An in-depth look at exfoliators and how they can benefit a wide range of different skin types to remove surface impurities and clogged pores.
Exfoliation is an extremely common (and effective!) way to deep clean your pores by removing excess build up of dead skin cells, natural oils, and surface dirt. Exfoliation can be done in the comfort of your own home or at your favorite esthetician’s, med spa, or derm’s office to help restore brightness and improve the smoothness of your skin.
However, with so many different ingredients found in exfoliators, as well as two different types of exfoliation, it can be difficult to know which one will work best for your skin. From normal and combination skin, to oily or dry skin, there is an exfoliator that will work right for you.
What Exactly Does It Mean To Exfoliate?
Exfoliation is basically when you slough off or dissolve the top layers of skin. Think of rubbing sand on your legs when you’re at the beach–that’s exfoliation! It removes dead skin cells that have collected on the surface of your skin as well as inside your pores. Additionally, exfoliation is a great way to remove excess oil buildup on your skin and pores, and can help mattify glossy skin.
Since your skin normally replaces itself every 20-30 days, the excess skin cells and flakes can collect in your pores or in wrinkles if not cleaned thoroughly. If you notice dull skin, dark pores, or seem to be prone to acne and other blemishes, exfoliating your skin may be the best way to reverse this problem.
As you use exfoliation on a regular basis, benefits can include improved collagen production, a tighter and smoother appearance to your skin, a reduction in dark circles and blemishes, and a softer feeling to your skin’s surface.
Types of Exfoliators
Exfoliation can come in two different types, and each one has its own set of pros and cons. One type may be much better for people with dry skin which need a bit more focus on added moisture and hydrating nutrients, while the other type might be a perfect match for someone with combination skin.
Before going out and grabbing the first exfoliator you see in the store, let’s take a closer look at the two exfoliation types and how they differ from each other.
Also known as chemical peels, this type of exfoliation makes use of natural and laboratory created ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids, enzymes, retinols, and more. The purpose of a chemical exfoliation is to quickly and easily capture and remove surface dirt, excess oils, dead skin cells, and more. It works generally by dissolving substances, as opposed to scrubbing them off.
Normally a chemical peel will remain on your face for less than 20 minutes, and can provide significant cleansing which is visually noticeable after just one use. Chemical peels can come in a wide range of different strengths from mild to strong.
The biggest downside to professional chemical peels done by a dermatologist or aesthetician will be the cost. Luckily, there are a variety of chemical peels that can be purchased and used at home for a much more reasonable price.
In addition to full chemical peels, you can find a combination of chemical and physical exfoliation. We love the dual benefit of our AGELESS total microderm exfoliation for its power-packed physical and chemical exfoliants. You’ll not only find natural fruit enzymes and rose quartz microcrystals, but also hydroxy acids to help improve the benefits you receive.
Unlike chemical peels, physical exfoliation involves creams, powders, and gels that include beads, grits, or other rough ingredients to help scrub away impurities. In addition to these physical exfoliation skin care products, scrubbing mitts, loofahs, and sponges can all be considered physical exfoliation.
The biggest benefit to physical exfoliation is the lower cost. The most common methods of loofahs and scrubbing mitts are extremely affordable when compared to the cost of a professional chemical peel. We also love our ILUMA intense brightening exfoliating powder when it comes to physical exfoliation products.
When used correctly, exfoliating powder can be used on a daily basis. However, keep in mind that physical exfoliation makes it easier to damage your skin through over-scrubbing. Make sure you use plenty of water to bring the powder to a proper lather and only use gentle pressure and small or smooth rubbing motions.
How Do You Exfoliate Your Skin?
In addition to the different types of exfoliation itself, there are also different ways to exfoliate your skin in general. Regardless of the type of exfoliator you choose, the below tips can help you properly deep clean your skin.
Consider Other Skincare Products
Before starting with any exfoliation regimen, consider the other skincare products you may be using. Some chemical peels don’t work well with other skin creams that include retinol as using an exfoliator with a retinol can lead to an excess drying of the skin, as well as acne or rosacea breakouts.
Choose Your Exfoliation Type
The best exfoliation will depend on your skin type as well as any blemishes you may have. For example, if you have a darker skin or are prone to acne breakouts, using a more gentle chemical exfoliator will be a better choice for your skin.
