Exfoliation for Bright, Even Skin at Any Age
By Franki Hanke
Exfoliation is one of the most satisfying parts of our skincare routine. It feels like a special treat and the benefits are often noticeable immediately. This is a key step to add to your weekly routine for all the benefits of exfoliating, including bright, even skin tone.
What is exfoliation?
Exfoliation is supplementing the skin’s natural process to remove dead skin cells, oily secretions, and dirt. The skin does this naturally, too. It’s called cell turnover when new skin cells come in over a month.
To do this, there’s chemical and physical exfoliation.
What is chemical exfoliation?
Chemical exfoliation uses acids, non-acid peels, or enzymes.
Common ingredients to see for chemical exfoliants are Hydroxy Acids. Both alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs) are common.
Alpha-hydroxy acids are often found in botanical sources like fruits. They are gentle while penetrating slightly deeper than the outermost layer to stimulate skin renewal.
Beta-hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid, are anti-inflammatory. Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil soluble. They penetrate into the sebum. This causes a cleansing effect that is often associated with smaller pores.
In addition to acids, natural enzymes are popular. They dissolve skin cells to aid renewal. Papaya and Pineapple are popular botanical enzymes.
What is physical exfoliation?
Physical exfoliation uses a device or grit to work the grime from your skin.
Mechanical exfoliation can be accomplished with devices or products. Physical exfoliators often have small particles that rub onto the skin. It is important that physical exfoliants have smooth edges to avoid improper exfoliation.
Larger, rougher exfoliants can cause micro-tears on the skin and lead to irritation.
Either way, the goal is not peeling or dramatic changes. Changes should be on a small scale. This minimizes damage or increased breakouts and maximizes benefits.
What are the benefits of exfoliating?
Regular exfoliation can speed up and dramatize the effects of our skin’s usual cell turnover. By removing dry skin and build up from the skin, you unclog pores for a cleaner canvas. This can prevent blemishes or blackheads, too.
Without that build-up, other skincare products work better.
The most noticeable benefit though is the change in tone and texture. Exfoliation can smooth out flaky or dry skin, fine lines, or hyperpigmentation. The skin will feel smoother to the touch.
Plus, the massaging motion increases blood flow to the face. That’s a fun bonus benefit of physical exfoliators, especially. In turn, this encourages drainage and skin looks temporarily brighter.
How do I exfoliate?
Exfoliation, like all skincare, is specific to your skin type. However, there are a few key principles for an effective exfoliation routine.
For a personalized routine, consult your dermatologist. For intense exfoliation procedures like dermaplaning, visit an esthetician.
Choose the Right Products.
We spend a lot of time on our faces, but skincare should include the entire body.
For effective exfoliation, use stronger products for less sensitive skin. For texture on the arms or legs like rosacea or keratosis pilaris, using a body scrub can smooth.
First Aid Beauty’s Bump Eraser Body Scrub combines lactic and glycolic acid with pumice buffing beads. For most effect, apply with circular motions to spread. Then, leave it on the skin for five to ten minutes. Time allows for the chemical exfoliators to penetrate the top layer of the skin. If you rinse too quickly, you’ll only see benefits from the physical exfoliator.
For the feet, which have even thicker skin from walking on them, use stronger products like pumice stones or leave-on masks. Pumice Valley’s Pumice stone features a handle for a comfortable scrub.
For daily foot care, apply the gentle, smoothing Aloe Leaf & Peppermint Foot Cream from Bliss. It uses exfoliators Salicylic Acid and Alpha Hydroxy Acid with moisturizers Aloe and Camphor. The peppermint is cooling and refreshing for tired toes.
When feet need a total refresh, use an intense treatment. We like Baby Foot’s Foot Peel. It will slough off built-up callouses and dead skin like a pedicure without the work! Perfect for once a month or more, this treatment uses fruit acids to penetrate the top layer of skin. Then, over the next week, skin will slough off and reveal a new, smooth surface of the skin beneath.
Be Consistent, But Controlled.
Exfoliation can be harmful if overdone. Depending on the intensity of your exfoliator, aim for two for four days a week. If you want a daily boost, use an extremely gentle product optimized for daily exfoliation.
Dermalogica’s Daily Microfoliant is a gentle, daily exfoliator for the face. It’s made with papaya enzyme and salicylic acid for chemical exfoliation. They added rice bran to mildly physical exfoliate and colloidal oatmeal to soothe any potential irritation.
Swap the Dermalogic Microfoliant out for a more intense exfoliation two to three days a week.
For a daily-use product that lives in your vanity, use Sunday Riley’s All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment. It has a botanical blend for frequent chemical exfoliation. The product features other ingredients to further brighten and smooth skin.
Use Exfoliating Tools
Alongside products, you can add physical exfoliation into your routine with tools, too.
For the face, invest in a Foreo cleanser. The silicon-covered brush adds an antimicrobial exfoliating tool alongside your daily cleanser. The nubs are gentle, but deepen your cleaning while buffing skin.
For the body, add tools both in and out of the shower for exfoliation. A dry brush buffs with natural bristles. We like to use a dry brush right before showering so any dry skin is rinsed away.
In the shower, use your regular washcloth or loofah for a body scrubber, but don’t miss your back. Our back often suffers unreachable itches if the skin is dry and untreated. A specialized back scrubber makes it easy to scrub down your back.
Add in Exfoliation Treatments
Once you’ve optimized your daily routine for gentle exfoliation, you can add in more intense treatments two to three times a week.
For an affordable exfoliator that’s easy to add to your routine, use Aveeno’s Positively Radiant 60-Second Facial. This in-shower product uses soy and lemon peel extract for physical and chemical exfoliation. This product is perfect to use on hair-washing or shaving days when showers are naturally a bit longer. Apply to your face when you step in and rinse away before you step out.
For an intensive exfoliator, use Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate treatment. This product combines Lactic acid and fruit enzymes for chemical turnover. Then, silica is a gentle physical scrub, too. To optimize skin texture and fine lines, add in more of the ExfoliKate skincare line for more products focused on the same texture issues.
For a sensitive skin exfoliator, use Paula’s Choice Skin Perfector. This leave-on exfoliator uses glycolic acid alongside skin soothers. Green tea, chamomile, hyaluronic acid, and aloe make for soothing after-care alongside the acids. If your skin is sensitive, avoid physical exfoliators as they are more likely to irritate. Or opt for very gentle ones like the Dermalogic Microfoliant.
No matter how you choose to exfoliate, remember less is more. Treat your skin tenderly, even when exfoliating. If a product causes redness or irritation, cut it out. Then, pamper the skin with moisture instead.
When adding exfoliation, balance with retinol or acids that may be intense for the skin. Don’t exfoliate on the same days as those skincare treatments.
Exfoliation is one part of our regime for glowing skin (even in the dead of winter). For the rest of our bright skin routine, read how to find your glow.
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