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Chemical Exfoliant for Sensitive Skin: Is It Safe?


Every summer I make the joke to my husband that I would never survive the apocalypse. I have super sensitive skin, so when I am out hiking and the sun is beating down, I instantly feel vulnerable. 

I have learned over the last few decades that I need to stay fully hydrated, that I need to wash my face twice a day, and, perhaps most importantly, that I have to read ingredients lists on all products I put on my face. 

I once suffered from an attack on my face so bad as a result of a harsh chemical that I almost went to the emergency room. And that was from a prescription from my dermatologist! 

As someone who loves to exfoliate, my sensitive skin means I am obligated to be extra careful with what I use to scrub or peel away my skin. To that end, chemical exfoliants for sensitive skin have been on my radar for a long time. 

Table of Contents: 

  • What Is a Chemical Exfoliant and Is It Bad for Sensitive Skin?
  • The 5 Best Exfoliants for Sensitive Skin
  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Oats
  • Coffee
  • Yogurt
  • Benefits of Plants for Sensitive Skin
  • Best Plant-Based Products for Sensitive Skin

What Is a Chemical Exfoliant and Is It Bad for Sensitive Skin?

A chemical exfoliant peels away at the top layers of your skin. In terms of safety, you can use the gentlest of exfoliants, like salicylic acid, once or twice a week. 

In fact, many dermatologists will recommend a chemical exfoliant over a physical exfoliant for sensitive skin just because of the harsh scrubbing that some do with physical exfoliants. For the more than 60% of women who have sensitive skin, it can make a huge difference to our skin to not be scrubbing away at it with rough materials. 

However, as someone with sensitive skin and two daughters who also have sensitive skin, I prefer a physical exfoliant. I am a control freak, so I like knowing that I am in control of the level of exfoliation I am performing. 

With a chemical, the skin peels away, which I am not interested in doing. I do not want to peel the top layers of my skin off. With a physical exfoliant, especially an all-natural one that includes a moisturizer, you merely scrub the dead skin and dirt from the surface of your skin. 

In the end, gentle chemical exfoliants can be completely safe for the skin. But so can physical exfoliants. With chemicals, you must be careful not to use the product too often, but no matter what, you are losing surface layers of skin. Whereas with physical exfoliants, you must simply be sure to scrub gently. 

I’ll take the all-natural approach every time. 

The 5 Best Exfoliants for Sensitive Skin


I love salt scrubs for gently scrubbing away dry and rough patches of skin. It can also be great for working on calluses and cleaning cuticles. Be mindful if you have broken skin as the salt will burn. 


Not into salt scrubs? Try sugar! Sugar is even better for sensitive skin, gentle enough to use regularly on your face, as it is finer than salt. You also don’t have to worry about the burn. 


I am a huge fan of oats for the skin. I buy anything and everything I can find with oats, especially as a scrub. I even found an oat-based shampoo!


Coffee works wonders on the skin. It is packed with antioxidants and promotes the formation of collagen, which is essential for those of us paying attention to the aging skin on our faces. 


If you’re hoping to avoid any sort of scrub at all, you can use yogurt. Not abrasive at all, a yogurt mask still works to gently remove the dead skin cells and dirt from the surface of your skin. 

Benefits of Plants for Sensitive Skin

Again, the benefit of plant-based products for sensitive skin is that you do not have to worry about the side effects of harsh chemicals. There is very little benefit to peeling away perfectly healthy layers of skin. Furthermore, exposing fresh new skin to the environment makes you more vulnerable to the elements like sun and wind. 

Better to allow your skin to naturally die and shrug itself off. Then you can apply a plant-based wash, exfoliant, and moisturizer to support your natural process. 

I would only turn to chemicals in the event of a chronic condition or acute skincare emergency. Otherwise, trust your body and trust plants to do their work. It may take time to find the right ingredients for your body and skin type, but in the long run, the trial and error process is more beneficial to your overall health than a quick one size fits all chemical solution. 

Best Plant-Based Products for Sensitive Skin

Below you will find links to a natural scrub and several options for washes and moisturizers to help support your sensitive skin.  

Body Scrub

Ubtan Face & Body Scrub, wow Ubtan Face & Body Scrub, wow skin science, buywow

This Ubtan face and body scrub is designed for all skin types and draws on natural physical exfoliants to scrub away dead skin cells and surface dirt while keeping your natural glow. 

Lotions and Creams

The lotions and creams here are plant-based cruelty free, a perfect addition to your beauty shelf. 

Body Wash

These body washes will be gentle on your sensitive skin as they are all natural and free of harsh chemicals. 

Click the links above and take your time choosing from amongst your favorite ingredients and fragrances. You are sure to find much to love. 

Shanna Mendez

Shanna Mathews Mendez is a freelance writer and blogger on topics related to self-care, naturopathy, female empowerment, and motherhood. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children, where she enjoys traveling, being active outdoors, and studying herbalism and plant-based remedies in her free time. Drawing on her graduate degree in comparative literature and her own life experiences, she is currently writing her first book. She can be found online at her website

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