As an esthetician and makeup artist, I get endless questions from clients and friends about how to achieve beautiful skin. My answer always involves the topic of exfoliation — or the removal of dead, dull skin — to reveal that ethereal, perfected glow we all want.
Types of Exfoliators
When it comes to exfoliation, there are two types: mechanical and chemical. The first removes dead cells by way of a scrub, facial sponge or brush or even a simple washcloth. Since this type of exfoliation involves massaging the top layer of skin, it’s ideal for those of us who have normal, combination and dry skin types. Acne-prone or sensitive skins should steer clear of any kind of scrubbing, since it can aggravate blemishes or deepen redness and sensitivity.
Chemical exfoliants use acids (alpha and beta hydroxy) and/or enzymes, which typically come from fruit — like papain or bromelian — to break down the bonds between dead skin cells and help them slough off to reveal new, fresh skin underneath. Vitamin A (retinoic acid) also does this while boosting collagen production although it’s important to note that this ingredient is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women and may be linked to severe health concerns. Which type of chemical exfoliant you use really depends on your skin type since these acids can range from gentle to extremely strong.
So, which should you use and how often?
Oily and acneic skin types can benefit from enzymatic exfoliants since they are incredibly gentle, or overnight serums that contain beta hydroxy acid (like salicylic acid), which are oil soluble, and help to decongest pores. For those seeking a chemical exfoliant, Ecocentric Mom recommends Beauty Without Cruelty’s Alpha Hydroxy Cleanser. Avoid scrubs since they can irritate sensitive, inflamed skin and make breakouts worse. Generally speaking, aim to exfoliate your skin no more than two times a week.
Sensitive skin types generally benefit from enzyme exfoliants such as this one by Andalou Naturals since they gently break down dead cells and don’t cause extra irritation. Enzyme exfoliants, because they are so gentle, can usually be used daily as a part of your regular skincare routine.
Normal, combination and dry skin types can use a combination of manual and chemical exfoliants. For those of us who enjoy the satisfaction of using a scrub, an exfoliating product like Previse’s Marine Granules (which is featured in the Sunshine, Blue Skies Ecocentric Mom Box — yay!), can be used three times a week after cleansing to help reveal softer, smoother skin. In particular, dry skin types will benefit from these kinds of scrubs since the granules buff away visible flaky skin and allow moisturizer to penetrate more effectively.
Also, a serum or treatment with lactic and or glycolic acid are very effective at sloughing off dead skin and allowing new cells to rise to the surface. In addition to a youthful glow, both lactic and glycolic acids increase moisture levels deep within the skin’s layers and help soften superficial lines. Depending on what type of chemical exfoliant you use and it’s strength, be sure to check the directions for how often to use.
Aging skin should stick to chemical exfoliants since mature types tend to be thinner and more delicate. Both lactic and glycolic acid would be excellent choices since they impart moisture and brighten skin, but also activate college production which help smooth out fine lines and wrinkles.
Since exfoliation works to remove layers of dead cells, it’s crucial to take extra care to protect resurfaced skin, which is especially vulnerable to the sun. Be sure to always wear an appropriate SPF during the day, avoid waxing for at least 48 hours after exfoliating, and always consult with a licensed esthetician or dermatologist for questions about additional treatments or peels.