Your Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation
Exfoliation is one of the best ways to improve your skin’s overall health and appearance, and it’s easy to do from the comfort of your own bathroom.
Exfoliating is the process of removing dead cells from the outer layer of your skin using a chemical, granular substance, or exfoliator tool. Exfoliating your skin is an important part of any skincare regimen. Regularly exfoliating your skin smooths rough patches, reduces redness, fades acne scars and dark spots, and brightens your overall complexion. Not to mention the fact that it makes the rest of your skincare products work better and faster or the amazing afterglow effects.
However, it’s really easy to overdo it by exfoliating too often or using the wrong method for your skin type. If you’ve ever wondered how to exfoliate your face, we’re about to break down everything you ever wanted to know.
Read on for your ultimate guide to exfoliation.
Why is Exfoliation Important?
Your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells to make room for new cells every 30 days or so, but sometimes, dead cells don’t shed completely. This can result in dry, flaky patches and clogged pores. Exfoliating your skin can help prevent this. Exfoliating is especially helpful as we age and cell turnover slows down to prevent skin from looking dull, by keeping the process moving along at a good speed.
Type of Exfoliation: Manual, Chemical and Enzyme
Health educator Staness Jonekos explains the three different types of exfoliation as manual, chemical and enzyme.
Manual exfoliation (think a granular scrub) removes the dead cells by scraping off the top surface with physical friction. Chemical exfoliants such as alpha hydroxy acids, are topical ingredients that can dissolve the glue like substance that holds the dead cells together. Alpha hydroxy acids include citric acid (found in citrus fruits), glycolic acid (found in sugar cane), lactic acid (found in sour milk and tomato juice), malic acid (found in apples), tartaric acid (found in grapes), and others. Enzymes are biological molecules (typically proteins) that significantly speed up the rate of virtually all of the chemical reactions that take place within cells.
What Type of Exfoliant Should You Use?
Since every type of exfoliation may not work for every skin type, it’s important to consider your skin type before choosing an exfoliation method:
- Sensitive skin may sting or burn after product use
- Normal skin is clear and not sensitive
- Dry skin is flaky, itchy or rough
- Oily skin is shiny and greasy
- Combination skin is dry in some areas and oily in others
Those with dry, sensitive or acne-prone skin may prefer just a washcloth and a mild chemical exfoliator, as mechanical exfoliation may be too irritating for this skin type. Those with oily, thicker skin may want to use stronger chemical treatments or mechanical exfoliation.
Enzymes and Enzymatic Powders
When you exfoliate with an enzyme, it penetrates the surface and goes deeper into the skin to stimulate the cells. This process leads to higher cell turnover and a more youthful-looking skin. That's in addition to the obvious benefit of removing dead skin cells. In fact, a study on skin care with herbal exfoliants concluded that over time, enzymes reduce the appearance of fine lines and contribute to your skin’s firmness and tone.They also enhance the effects of daily moisturizing by allowing the moisturizer to penetrate the skin more deeply. And unlike chemical acids that have the potential to burn or weaken your skin’s protective barrier, enzymes are unlikely to inflame, irritate or damage skin.
Consider an exfoliating with an enzymatic powder a kinder, equally effective alternative for brightening and toning. An enzymatic powder is a plant-based oat or rice powder that when mixed with water, turns into a creamy, cleansing foam. It provides deep exfoliating action against pollutants and dead cells for a brighter, smoother complexion to gently cleanse the skin with a delicate exfoliation, absorbing and removing excess dirt and oil.
How Often Should You Exfoliate Your Face?
How often you exfoliate depends on your skin type. Generally, the more aggressive the exfoliation, the less often it needs to be done. The American Academy of Dermatology suggests those with oily, thicker skin may need to exfoliate as often as once a day, while those with dry or sensitive skin may need to limit at-home treatments to once or twice a week. Over exfoliating can end up being counterproductive as it might strip the skin’s natural oil causing cracks in the skin barrier and subsequent loss of hydration or even inflammation. A good rule of thumb if you have normal skin is to exfoliate your face three times a week, as exfoliating your face is one of the most important things you can do for the overall health of your complexion, and the beauty benefits are endless.
How to Exfoliate Your Face
Whether using a manual, chemical or enzyme exfoliant, start by washing your face with a gentle non-drying cleanser, concentrating on your T-zone and working it into your skin for up to a minute, using gentle pressure while working in a circular motion. Rinse generously with water and pat dry with a clean towel.
When using a manual exfoliant like a scrub, take a quarter-size amount of your face scrub and apply it onto your face in circular motions, avoiding the eye area. Gently massage the product onto the skin for as long as your specific product recommends, usually from 30 seconds to a full minute. Then, rinse off with warm water and gently pat your skin with a clean towel.
If you’re using a chemical exfoliant, apply the solution all over your face, neck, décolleté. Allow a few minutes for the exfoliant to be completely absorbed into your skin before moving on to the next step in your regimen (more on this below!)
If you’re using a hybrid manual/enzyme exfoliant like an enzymatic powder, pour a teaspoon of powder in the palm of your wet hand, adding a little of warm water. Rub your hands together to get a creamy foam and apply to your face, massaging in circular motions, avoiding your eyes. Then rinse thoroughly and pat dry.
What to Do After Exfoliating
Exfoliating alone won’t keep your complexion gorgeous. After each exfoliation you should apply an ultra-hydrating moisturizer and protective sunscreen to keep your skin hydrated and protected from environmental damage. Exfoliation won’t totally deplete your skin of moisture, but repeatedly exfoliating the skin without following up with a good moisturizer can leave your skin parched and overly-sensitive.
When Shouldn’t You Exfoliate?
To prevent skin damage while exfoliating, consider the skin care products you already use. Some medications and even over-the-counter products (like prescription retinoid creams or products containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, retinol or benzoyl peroxide) may cause your skin to be more sensitive or peel. Exfoliating while using these products may worsen dry skin or even cause acne breakouts. You should check with a dermatologist before exfoliating if you have chronic acne, as irritating already inflamed skin can leave behind dark spots. You should also hold off on exfoliation if you have any kind of cut or cold sore on your face (it can spread), or if you're sunburned.
by Jaclyn LaBadia - feature contributor