It has come to my attention that out of the four members of the Snailcast‘s Snail Unit, I’m the only one who likes physical exfoliation. Fiddy scrubs alone. And after spending so much time writing about how to exfoliate with acids yesterday, I feel the need to speak up in defense of my precious scrubs. You shouldn’t use them every day, this is true, and there are some things acids can do that scrubs cannot, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for a nice gritty physical exfoliant in a solid skincare routine!
Affiliate links in this post are marked with an asterisk(*). One of the products reviewed was originally provided by a Fifty Shades of Snail sponsor and is disclosed and marked with double asterisks(**).
When to choose physical exfoliation over chemical exfoliation
It’s well established that in general, chemical exfoliation has more substantial and more long-term benefit to skin than plain old physical exfoliation, but that doesn’t mean physical exfoliation is worthless. In fact, there are a few situations in which a physical exfoliant makes more sense than an acid exfoliant. Part of learning how to exfoliate appropriately for your skin is figuring out which kind of exfoliation will work best for you and how often to do it!
One of the best reasons to choose a physical over a chemical exfoliator is if you can’t, or don’t want to, wear the proper amount of sunscreen every day. AHAs, the chemical exfoliants with the most significant benefit to skin texture and tone, are photosensitizing. In fact, increased sun sensitivity from AHA use can last for a week after discontinuing AHA use!
You guys know I’m a believer in daily sunscreen in the recommended amounts. Sunscreen is the best defense against both premature skin aging and all kinds of pigmentation issues. I also know, however, that not everybody is as dedicated to sunscreen as I am. It can be a pain in the ass to put on every single day. It can be an even bigger pain in the ass to find a sunscreen that works for your skin and budget in the first place. If you aren’t ready to commit to the daily sunscreen life, stay away from AHAs (and retinoids, but that’s another story) and limit your sun sensitivity by using gentle physical exfoliators instead.
You may also find a physical exfoliator a better choice if you just want to polish away some flakies and keep your skin soft and smooth. If you don’t feel the need to reduce breakouts, minimize the appearance of pores, smooth out fine lines, or fade hyperpigmentation, then you don’t really need to use acids. I know my own beauty stash and skincare routine make me look like a total maximalist, but actually I don’t think the benefits of strong actives always outweigh the risks. If you don’t feel the need for them (or your skin can’t tolerate them), you shouldn’t feel like you’re doing this skincare thing wrong without them. YMMV.
Finally, if your actives regimen is moderate enough, you may benefit from physical exfoliation as an occasional treat, just to sweep away any flakes and get an instant boost. I love doing a mild scrub the night before a special event. Or when I’m bored and it’s been at least a few days since the last session. The extra exfoliation allows my products to penetrate better afterwards, giving me some pretty spectacular results from post-scrub skincare!
With that being said, I do recommend sticking to gentle physical exfoliators with smooth, rather than jagged or sharp, scrubbing particles. (I wouldn’t ever use St. Ives apricot scrub any higher than my chest, for example.) I also don’t recommend using any scrub more than once or twice a week. Pay attention to your skin and dial the exfoliation back if it starts to look or feel thin, shiny, sensitive, irritated, or otherwise compromised.
I’ve been alternating between two different physical exfoliators lately: Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling, which I purchased during my giant Memebox spree last month, and Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel**, which Memebox sent me to try in my role as world’s slowest Memebox Ambassador. (Seriously, the stuff is already sold out at Memebox* and I’m just now getting around to reviewing the stuff. Whoops. In my defense, I do need to try things like this for a substantial amount of time before forming an opinion I’m comfortable sharing, and like I said, one can’t scrub every day.)
These products have a few things in common. They’re both called “peels,” for one thing. This may sound scary but actually isn’t. “Peel” is a common term for K-beauty exfoliators. More importantly, both offer long lists of botanical extracts to entertain the ingredient-conscious, and both contain scrubbing particles to politely but firmly evict dead skin cells that have overstayed their welcome on your face. Let’s take a look and see if one might be just what your skin needs.
Review: Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel**
I felt so meh about the only other Manyo Factory product I’ve ever tried (their Galactomyces Niacin Special Treatment Essence*) that I never could think of a thing to write about it, so when I saw another Manyo Factory product in my Memebox Ambassadors box, I sighed. Still, it’d be unfair to write off a product just because I disliked something else made by the same brand. No, I also wrote this product off because I don’t like gommage peels. I’ve tried a few. They’re not for me. But the product was in my possession and I saw no particular reason not to give it a shot.
Best suited for: All skin types.
Do not use if: Your skin is sensitive to manual stimulation or you are sensitive to papain, tea tree, lavender, botanical extracts in general, or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: After cleansing, spread a thin layer over face. Let dry for a few minutes, then massage lightly in circular motions to allow product to ball up and exfoliate your face. Rinse thoroughly before continuing with the rest of your skincare routine. Use as needed, up to twice a week (IMO).
Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel ingredients (via CosDNA): Water, propanediol, cellulose, glycerin, oryza sativa (rice) bran, oryza sativa (rice) powder, artemisia vulgaris extract, triticum vulgare sprout extract, polyonum fagopyrum, brassica oleracea italica extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, tea tree extract, rosmarinus officinalis extract, lavandula angustifolia extract, morinda citrifolia extract, papain, carica papaya fruit extract, zanthoxylum piperitum oil, pulsatilla koreana extract, usnea barbata extract, ocimum basilicum leaf extract, salvia officinalis leaf extract, origanum vulgare leaf extract, rhodiola rosea root extract, taraxacum officinale, morus alba bark extract, olea europaea leaf extract, sodium hyaluronate, artemisia princeps leaf extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, soybean seed extract, sodium carbomer, monarda didyma leaf extract, melissa officinalis extract, rosa damascena flower extract, spirulina platensis powder, pinus densiflora bark extract, chamomilla recutita flower/leaf extract, mentha viridis extract, citrus aurantium dulcis extract, eucalyptus globulus leaf oil, saccharomyces/caragana sinica root ferment extract
Notable ingredients: Hey, there’s some good stuff in here! In addition to providing mild physical exfoliation, the rice bran and powder may contribute moisturizing and antioxidant effects. Papain and papaya extract can act as gentle enzyme exfoliants. Both mulberry and licorice root extracts are known skin brighteners. And spirulina is algae. I like algae! Too bad most, if not all, of that goodness will be swirling down the drain instead of prettying up your face, since this is a wash-off product. Then again, some may indeed penetrate before it’s time to rinse, so I appreciate the possibilities that the formulation creates.
Performance: If you’ve never used a gommage or peeling gel before, then this product (and others like it) are going to force you to learn how to exfoliate all over again. Because they’re a little bit different. Gommage peels are designed to ball up on skin when rubbed, much like excess amounts of sunscreen or layers of incompatible skincare. The balling-up effect comes partly from film formers in the product and partly from the product’s interaction with oils on skin. The product will lift up some dead skin cells with it when massaged, and the little clumps and balls of product and dead skin then further exfoliate as you rub them around.
It doesn’t sound that appealing, right? You’re exfoliating your dead skin cells with…other dead skin cells.
Luckily for me, the Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel isn’t quite like the other gommage peels I’ve tried, in that it isn’t a pure play peeling gel. The fresh-smelling, pale green peeling gel base is thick with fine scrubbing particles: based on the ingredients list, I’m guessing those particles are mostly ground up rice bran and powdered rice and spirulina. As soon as I spread the product on the back of my hand for the first time, I knew those scrubby particles would give this stuff more oomph than the typical peeling gel. Those gentle little scrubbing bits get two opportunities to exfoliate: once when first applying the product, and again when massaging after the product dries.
I have a tendency to overapply peeling gels, so it took me a couple of tries to get it right. Peeling gels need to be applied thinly so that they can dry down in a reasonable amount of time. If they don’t dry down properly, they won’t ball up properly.
Once I got the proper amount nailed down (a bit less than a pump for my whole face), I discovered that the Active Refresh Herb Peel balls up nicely.
I also remembered that my least favorite aspect of gommage peels is the mess they can make if one doesn’t position one’s face precisely over the sink or just get in the shower while massaging. Bits and balls of product and dead skin everywhere. Gross.
As far as the exfoliating effects of the product go, however, I don’t have any complaints. Despite the double dose of exfoliation, my skin never felt thin, stripped, or raw after using the Manyo Factory peeling gel. On the other hand, this product didn’t particularly hydrate or brighten my skin, but then again, I wasn’t really expecting those effects from a simple scrub. What it did do was leave my skin velvety soft and healthy-feeling, just exfoliated enough to look freshened without going overboard. Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel hasn’t turned me into a fan of gommage peels, but I do find myself in the mood to use this occasionally and do enjoy the results it gives.
What to expect from this product: Softer skin; possibly a bit of a mess.
Review: Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling
At first glance, Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling looked much more up my alley. In summer, I really like self-bubbling products, which feel as refreshing on my skin as a highly carbonated soda does in my mouth. I’m also very fond of Goodal, which makes a couple of products I love (Waterest Lasting Water Oil; Nature’s Solution Firming Sleeping Pack), many that I like (reviews forthcoming, but let’s just say fermented ginseng is involved), and only one that I don’t (the Firming Camellia Water Oil), which is why I chose and ordered this for myself.
Purpose: Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling is a self-bubbling exfoliant that also claims to clean pores and hydrate and nourish skin.
Best suited for: Normal, combo/oily, and oily skin.
