our existence. By synergetically compounding a daily practice with a daily skincare regime, you will radiate light like never before!

Sunset on the trail in Helen Putnam Regional Park in Sonoma County California


Lately, I’ve been experiencing a lack of self-awareness and ownership from others of their behavior. While on social media, I’ve been seeing others bring up this subject as well. Engaging in regular inner work cultivates a deeper understanding of ourselves. It enables us to become more attuned to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, allowing us to identify patterns and triggers that may hinder our personal growth. By gaining this self-awareness, we become empowered to make conscious choices and respond to life's challenges in a more balanced and authentic manner.

Emotional Intelligence:

Inner work equips us with the tools to navigate our emotions skillfully. It encourages us to explore the root causes of our emotional reactions and develop greater emotional intelligence. As we learn to recognize and regulate our emotions, we enhance our relationships, make wiser decisions, and foster a more harmonious internal state.

Clarity and Purpose:

Daily inner work provides us with the space to connect with our core values, passions, and desires. It helps us gain clarity about our purpose in life and align our actions with our truest selves. By regularly checking in with our aspirations and making conscious choices, we can create a life that is meaningful, fulfilling, and in alignment with our deepest values.

Resilience and Growth:

Inner work strengthens our capacity for resilience and personal growth. Through practices such as meditation, journaling, or mindfulness, we develop a sense of inner strength that enables us to navigate life's inevitable challenges with grace and adaptability. We learn to view setbacks as opportunities for learning and transformation, fostering a growth mindset that propels us forward.

Sunset at Helen Putnam Regional Park in Sonoma County California

Authentic Connections:

As we engage in daily inner work, we become more attuned to our own authenticity, which naturally spills over into our relationships. We learn to communicate more openly, listen empathetically, and connect with others on a deeper level. Our interactions become richer and more meaningful and contribute to a greater sense of belonging and community.


Now that I’ve gone over the reasons and benefits of doing the inner work on a daily basis, let’s dive into the types of physical and chemical exfoliants, their purpose(s), and their frequency of use.

The Power of Physical Exfoliation:

Physical exfoliation involves the mechanical removal of dead skin cells through the use of gentle abrasive particles. This process stimulates cell turnover, promotes blood circulation, and unclogs pores, resulting in improved skin texture, tone, and overall appearance. By effectively eliminating dullness and revealing a fresh layer of skin, physical exfoliants offer numerous benefits for both the face and neck.

Selfie of Andi Johnson of Roam with Andi while hiking in Northern California

Types of Physical Exfoliants:

Facial scrubs typically contain small, granular particles such as sugar, salt, rice bran, or jojoba beads. These scrubs effectively polish the skin, removing impurities and revealing a smoother complexion.

Exfoliating brushes or sponges offer a manual exfoliation experience, gently buffing away dead skin cells. Brushes with soft bristles or sponges made from natural fibers work well in combination with a cleanser, providing a deeper cleanse and promoting skin rejuvenation.

Cleansing grains, often made from finely ground oats, almonds, or herbs, cleansing grains are mixed with water or a facial cleanser to form a paste. Gently massaging this mixture onto the skin provides mild exfoliation and nourishment.

With physical exfoliants, it is crucial to strike a balance between reaping the benefits of physical exfoliation and avoiding excessive abrasion. Generally, exfoliating two to three times a week is suitable for most skin types. However, sensitive or acne-prone skin may require a gentler approach, limiting exfoliation to once a week. You’ll want to use a light touch when applying them to your face and neck. Applying gentle pressure and using circular motions to help avoid causing micro-tears or irritation.


About once to no more than two times a week, I will exfoliate my face with a physical exfoliant. I have Kiehl’s Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion in my shower for ease. Earlier, I briefly touched on synergy with regard to doing the inner work and a daily skincare regime. Well, this product is the epitome of synergy as it uses both physical and chemical exfoliants. It is Obagi’s Professional C Microdermabrasion Polish and Mask, which I use about 2-3 times a month, sometimes as a scrub, and sometimes as a mask. This is a highly potent vitamin C scrub and mask so if you’re new to topical vitamin C, I would use this only as a scrub and build up to a 5-minute, then 10-minute mask. Another tremendous physical exfoliant that is more gentle if you’re prone to having sensitive skin, is Dermalogica’s

Daily Microfoliant. This is a powder that you mix with a little water in the palm of your hand. Mine sits by the sink, and not in the shower so I don’t end up ruining the entire bottle by accident.

When it comes to achieving a healthy and glowing complexion, exfoliation is a key step in any skincare routine. While physical exfoliants like scrubs and brushes have been popular for years, chemical exfoliants have emerged as a gentle yet effective alternative. So now we'll dive into the world of chemical exfoliants and explore how they can transform your skin, specifically focusing on the face and neck areas.


