How to Exfoliate: When to Choose Scrubs over Acids, Plus Two Scrub Reviews

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!

How to exfoliate with scrubsOne 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.)

Korean peels
I hope you guys are enjoying the recent inadvertent photo tour of my new place, by the way. This is our back area. Our Personal Zone, if you will.

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.

Manyo Factory Korean gommage peel reviewPurpose: Manyo Factory Active Refresh Herb Peel is a combination physical and enzyme exfoliant that claims to exfoliate, hydrate, nourish, and brighten skin.

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.

Manyo Factory peeling gel consistency
Look closely and you’ll see the scrubby bits.

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.

Manyo Factory peeling gel balling up
This is about half of what usually comes out on my face. Fewer oils on the back of my hand means less gommaging. I don’t think that’s the right word for it.

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.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review: Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling

Review of Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble PeelingAt 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 Bubble Peeling English ingredientsGoodal 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.

Goodal Phytowash Yerba Mate Bubble Peeling foam
You won’t get extreme cloudface from this, but that’s probably a plus to more people than it is a minus.

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.

Goodal Phytowash Bubble Peeling and boxMy 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?


16 thoughts on “How to Exfoliate: When to Choose Scrubs over Acids, Plus Two Scrub Reviews

  1. Fiddy, you are not scrubbing alone – this lurker loves a scrub too:) Honestly, there is something strangely satisfying in this process for me. Plus, I love how my skin feels brighter, more glowing, softer – I even feel lighter as if I’ve shed a pound or two:D This is definitely a papmering thing for me…


  2. This was super helpful. A friend was trying to sell me on the Goodall Phytowash Yerba Mate as a second cleanser for daily use, but after reading your review, I’m like yeah, that is NOT a good idea. Also, I’m using Curology, so I don’t want to risk over-exfloitating.


  3. I got a sample of the Goodall Yerba Mate in a Birchbox several months ago and it was one of my favorite samples. You know my violent objection to foaming products (I am getting better) but this one was amazing. While I use BHA daily and a gygolic acid mask once in a while, I still do go for a good physical exfoliation. I just finished up a tube of the Faceshop White Jewel Peel which I adored and am going to move one to a gommage peel that came in the Best Hits of Skin Care Memebox. I love gommage peels, the mess is annoying but totally worth the smooth skin


  4. The closest I get to physical exfoliation on my face, other than a konjac sponge, is using gommage peels/peeling gels. I am using one by L’Herboflore that is perfectly lovely, though it’s hard to know how well this kind of product is working. What I do know is it doesn’t irritate my skin as long as I only use it once a week, and in the winter it helped to keep my flake-free. However, it wasn’t a cheap product, and while it boasts an impressive ingredients list, including AquaCacteen (cactus), in the end, it’s all going down the drain, so I’m not sure how much of that goodness is doing anything for my face, though supposedly AquaCacteen is beneficial even when you wash it off. I also use the Amore Pacific Enzyme Peel, which was one of my first AB products. I didn’t know at the time that the pH is high, but I don’t use it regularly enough for it to make a difference. At this point, I just want to use up the product (I won’t repurchase). I will say that my face feels velvety after using the AP Enzyme Peel, and I love the smell of it. Right now I am alternating between using this and the L’Herboflore Aqua Plus Peeling Gel. When I purchased the L’Herboflore in Taiwan, it was a 2-for-1 special, so I won’t need to buy any gommage peels for a long time, as I am still on bottle one.

    I’ve tried using stronger physical exfoliants like the Skin Food Strawberry Black Sugar Scrub and their supposedly gentler Rice Scrub, and my skin became extremely angry.

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  5. I LOVE the fun Goodal Yerba Mate fizziness and it scrubs well too! I’ll alternate between the two exfoliants because I like to switch over but AHAs for me definitely has a baby’s bottom’s texture for longer than a day.


  6. I agree. Once a week I use a peeling gel from Secret Nature and the carbonated bubble clay mask from the milky piggy brand. Those two are enough to make my skin smooth again. But I’m now looking for something that can help my skin every day, since I always have some bumps in my jawline and don’t know how to get rid of that (I use the Cosrx AHA 7). Do you know if the Cosrx BHA cream could help in that situation?


  7. I love physical exfoliation, it’s something my facial skin requires. I just use a washcloth to wipe the oil off prior to my 2nd cleanse. I do it gently, and it’s just enough exfoliation to make a difference.


  8. Hate for my first comment to be semi-corrective to a guru/expert. The Goodal has sodium LAURETH sulfate, (SLES) not sodium LAURYL sulfate (SLS). The former is rated as good on PC ingredient dictionary, whereas the latter is poor. The latter is the gold standard for measuring skin irritancy. The former is a good surfactant. SLES is often derived from coconut. These two are commonly confused, due to nearly identical names. The Goodal has ‘the good stuff.’ I have learned so much from you Fiddy.


  9. I like to use a homemade sugar scrub. Brown sugar (because I have a metric effton of it kicking around, I’m sure any sugar would work) + coconut oil (because I like the smell, and am not sensitive to it) once a week is heaven. I use fine milled sugar, so it literally melts under the heat of my hands. Got the idea years ago off a Basin sugar scrub. Unfortunately, that one had citrus oils in it and my skin freaked out. My DIY version is a lot more mild (plus, it’s worlds cheaper).


    1. I use caster sugar and Hemp seed oil. I’ll use the bigger crystals as well (regular white table sugar) but not scrub as vigorously with it. Works well, cheap, clean ingredients and doesn’t require any extra special effort in the manufacturing process over and above making the raw ingredients. I’ll spend the money on products that remain on my skin for the day. K beauty is a real gold mine!


  10. I love physical exfoliation as well but my skin is very sensitive so I can’t use most. However I’ve found Dr. G’s brightening peeling gel to be pretty great! It leaves my skin feeling hydrated, soft and brightened. I think you might want to check it out if you’re inclined! It’s a gommaging peel. I think the “scrubbing” elements are actually cotton (amongst other things). It doesn’t direct you to let it dry/waiting a bit after applying though. I think I’m going to try that tonight and see if it makes a difference because why not.


  11. After reading this post, I wanted to try BHA very much but I can’t as I’m allergic to aspirin. Thus I can only use AHA but I have combination skin, do you think it’s effective? If I do use AHA, is physical scrub necessary?


    1. What are you using the AHA for? Generally I like it for surface exfoliation more than pore clarifying, since AHAs are water soluble and their action will be on the surface of skin rather than into pores. And I would avoid physical scrubs until you see how well your skin tolerates the AHA and how strongly it affects your skin.


      1. I haven’t used any yet but would like to try Cosrx Aha power liquid. I really hope I can stop using scrub as they’re really time consuming.


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