Ah, exfoliation. This one little word causes so much confusion and raises so many questions.
- “Should I buy exfoliating products?”
- “How often should I exfoliate?”
- “Should I exfoliate if I have dry skin?”
- “Why are there so many different kinds of exfoliants?”
Those are just a few of the exfoliating questions I hear all the time.
The answer to pretty much all of them is—you guessed it—it depends.
It depends on your skin type and the product in question. Different skin types have different needs, and all products are NOT created equal.
Let’s get back to basics for a sec.
Why should I exfoliate?
The point of exfoliation is to remove dead skin cells and other gunk that piles up on our faces. This prevents acne, softens the skin, and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. However, too much exfoliation can irritate your skin, especially if you have dry, sensitive skin, or if you’re using harsh products.
There are different kinds of exfoliating products, of course. Here’s a rundown of the different types of exfoliants and how they work.
Different kind of exfoliating products:
This one sounds kind of scary (because hello, acid) but it’s not the kind of acid that eats through iron bars and lab floors in the movies.
Available in both professional facials and products you can use at home, acid exfoliants gently dissolve the “glue” that holds dead skin cells and other junk on your skin so they can be easily sloughed off.
The two main types of acids used for exfoliation are AHA (lactic and glycolic acid) and BHA (betaine salicylate and salicylic acid).
AHA is a little better for soothing dry skin, brightening, and reducing wrinkles. It’s also water soluble, so it works best on the surface of your skin.
BHA is better for oily or acne-prone skin and is great at preventing breakouts because it really gets down into your pores. It’s also hydrating and encourages collagen production.
There are tons of acid exfoliants out there in cleansers, toners, creams, serums, peels, you name it. Look for products with a pH range of 3-4 and a concentration of 5%-20%. We suggest using these products about twice a week after cleansing and toning your skin, but before moisturizing.
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This is another type of chemical exfoliant that’s often used in professional facials.
These enzymes come from raw fruits and veggies like pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin (like our Plumpkin’ Pumpkin face mask!). The enzymes digest the proteins in dead skin cells that settle on the top layer of your skin so they can be easily washed off.
These tend to work better for sensitive skin than acid exfoliants because they don’t penetrate as deep. They also require more time to work (15 minutes vs 5 for acids) and must be applied to wet skin.
Give these a try if you have sensitive skin or if your skin doesn’t seem to like acid exfoliants.
This is probably what comes to mind when you think of exfoliating. These products contain some kind of abrasive ingredient like water-soluble microbeads or even salt, sugar, or finely ground coffee in some body scrubs.
Tools like dry brushes, loofahs, and pumice stones are also physical exfoliants for your body. (Please don’t use these on your face!)
You want to be careful with physical exfoliants. Don’t scrub too hard or too often, because you can seriously irritate your skin. You don’t want to cause microtears or rub your poor skin raw! That just causes more irritation, redness, and flakiness that you don’t want to deal with. You can even aggravate acne when you go sandpapering your face with a harsh exfoliant.
Physical exfoliants work well for all skin types, but the key here is to be gentle.
And remember, some scrubs are more harsh than others. Avoid anything with plastic beads! Stick to plant-based beads only.
My favorite physical exfoliant is our Brightening Beads Scrub, which is gentle enough to use every day in the shower for a quick refresh. Most other physical exfoliants might need to be limited to 1-2 times per week, or even less often if you have very sensitive skin.
Looking for a good recommendation for body exfoliation? We LOVE dry brushes. Read our other blog post about it HERE.
As always, pay attention to your skin. Start with gentle exfoliation once a week and move up to twice per week if your skin seems okay with it.
Overall, exfoliation is a really good thing for improving your skin’s tone and texture, and for reducing the acne and signs of aging. Just make sure to do it right!