Close up of a sunset through the trees at Helen Putnam Regional Park in Sonoma County California

Understanding Chemical Exfoliants:

Chemical exfoliants work by utilizing acids or enzymes to dissolve and remove dead skin cells, revealing fresher, smoother skin underneath. They penetrate the skin more deeply than physical exfoliants, making them a valuable addition to any skincare regimen.

Types of Chemical Exfoliants:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are derived from fruits, milk, and sugarcane. They work by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, promoting their gentle removal. AHAs are ideal for improving texture, reducing fine lines, and brightening the skin. This serum by Ole Henrinksen is like a power punch of ingredients that work while you sleep.

Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA): Salicylic acid is the most common BHA used in skincare. BHA is oil-soluble, making it particularly effective in unclogging pores and combating acne. It's also known for its anti-inflammatory properties, making it suitable for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin. My go-to is Obagi's face wash and toner that I use every evening.

Enzymes: Enzymes like papain (derived from papaya) and bromelain (derived from pineapple) offer a natural approach to exfoliation. They work by breaking down the protein bonds in dead skin cells, resulting in a smoother complexion. Enzymes are often found in gentle exfoliating masks or peels. My favorite is a 2-in-1 physical and chemical exfoliant by Keihl’s and it is their Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub.


Benefits of Chemical Exfoliation for Face and Neck:

Improved Texture: Regular chemical exfoliation promotes cellular turnover, helping to smoothen rough or uneven skin texture. This can be especially beneficial for those with acne scars, sun damage, or age-related skin concerns.

Enhanced Radiance: By sloughing off dead skin cells, chemical exfoliants reveal a fresh and glowing complexion. The removal of dull surface cells allows light to reflect more evenly, resulting in a luminous and youthful appearance.

Diminished Hyperpigmentation: Chemical exfoliants can fade dark spots, sun spots, and hyperpigmentation by accelerating the shedding of pigmented skin cells. Over time, consistent use can lead to a more even skin tone.

Minimized Pore Size: BHA exfoliants, in particular, have the ability to penetrate the pores and dissolve excess sebum and debris. This helps reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and prevents clogging, leading to a clearer complexion.


Incorporating Chemical Exfoliation into Your Skincare Routine:

Start Slowly: If you're new to chemical exfoliation, introduce it gradually into your routine to allow your skin to adjust. Begin with a lower concentration of acid and increase usage over time if tolerated well.

Patch Test: Before applying any new chemical exfoliant, perform a patch test on a small area of your skin to check for adverse reactions or sensitivities.

Sun Protection: Chemical exfoliants can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun, so it's crucial to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 daily. This will protect your newly revealed skin from sun damage.

Moisturize and Hydrate: After exfoliating, moisturize your skin to replenish hydration. Sign up for my email list so you can be notified of my post on my hydrating tips and tricks coming soon!


Selfie of Andi Johnson of Roam With Andi while hiking near a beach in Washington State

Chemical exfoliants are a game-changer for achieving a smoother, more radiant complexion. With their ability to gently dissolve dead skin cells and address various skin concerns, they are a valuable addition to your skincare routine. By incorporating chemical exfoliation into your regimen, you can unveil healthier, radiant, more youthful skin on your face and neck, enhancing your overall confidence and beauty. If you're new to physical or chemical exfoliants, start slow, follow instructions, and protect your skin with sunscreen for optimal results.

Remember, the effects of daily inner work are not immediate miracles or quick fixes. Just like chemical exfoliants, they unfold gradually over time, but their impact is lasting and transformative. By committing to this journey of self-discovery and personal growth, you embark on a lifelong path that nurtures your well-being, enriches your relationships, and aligns you with your true purpose.

I encourage you to set aside time each day to engage in inner work practices that resonate with you. Whether it's meditation, mindfulness, journaling, or self-reflection exercises, find what works for you and make it a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Embrace the journey, celebrate your progress, and allow the transformative power of daily inner work to shape your life.

Affirmation: As I gently exfoliate my outer layers, I uncover the beauty and strength within, nurturing my soul with daily inner work.

Please note, I'm not a dermatologist or professional in the field of dermatology. Therefore please do ask the advice of a professional for important matters. However, I am happy to answer any questions you may have to the best of my ability. This blog post is embedded with affiliate links that provide you with ease of finding the products and help pay me for my time and energy putting this all together. So, I truly appreciate it if you use my links when purchasing products. Wishing you a skincare journey filled with confidence and remarkable results!


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