Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

A Simple Guide to All Natural Exfoliation

Medical Esthetician Jordana Mattioli gives us the scoop on the best natural exfoliators.

You cleanse, you moisturize– but are you exfoliating regularly? This necessary step in your personal care routine is a major step towards radiant, healthy skin. Confused about the millions of options out there? You’ve come to the right place!

Exfoliants come in two categories: physical and chemical. They both slough off dead skin, treat a variety of skin issues, and make your other skincare products sink in much better– the benefits are truly endless! But the two kinds of exfoliants do, however, work very differently: physical exfoliants work on just the surface of the skin; chemical exfoliants will penetrate much deeper and operate on a cellular level to go beyond what a scrub can do.

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All skin types can benefit from both methods, and I absolutely recommend having one of each. Here’s a simple breakdown of each method and how to pick the right exfoliants for your skin type.

Photo: Andreana Bitsis | Styling: Jessy Scarpone

Physical Exfoliation

Think scrubs, washcloths, or a cleansing brush (like Clarisonic): these are manual methods to physically remove the outer layer of dead skin. You’ll have the instant gratification of a smoother texture, and these exfoliants can be really helpful in getting product buildup off one days where you’re wearing a lot of makeup or a few layers of sunscreen.

Last year, you may have remembered hearing about the The Microbead-Free Waters Act in the United States. This vital piece of legislation finally banned a tiny plastic bead that was until then a common ingredient in most face scrubs, which were ending up in our oceans. This is great news for us (and the fish,) since in response most brands switched to using different particles that are all biodegradable, natural, and safe for our planet.


Keep it gentle; use this type of physical exfoliator only once or twice a week.

Chemical Exfoliation

The word chemical can sound intense, but most chemical exfoliants are derived from very natural sources- for example, glycolic acid is derived from sugar, lactic acid is from milk, and enzymes often come from fruit sources.

There are many different acids available that all fall under a general term: Alpha Hydroxy Acids, or AHA’s. Another type of acid used for chemical exfoliation is a Beta Hydroxy Acid, which is more commonly known as Salicylic Acid (it’s derived from willowbark). All these acid ingredients can also be made synthetically, but the natural versions are just as active and effective.

Chemical exfoliation can be done with many kinds of products, from liquids to creams to at home peels. (But don’t worry– using them won’t actually result in peeling or flaking– just glowy skin!)


Depending on the strength, chemical exfoliators can be used daily, every other night, or weekly. If using a daily (or every other night) chemical exfoliant, there’s no need for a weekly at home peel.

If you have sun damage, texture issues, or are treating fine lines, I would suggest using chemical exfoliators daily. For general maintenance and overall glowy skin, try a stronger once a week “at home peel” variety.

The Best Plant-Based Exfoliants

Gentle Scrubs For All Skin Types:

One Love Organics Brand New Day Scrub

One Love Organics Brand New Day Scrub comes in a powder form, and a few drops of water turn it into a deliciously-scented, frothy paste made from pineapple enzymes.

This is a unique product because you not only get a mild scrub from the organic sweet pea flour, but if you leave this product on, the pineapple enzymes give you additional enzymatic exfoliation. Try mixing the powder with equal parts greek yogurt for a clarifying mask, or with raw honey for a hydrating mask.

Farmacy’s New Day Gentle Exfoliating Grains

The cranberry seed and rice bran grains in [easyazon_link identifier=”B0178I1N98″ locale=”US” tag=”gardcoll03-20″]Farmacy’s New Day Gentle Exfoliating Grains[/easyazon_link] are finely-milled, which make them super gentle.

The scrub comes in a powder form, and turns foamy once mixed with a few drops of water. When massaged into the skin, it offers a nice, gentle cleanse. It also includes a complex of white willow bark, carrot, green tea, and marshmallow to soothe, protect, and calm the skin.

Daily Chemical Exfoliation

For Every Other Night:

Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum

Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum is a cocktail of 12% AHA/BHA (glycolic, lactic, tartaric, citric and salicylic acids) that helps refine and resurface skin to reveal a smoother and more radiant-looking complexion.

Since this serum is also loaded with skin antioxidants like cactus and raspberry fruit extract (just to name a few), its truly an all-in-one serum. This serum goes on after cleansing, and is gentle enough to use nightly– but every other night is fine too! You can follow with moisturizer if you have dry skin.

Mad Hippie Exfoliating Serum

Mad Hippie’s Exfoliating Serum is a multi-tasking serum to exfoliate, hydrate, and reduce all signs of aging.

There are super antioxidants like White Tea and Goji Berry, and two exfoliants: glycolic acid derived from sugar cane, and lactic acid from fermented beet sugar, which together reduce the appearance of fine lines while evening out skin discolorations. You’ll also find hydrating ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to instantly plump and smooth the skin.

Weekly Chemical Exfoliation (With At Home Peels)

To Be Used Once or Twice a Week:

Herbivore Blue Tansy Resurfacing Mask

Herbivore’s Blue Tansy Resurfacing Mask is a delicate, herbal-smelling mask leaves skin so supple and soft.

The two exfoliants used are fruit-based enzymes (to gently exfoliate) and white willow bark (which is naturally high in salicylic acid) to decongest pores. The aloe base and blue tansy oil (which gives this mask its blue color) are powerful skin soothers. Expect a slight tingling in the first few minutes of use!

Derma-e Overnight Peel

Instead of rinsing, this mild peel from Derma-e gets left on overnight. It’s a blend of 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acids: glycolic, lactic, malic, and citric acid for gentle skin resurfacing. Antioxidants like green tea and vitamin c round out this formula for radiant skin when you wake up. The perfect way to start your day!

Jordana Mattioli is a medical esthetician and sought-after beauty expert based in New York City. Previously, she penned a guest post for Garden Collage about her favorite natural skincare essentials, which you can read about here.

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