What Exfoliation Is and How It Can Benefit Your Skin
To achieve a smooth, even and glowing complexion, exfoliating your skin regularly is key. But before you go to town with a facial scrub or an at-home chemical peel, there are some things you need to know about the practice first. To create an exfoliation routine that works best for your skin type and needs, it’s important to understand the difference between exfoliation methods and how to incorporate the step into your regimen. We’re answering those questions and more below.
What Is Exfoliation?
Exfoliation is the act of removing dead surface skin cells and debris from the outermost layer of skin and pores. There are two ways to do this: manually with a physical scrub or chemically with skin-care acids.
Physical scrubs typically contain ingredients like salt or sugar that help slough off the dead surface skin cells. You can apply them on wet skin and rinse for instantly smoother skin. This process can be irritating, so it’s best to do it no more than two to three times a week. One of our favorite physical scrubs is the Lancôme Exfoliating Rose Sugar Scrub because it warms the skin on contact for a thoroughly relaxing experience.
Popular chemical exfoliants are beta-hydroxy-acids or BHAs (i.e. salicylic acid) and alpha-hydroxy-acids or AHAs (like glycolic acid and lactic acid). Hydroxy-acids work to chemically break down surface buildup. BHAs are oil-soluble and are best for acne-prone skin, while AHAs are water-soluble and can be especially beneficial for dry, normal and mature skin types.
For a product that contains BHAs, try the Vichy Normaderm Phytoaction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel. Another option is the Lancôme Rénergie Lift Multi-Action Ultra Milk Peel, an exfoliating formula that contains LHA, a gentle derivative of salicylic acid. A superstar product that features the AHA glycolic acid is the L’Oréal Paris Derm Intensive 10% Glycolic Acid, which is safe for sensitive skin.
The Benefits of Exfoliation
The skin’s natural desquamation process — the shedding of dead surface skin cells to reveal new healthy-looking skin underneath — slows as we get older. This, paired with the loss of moisture that can occur as skin ages, causes a buildup in pores and on the skin’s surface and results in a dull, sallow-looking skin tone, as well as acne. Exfoliation helps to gently remove this buildup, revealing a brighter, clearer complexion.
Regular gentle exfoliation can also help your other skin-care products penetrate better and thus improve results.
How Often Should You Exfoliate?
According to board-certified dermatologist and Skincare.com consultant Dr. Dendy Engelman, how often you should exfoliate varies from person to person. “Some [people’s skin] can only handle exfoliating once a week, while others need it every day,” she says. Start with a lower frequency and work your way up if your skin is tolerating the exfoliation well (i.e. you don’t notice any redness, irritation or other adverse effects).
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn