Experts Share Tips on How to Exfoliate Your Legs
Chances are you, like most women, want soft, smooth legs—preferably with a little bit of a glisten. You can try to meet this common goal by waxing away every last trace of hair and slathering your legs with body oils, but there’s a key step you may be missing: exfoliating. Exfoliating involves removing the topmost layer of dead skin cells, either mechanically (with exfoliating tools or scrubs) or chemically (with an acid), and results in skin that looks and feels smoother and softer. Exfoliating can even help you achieve that much-desired glisten, as it can also leave skin looking bright. Of course, you won’t want to dive into scrubbing your shins without knowing what to do. Scrub too hard or too often, and you could have a mishap on your hands…or legs, rather. To make sure that isn’t the case, be sure to read up on our expert tips for properly exfoliating your legs.
Why Exfoliation Is Important
As mentioned, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the outermost layer of skin. It only takes a few moments, and the results are immediate. After removing dead surface cells, you can expect to see skin that looks brighter. You can also expect to see your skin care products penetrate better, which can help improve their effectiveness. And that’s just an immediate benefit. If you keep up with a regular exfoliation routine, the long-term benefits include increased collagen production and younger-looking skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation
There are two ways to exfoliate your skin: physically with the use of scrubs or tools, or chemically with the use of acids. Chemical exfoliation uses acids or enzymes to remove dead skin cells, while physical exfoliation uses an abrasive substance to manually remove skin cells. Here’s a deeper dive into the differences between chemical and physical exfoliation.
What Is Chemical Exfoliation?
Chemical exfoliation is a milder form of exfoliation since it doesn’t involve any scrubbing. If you have sensitive skin, a chemical exfoliator—think: a mild salicylic acid peel—may be useful. If you have oily skin, you may be able to use a stronger chemical treatment or even a scrub with exfoliating particles (more on that later).
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): These are the most common types of light chemical peels. AHAs are derived from natural sources like fruit, sugar or milk. The most widely used AHAs in skin care products are glycolic acid and lactic acid.
Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA): These are also a light chemical peel. BHAs are an effective treatment for those with oily, acne-prone skin. The most commonly-known BHA is salicylic acid.
Enzymes: If you have sensitive skin, its recommended to look for enzyme-based exfoliants. Enzymes comes from fruits and work at a slower pace.
When it comes to exfoliating your legs, dermatologist Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, and Skincare.com consultant recommends physical exfoliation.
What Is Physical Exfoliation?
Physical exfoliants feature particles that manually exfoliate the skin. These granules can be large or small, depending on how abrasive you’d like your scrub to be. Commonly used granules include salt and sugar. Since many different kinds of particles can be used, it’s important to search for one that will work for you and your skin type.
How to Exfoliate Your Legs
Now that you’re basically an exfoliation pro, it’s time to get down to business. To exfoliate your legs the right way, follow the tips below.
Exfoliating Tip #1: Make Use of Tools
Your hands may be one of the best tools at your disposal, especially when paired with a body scrub, but they aren’t your only option for exfoliating. We spoke with Dr. Akhavan to suss out the best exfoliating tips, and learned he recommends using a “mildly abrasive clean loofah or exfoliative sponge” to kick dead cells to the curb.
Exfoliating Tip #2: Don’t Be Overly Harsh
If you’re under the impression that you need to be rough with your skin in order to get rid of dead skin cells, think again. In actuality, there’s no reason to treat your skin harshly. While the skin on your legs may be tougher than that of your face, being too rough can still do more harm than good. The AAD confirms that being gentle during exfoliation is essential, suggesting to apply exfoliating products using small, circular motions, and to use exfoliating tools in short, light strokes.
Editor’s tip: Nicked your skin shaving? Then you’re better off taking a few days off from exfoliating. According to the AAD, you should never exfoliate if you have an open cut or sunburn.
Exfoliating Tip #3: Pay Certain Spots Extra Attention
Not everywhere on your body needs to be exfoliated to the same extent. Spots where skin is the thickest—the knees and ankles—require more attention.
Exfoliating Tip #4: Find the Right Frequency
A common question when it comes to exfoliating is how often you should do it. Unfortunately, there is no single answer, which makes things tricky. The truth is, the frequency with which you should exfoliate depends on a few factors: your skin type and exfoliation method. “How much is too much, is a very personal question,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, and Skincare.com consultant. “Some people can only handle exfoliating once a week, while others need to every day.”
According to the AAD, typically, the more aggressive the method you use is, the less often you’ll need to exfoliate. If you aren’t sure how much exfoliation your legs can handle, play it safe and start with only once a week. You can always build up to a higher frequency over time. You wouldn’t want to over-exfoliate, as it can lead to irritated skin.
Exfoliating Tip #5: Remember to Count Shaving
There’s something you might not know about shaving—it’s a form of exfoliation. Dr. Akhavan says, “For those who shave their legs regularly, that is often enough exfoliation to keep your legs looking fresh and smooth.” That means if you’re trying to decide whether or not to exfoliate, don’t forget that you may already be getting the job done just by shaving your legs. Plus, you won’t want to overdo it. “Over-exfoliating can trigger inflammation on the skin and weaken the skin’s barrier function,” Dr. Engelman says. “If the barrier function is damaged, skin can become vulnerable, more sensitive and irritated.”
Exfoliating Tip #6: Follow with Moisturizer
After exfoliating, your body care routine isn’t complete. Since exfoliating can be drying, you should always finish by applying a body lotion or cream. The best time to moisturize is immediately after exfoliating, while your skin is still slightly damp from the shower.
Exfoliating Tip #7: Slough Away Skin Before Tanning
Exfoliating should be regular part of your shower routine, but it’s more necessary in some cases than others. One situation where you really won’t want to skip exfoliating is when you plan to put on self-tanner. The AAD says to exfoliate using a washcloth prior to getting your (faux) glow on—otherwise, you may end up with a blotchy tan.
3 Body Scrubs for Leg Exfoliation
As we mentioned earlier, there’s no shortage of body scrubs out there to aid your leg exfoliation treatment. Some are formulated with sugars, salts, coffee grounds, or even fruit particles. Some incorporate skin-softening butters or oils, while others are less hydrating. No matter the texture or consistency you’re looking for, check out three of our favorite body scrubs for leg exfoliation—from the L’Oreal portfolio of brands—below!
Kiehl’s Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub
This luxurious and rich body scrub gently exfoliates the skin without over-drying it. It’s formulated with apricot seed and enriching agents, and can smooth the skin’s surface so it feels silky soft, baby smooth, and prepped for the rest of your routine.
Kiehl’s Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub, $36 MSRP
Kiehl’s Limited Edition Gently Exfoliating Body Scrub Soap
Lather up your legs with this limited-edition body scrub. This botanical-based bar soap gently cleanses and exfoliates the skin and helps to prepare skin for moisturizing. It comes in three scented variations: lavender, grapefruit, and coriander, and makes for the perfect gift to yourself, or someone close to you.
Biotherm Oil Therapy Nourishing Exfoliating Scrub
For an oil-based exfoliator, opt for this nourishing scrub. Refine your skin’s texture and experience a sense of luxury and comfort as this product leaves a silky veil over the skin. This scrub contains oils rich in essential fatty acids, and melting sugar crystals that leave skin feeling soft.