Experts Breakdown the Right Way to Exfoliate Every Skin Type
If you’re anything like us, you love to indulge in an extensive skin-care routine in the name of #selfcare. Despite all the added new products and steps in our routine, one of our favorite steps is exfoliating. When done correctly, exfoliating can slough away dead surface skin cells and unveil a healthy-looking glowing complexion. How you exfoliate, though, depends on your skin type. With the help of experts, we’re breaking down some different methods of exfoliation for dry, oily, combination skin and more.
What Is the Difference Between Physical and Chemical Exfoliation?
There are two main types of exfoliation — physical, also known as mechanical, and chemical. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King explains that physical exfoliation involves scrubbing the skin with an abrasive formula that includes ingredients like sugar, salt crystals, pumice, and any skin-care brushes, loofahs or sponges. “Chemical exfoliation involves the use of products that contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or enzymes to help loosen the glue-like substance that holds the cells together and allows them to ease away,” she says. She adds that AHAs, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, are generally preferred for normal to dry and sun-damaged skin because they have been proven to be effective in reducing the appearance of sun damage. BHAs like salicylic acid are most often recommended for normal to oily skin types for their ability to help reduce the severity of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and milia. “BHAs also have anti-inflammatory, skin-calming properties so they are gentle enough even for sensitive skin prone to redness or rosacea,” explains Dr. King.
How to Exfoliate Dry Skin
When exfoliating dry skin, it’s necessary to find a gentle exfoliator that will slough away dead surface skin cells while replenishing your skin’s moisture. “Dry skin types should look for an exfoliant with AHAs, BHAs, or small granules to assist in the exfoliation process,” says Josie Holmes, esthetician at SKINNEY Medspa. If you decide to go the chemical route, we recommend the following products from the L’Oreal portfolio of brands: SkinCeuticals Glycolic Renewal Cleanser, which is made with glycolic acid and promotes cellular turnover at the surface level without stripping the skin or the La Roche-Posay Ultra-Fine Face Scrub, which is a gentle option if you prefer a physical exfoliant. Dr. King recommends exfoliating dry skin once or twice per week and increasing the frequency as tolerated.
How to Exfoliate Oily Skin
“Salicylic acid or a physical scrub with ingredients that are oil-absorbing, such as charcoal or clay, are particularly good choices for oily skin,” says Dr. King. If you choose a physical scrub, be careful not to scrub too aggressively, though, as particles that are large and rough can create micro-tears in the skin that can lead to skin irritation and inflammation. According to Holmes, oily skin types can generally tolerate exfoliating up to three times a week. If you’re someone with oily skin that’s also acne prone, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Caren Campbell suggests adding a retinol into your skin-care routine, like the SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 from the L’Oreal portfolio of brands, which promotes cellular turnover at skin’s surface while reducing the appearance of blemishes, pores and discoloration.
How to Exfoliate Mature Skin
When it comes to exfoliating mature skin, Joanne Yun Lee, a physician's assistant in dermatology at Glamoi Med Spa thinks retinol is one of the best option because it is designed to exfoliate the skin’s surface but isn’t as harsh as a physical exfoliant. “For those whose main concerns are wrinkles and rough skin, a retinoic acid or retinol are special types of exfoliants which work within deeper layers of the skin’s surface to increase surface cell turnover and promote younger looking, smoother skin,” she says. In general, exfoliate mature skin about two to three times per week.
How to Exfoliate Sensitive Skin
When we asked our experts about exfoliating sensitive skin, they all agreed that you should steer clear of physical exfoliators and harsh acids. Instead, opt for a mild chemical exfoliator. Dr. Campbell says natural enzymes like fruit-based exfoliators are a good choice in this case. She recommends the Revision Skincare Papaya Enzyme Cleanser, which according to the brand, is made with papaya fruit extracts to gently polish away dead surface skin cells for vibrant-looking skin. Exfoliate sensitive skin once or twice per week, advises Yun Lee.
How to Exfoliate Normal Skin
“Those with a normal skin type can benefit from physical or chemical exfoliation,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nazanin Saedi. You can typically exfoliate two to three times a week with a normal skin type. Dr. Saedi recommends “SkinCeuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight Cream from the L’Oreal portfolio of brands, followed up with something rich like Cirem’s HCR 3-IN-1 Serum. According to the brand, the serum plumps and softens the appearance of skin after an exfoliation so you never have that stripped feeling that many experience”.
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn