Scrub wars: Why I choose enzyme exfoliators

Few things can make your skin look as good as a proper exfoliation. Forget your fancy serums and flash balms and creams – if you want your skin to look radiant, clear and smooth; exfoliating is where its at. And we’re not talking granules here – we’re talking the good stuff which means Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Beta Hydroxy Acids or Enzymes. For today we’ll focus on enzyme exfoliators.

Why not use a granular scrub?

Stop me if I’ve said this before, but granular scrubs are a really ineffective way of exfoliating your face. They’re meant to polish the skin by buffing off dead skin cells. I’m sure this theoretically works well in a laboratory, but in practice it pretty much sucks. Add too much water and it doesn’t do the job. Add too little water and you’re left with sensitized, over stimulated, vulnerable skin – I’ve seen microscope slides of “scrubbed” skin – it was full of tiny little cuts.

Back to the buffing of the skin. Buffing or polishing works by repeating a light, superficial motion (think furniture, silverware, your nails even), but most people tend to really get in there with scrubs, causing damage. It’s our flawed human nature to think more is better, where you would actually get a better result from scrubbing (i.e. polishing/buffing) with a lighter motion. Dear scrubs, it’s not just you; it’s me too.

Stop that.
Stop that.

How does an enzyme exfoliator work?

The enzymes in these exfoliators are bio active components; the majority are extracted from fruits. These enzymes have the ability to detatch and digest dead protein, which is what rough/dead skin cells are. They cannot over exfoliate – they’re smart like that, they can only digest the upper, ‘dead’ skin cells and with this comes the reveal of radiant, plump and healthy skin.

Are enzyme exfoliators suitable for everyone?

Enzyme exfoliants are recommended for all skin types, including sensitive skin that can’t tolerate mechanical exfoliation or chemical peels (AHA or BHA treatments). Since it’s non-abrasive and not sensitizing, the only contraindications I know of are allergies to the actual active components. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s weak because it’s safe – they’re really very effective. The most commonly utilised enzymes are Papaya enzyme, Pinapple enzyme and Rice enzyme.

If you don’t have particularly sensitive skin, I’d recommend using a enzyme exfoliator in conjunction with a cleanser that contains a bit of lactic or glycolic acid. Where enzymes are good at digesting skin cells, those two AHAs are good at loosening the bonds between, and lifting dead cells. They also have a hydrating effect (I’m greatly oversimplifying my skincare speak here, but I’m trying to explain as best I can without losing anyone).

In closing, if you buy one skincare item this month, consider an enzyme exfoliant. Everyone seems happy to spend R400 on a foundation to give them radiance (and then some on highlighters and bronzers and anything that promises to illuminate you from within) when the answer is much simpler, but a little deeper down. Here are some of my favourite enzyme exfoliators:

Dr Gobac Exfoliating Masque with papaya enzyme

I keep my tube in the shower, and slap on a layer after cleansing about once a week. It’s very gentle (I don’t feel a thing when it’s on) and my skin feels hydrated and a little plumped up after use. I bought this at Pro Beauty a couple of weeks ago and I know it’s a new launch, but it should be phasing into Edgars stores and Placecol salons already. Not 100% sure of the price, but it’s around R300 (50ml).

Perricone MD Blue Plasma

Perricone Blue Plasma is deemed as a non-acidic alternative to chemical peels for skins that can’t tolerate them, but want similar results. It’s applied once a day after cleansing, before serums and creams, and is not rinsed off.

This one has a mouthful of active ingredients and I have one or two mixed feeling about it, but let’s start off with what I’m sure of. It contains an enzyme derived from Roe, i.e. salmon eggs*, which is known to be very gentle and highly effective. It also contains Urea, which is both hydrating and exfoliating, so double win there. Along with that there’s a soothing & hydrating seaweed extract, as well as an aloe extract and DMAE.

When I started testing, the medicinal/fishy smell was quite something to get used to and I thought that it was quite tingly for a product for sensitive skin. Turns out that was the Menthol extract’s cooling sensation, which can often be mistaken for burning/tingling. The tingling disappears within a minute or two and so does the smell, and there’s a notable difference after each use – even more so if I use if for a week in a row. Available from Edgars, Around R2000 for 59ml.

Lamelle Cathepzyme 2

A quicker than quick 3 minute exfoliator. I won’t bore you with the details again, I did the review here.

Dr Gobac Exfoliating Masque with Papaya enzyme, Lamelle Cathepzyme 2, Perricone MD Blue Plasma
Dr Gobac Exfoliating Masque with Papaya enzyme, Lamelle Cathepzyme 2, Perricone MD Blue Plasma

The first Exfoliating Enzyme I used (and fell in love with) was from Nimue, and while I haven’t used it in many moons it’s still the default one I think of when someone asks for a recommendation. Find more details here.

Then there’s also everybody’s favourite favourite – Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. Two notes about Microfoliant – on my skin, for instance, I won’t use it daily. It’s a very safe exfoliation but it does leave my skin feeling a little tight (the only reason why I don’t use it often lately), and I’m not convinced we need daily exfoliation anyway. Secondly; make sure you make the paste wet enough (it comes in powder form) so that the end result is a light, airy foam and not a grainy, thick paste.

C xx

*I suppose the fish eggs can be an ethical dilemma so do be aware of them. I’m torn – I’m not vegetarian by any means but I won’t use cosmetic products with actual animal matter in them (like, I don’t know, duck beaks). Animal byproducts are a grey area though. If I go there, then surely honey and beeswax and natural lactic acid and lanolin are out too? But then what about other ingredients that are sourced in a way that hurt the environment/living creatures more that these things do? I’m not sure how to draw this line.




  1. Jess
    Oct 8, 2013 / 1:19 PM

    Totally agree. I use Alpha-H’s Liquid Gold AHA treatment 2-3 times a week to keep my skin glowing, you can get it from Pure Esthetics in Sandton. Step away from the scrubs people!

  2. Corne Hagerman
    Oct 9, 2013 / 2:13 PM

    I love Nimue’s Exfoliating Enzyme. I apply it three times a week during my bath or shower and simply massage it for a few minutes and wash it off before I get out. The difference it makes to my skin is really amazing.

  3. Dec 20, 2013 / 11:22 AM

    Nimue Exfoliating Enzyme is the bomb! I totally agree with you on physical exfoliators. My mum is a somatologist so all of this is probably coming from the same place 🙂

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