What's the Difference Between an Exfoliating Pad and an Exfoliating Serum?
Finding the right exfoliator for your skin type can require lots of trial and error. With so many options available, it can be difficult to know what method (chemical or physical?) or ingredients (AHAs or BHAs?) to choose from. To help you get started on your exfoliating journey, we asked two skin-care experts to break down the differences between an exfoliating serum and an exfoliating pad. Read on to discover which one may be suitable for your skin type.
What’s the difference between an exfoliating pad and exfoliating serum?
“Exfoliating (or resurfacing) serums are serums that contain chemical exfoliators,” explains Skincare.com expert and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “Chemical exfoliators are gentle, low percentage acids that are grouped into alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs).” Exfoliating serums use these ingredients to dissolve dull, dead surface skin cells to reveal a smoother and brighter complexion, she explains.
Exfoliating pads offer both chemical and physical exfoliation. “Exfoliating pads are often soaked in chemically exfoliating ingredients,” explains Nicole Hatfield, esthetician at Pomb Beauty, while the pad is often textured to offer physical exfoliation. The combination helps slough away dead surface skin cells and other impurities for a softer and smoother-looking complexion.
So, which should you use?
According to Hatfield, all skin types can benefit from an exfoliating serum because there are many formulations to choose from depending on your skin type. When making your choice, look at the ingredients. Dr. King explains that AHAs such as glycolic acid and lactic acid are generally best for normal to dry skin types, while BHAs, such as salicylic acid, are best suited for normal, oily and acne-prone skin. If you have normal skin to dry skin, try the L'Oréal Paris Glycolic Acid, which gently exfoliates the skin and unveils a glowing complexion. For oily and acne-prone skin types, we like the SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense, which is a salicylic acid serum that prevents breakouts, clogged pores and improves visible signs of aging.
Exfoliating pads can be beneficial for most skin types, though the friction from the pad itself may be too much for sensitive skin types. If you’re looking for a recommendation, we love the ZO® Skin Health Complexion Renewal Pads for normal to oily skin types as it’s formulated with glycolic acid and comes with a slightly textured pad to help unclog pores and reveal brighter looking skin.
“To test how your skin tolerates a new product, I would recommend adding the product initially only once or twice per week and then increasing as tolerated,” says Dr. King. Also be sure to limit other products with active ingredients like retinol and vitamin C when you’re exfoliating and stick to gentle formulas.
Design: Hannah Packer