If, on the other hand, you happen to have oily skin or are more experienced in using harsh exfoliants in the past, a stronger chemical peel or physical exfoliating powder might be a much better option to consider.
Be Gentle During Application
Regardless of the type of exfoliation you use, always apply it in a gentle manner. Use lukewarm or cool water and rub or gently scrub the exfoliant over your skin in light strokes. If you have any burns, open wounds, or sunburned areas on your skin, avoid using exfoliation in these areas.
Follow Up With Moisturizer
After exfoliation, help lock in moisture by using your favorite serum or moisturizer such as our VITAL C hydrating intense moisturizer. It helps shield against dryness which can be a common side effect of moderate to strong exfoliants.
Set A Schedule
Keep in mind, not all exfoliants can be used on a daily basis. In fact, most dermatologists recommend using exfoliants once or twice a week at most. If your skin is sensitive or gets dry and itchy after exfoliating, consider extending your schedule by a few days before repeating the process.
How Often Should I Exfoliate My Face?
There are a few different types of exfoliation, which can range from gentle to harsh. While all exfoliation is abrasive, some are better suited for different skin types than others. Depending on your skin type and the exfoliator you choose, you may be able to exfoliate on a daily basis, or might want to keep it on a weekly schedule instead.
If you are just starting out with exfoliation, stick to a twice a week usage schedule. This will give you a good idea of what your skin can and cannot handle. If you notice your skin starting to dry out, feeling irritated and tender, or looking redder than usual, try reducing your exfoliation down to once a week instead.
People with oily skin are able to use chemical exfoliation a bit more often than other skin types. Since exfoliation of both types can lead to dryness of normal skin, the extra sebum production on oily skinned individuals can prevent this drying out period.
If you have oily skin, you can use gentle to moderate exfoliation on a daily basis such as our CLEAR CELL salicylic clarifying pads. Not only are they extremely convenient and easy to take on the go with you to work or school, but they also include a lilac extract and plant complex to reduce shine from excess oil build up while also removing surface dirt and debris.
Since exfoliation of both types can dry out your skin to some extent, people with already dry skin should only exfoliate once a week, or once every two weeks if the exfoliation includes retinoids. While this might not seem like much, it can still be a great way to deep cleanse your skin without adding to the dryness.
Similar to dry skin, exfoliation of both types can cause some sensitivity. Since the process of exfoliation removes the topmost layers of your skin, which is mostly made up of aged or dead skin cells, the fresh skin below is tender and sensitive. If your skin is already feeling sensitive, don’t rush exfoliating it any sooner than absolutely necessary.
Exfoliation is great for people with rosacea-prone skin, however, it is best to talk to your dermatologist to find an exfoliator that does not increase the amount of redness and irritation your face is already experiencing.
Similar to normal skin, individuals with combination skin can normally exfoliate their skin on a weekly or twice-weekly basis. This will depend on a variety of different factors with your personal skin, so be sure to adjust your own exfoliation schedule as needed to prevent dryness and irritation.
One of our preferred exfoliators for combination skin is our ILUMA intense brightening exfoliating cleanser. It applies as a cream and lathers into a light foam to help clean your skin and every pore. You’ll find a unique mix of mushroom enzymes and smart-sensing beads to leave your skin feeling refreshed.
When Should You Not Exfoliate Your Skin?
While exfoliating can be a great way to refresh your skin and remove layers of dirt, debris, and dead skin cells, there are a few red flags you should look for to know whether or not exfoliation is the right choice for you.
If your skin is excessively dry, to the point where even intense hydration moisturizers cannot seem to make a difference, exfoliation may not be the right choice for your skin. Exfoliation can cause dryness, which is obviously not what you want on skin that is already dry.
Irritation and Redness
If you have used exfoliation before and notice redness and irritation on your skin, you might want to think about trying more gentle exfoliation going forward, or determine the root cause of your irritation and redness.
Both irritation and redness can be caused by acne, chemical peels, laser treatments, and other skin care procedures. If this is the cause of your redness and irritation, you may want to skip exfoliation entirely until your skin has had a chance to properly recover.
Sensitivity or Pain
This can be a tell-tale sign that you are using your exfoliator too often. Exfoliation is a somewhat abrasive treatment for your skin which normally causes some redness and tender feelings. However, if you are feeling overly sensitive areas or pain, it might be time to stop exfoliating for a while until your skin recovers.