Do not use if: Your skin is sensitive to manual stimulation and/or to
SLS sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), other surfactants, foaming cleansers, self-bubbling products, citrus or other botanical oils and extracts, or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: Use in place of your foaming cleanser. Spread an even layer of product onto dry skin. Product will foam within 1-2 minutes upon contact with air. Once product has foamed, massage gently in circular motions, then rinse. If you find it difficult to massage, wet hands, then massage and rinse. Continue with the rest of your skincare routine. Use as needed, once or twice a week maximum (IMO).
Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling ingredients: Water, lauryl glucoside, glycerin, ilex paraguariensis (yerba mate) leaf extract, cocamidopropyl betaine, polyethylene, ethyl perfluoroisobutyl ether, ethyl perfluorobutyl ether, acrylates copolymer, sodium laureth sulfate, polyacrylamide, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, citrus grandis (grapefruit) peel oil, lavandula hybrida oil, citrus aurantifolia (lime) oil, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, ribes nigrum (black currant) seed oil, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, cedrus atlantica bark oil, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) fruit extract, citrus grandis (grapefruit) fruit extract, rosa damascena flower oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) flower/leaf/stem extract, illicium verum (anise) fruit/seed oil, coriandrum sativum (coriander) fruitoil, salvia officinalis (sage) oil, artemisia absinthium extract, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, myrciaria dubia fruit extract, vanilla planifolia fruit extract, santalum album (sandalwood) oil, bertholletia excelsa seed oil, plukenetia volubilis seed oil, astrocaryum murumuru seed butter, theobroma grandiflorum seed butter, cocamide DEA, C13-14 isoparaffin, triethanolamine, betaine, PVP, laureth-7, salicylic acid, allantoin, butylene glycol, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol
Notable ingredients: Once again, so many nice (or at least interesting) extracts–too bad they’ll mostly be washing off! If any of the ingredients in the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling do stick around, however, I hope its namesake yerba mate is one of them. Goodal touts the South American medicinal herb as the ginseng of South America, thanks to its high vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content and supposed anti-inflammatory and anti-aging powers. But then again, the fact that this is a wash-off product may not be such a bad thing. The minimal amount of time that the Bubble Peeling remains on skin will mitigate the potential negative effects of the surfactants and controversial citrus and botanical oils it also contains.
Performance: Much like that Manyo Factory peeling gel, Goodal’s Yerba Mate “Bubble Peeling” begins on dry skin and takes a couple of minutes to achieve its final form. In the case of the Goodal, that final form is a thin layer of dense foam with a subtle, clean “green” scent.
Those of you who’ve had unpleasant experiences with other bubbling skincare, like Elizavecca’s Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask or that Su:m37 White Award Bubble Detox Mask that fucked my shit up a while back, you can relax. The bubbling action of the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling is exceptionally mild compared to those better-known products. I barely feel it tickle, and the bubbles don’t violate my nostrils at all. In fact, I kind of wish the foam rose up a bit higher, but that would probably make the product much harsher on skin.
The exfoliating grains in the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling are similarly modest, both in size and quantity. As with the Manyo Factory peel, the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling offers two separate opportunities to exfoliate: first upon application, then at massage and removal. The grains feel gentle and non-irritating, but plentiful enough for real exfoliation.
My main complaint with the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling exfoliator is that once it bubbles up, it dries very quickly on my skin, giving only a narrow window of opportunity to use as directed. If you catch it right when the foam rises, it has a lightly creamy consistency that’s easy to massage without tugging or friction. If you wait just half a minute or so too long, however, the foam dries into a sticky film, and you’ll have to dampen your fingertips before you can rub the product around the way you’re supposed to. Even when that happens, however, the actual massaging feels fine, so it’s not a big deal.
My other problem with this product is that it has more potential to dry and strip skin than Manyo Factory’s exfoliant. It’s essentially a bubble cleanser, like Missha’s Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser, except with extra scrubby bits that make it unsuitable for daily use. Speaking of its similarity to cleanser, its pH is 7, just a bit higher than I prefer for cleansers, but okay for me in occasional-use masks. I’ve gotten a little too close to overcleansed when I’ve used the Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling more than once every four days. Once a week is enough with this product and twice runs the risk of overkill. (Though this may of course vary depending on your skin.)
Despite those issues, I do really enjoy this product. For me, its effects beat the Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel. Not only does it leave my cheeks super fresh and super soft, but it also clears out any visible pore gunk and gives my face a bright, clarified glow that can be pretty addictive. (Which is why I came so close to going overboard.)
Conclusion: Both the Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel and the Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling deliver modest exfoliation in interesting formats. If you’re looking for a scrub that won’t be too scrubby but that will get you smooth and flake-free skin, either one will do nicely. Personally, I prefer Goodal’s Bubble Peeling despite its imperfections. Once in a while, it’s a fast and fun shortcut to a brightened and clarified complexion with a definite glow. If you’re into peeling gels, though, Manyo Factory’s version could be an entertaining little change of pace.
Do you use any physical exfoliators? Which ones and how often?