This skin care step does SO much more than just slough away dead skin cells
It’s one of those skin care basics you know you should be doing, but if you don’t really understand what an exfoliant is or how it helps your skin, you’re probably not going to be as diligent with it as you should be. And in all honestly, it's something you *definitely* need to be doing regularly.
Trust us, once you know all the wonderful things exfoliating can do for your skin, you’ll never skip this step again.
So, what is exfoliation?
Exfoliation is the skin care technique of removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, using either a physical exfoliant or a chemical exfoliant. It’s essential for keeping your skin smooth, bright and clear .
By removing the top layer of dead skin cells that form on the surface of skin (those dead skin cells are likely to blame for any dry patches or overall dullness), exfoliation encourages new cells in the dermis (the deeper layers of the skin) to turnover, which ultimately swaps out those rough and uneven skin cells for smooth ones. The results can be positively glowing, among other things!
While our skin does naturally exfoliate all on its own, as we age, the process at which skin sheds dead skin cells slows down. It needs a helping hand to ensure all those stubborn skin cells are effectively removed, which is why exfoliating is such a vital skin care step for anyone in their 20s and beyond.
Why you should exfoliate
There are a lot of benefits of exfoliating, from unclogging pores to controlling oil production, improving skin tone and clarity, detoxing skin, speeding up the cell renewal process (read: it keeps skin looking youthful) and helping reveal a more even and radiant complexion. When dead skin cells are left on the skin’s surface, they can cause breakouts, dark spots, dryness and more pronounced wrinkles to appear, and can leave skin looking rough and lacklustre. No, thank you.
Exfoliating also ensures you’re creating a debris-free path for your ensuing skin care products to better penetrate your skin and do all those wonderful things you hired them to do, like moisturise, treat and protect.
See, we told you it was an important player in your skin’s health.
Just make sure you’re not over-exfoliating
We’ve previously gone into the in-depth reasons why you should never over-exfoliate, but the main thing to keep in mind is that exfoliating too regularly can remove new skin cells in addition to the dead ones, which can compromise your skin’s barrier function (psst, this is why your skin barrier is so important). This could result in lost moisture, redness and irritation, and even accelerated skin ageing! How often you should be exfoliating will depend on the type of exfoliant you’re using and your skin type, which we’ll touch upon later.
Where should you be exfoliating?
It’s not just your face that will benefit from a regular exfoliation session - your entire body needs a good scrub from time to time, too. Using a body exfoliator can help slough away dry skin, smooth skin texture and even reduce cellulite. FYI, these are some of our favourite body scrubs.
Just be sure to use a face exfoliator for your face and neck, and an exfoliant formulated specifically for the body for all other areas - the skin on your face is more delicate than everywhere else, so you need to use a gentle formula for this area.
The different types of exfoliation products
As we already mentioned, there are two types of exfoliants: physical and exfoliants.
Physical exfoliants (also called manual exfoliants) use granules or beads to manually slough or scrub away the top layers of dead skin. Chemical exfoliants contain acids that dissolve the ‘glue’ that holds dead skin cells together so they can be easily washed away.
Chemical exfoliants tend to be more effective than physical exfoliants as they’re able to penetrate deeper into the pores to decongest them (physical scrubs only work to remove debris from the skin’s surface). Chemical exfoliants are also considered the more gentle option, as many physical exfoliants are too abrasive and can cause micro-tears in to skin. Tip: To avoid irritating or damaging your skin, look for physical exfoliants with fine sugar granules or jojoba beads as they naturally dissolve when you wash your face .
If you’re using a physical face scrub, start by using one just once a week, then work your way up to two or three times a week if you don’t experience any irritation or redness.
You can use chemical exfoliants every night if desired; again, ease them into your skin care routine if you have sensitive or reactive skin.
How to choose the best exfoliator for you
There are a lot of different exfoliating products, so finding ‘The One’ can be tough. First you need to decide if you’re team Physical or team Chemical. Some just prefer one of the other (or maybe it’s your skin that has the preference). If you’re undecided or indifferent, some things to consider when choosing a face exfoliator are:
Texture - Exfoliants come in a variety of formulations, including sugar scrubs, nut shell scrubs, gels, toners, serums, masks, peels...you name it! It’s really a personal preference on which one you go with. For example, if you love that gritty clean feeling, a physical face scrub with exfoliating micro-beads is probably for you.
Ingredients - It’s simple - find the best ingredients to match your top skin concerns. All chemical exfoliants will have either AHAs, BHAs or a combination of the two in them - they’re particularly great for anyone with sensitive skin, acne-prone skin or ageing skin. If you’re in to natural formulas, check out our natural skin care directory for product recommendations.
Skin type - Your skin type plays a deciding role in what exfoliant you use. Hint: Chemical exfoliants with AHAs are great for dry and mature skin, while chemical exfoliants formulated with BHAs are a must for those who struggle with congestion, breakouts, blackheads and enlarged pores.
How to exfoliate
Before you begin, first cleanse and tone your skin.
With a physical exfoliant
#1 / Wet your face, then apply a pea-sized amount of your exfoliating scrub to your fingertips. Avoid your eye area.
#2 / Massage over your face in gently, circular motions.
#3 / Rinse with warm water and pat skin dry.
With a chemical exfoliant
#1 / On dry skin, apply a thin layer of your exfoliant to your face. Again, don’t get too close to your eye area.
#2 / Most chemical exfoliants don’t need to be washed off. Always read the instructions on your product’s packaging for specific instructions on how to best use your exfoliant.
After exfoliating, follow with your serums/treatments/moisturiser.
If you’re on the hunt for a new exfoliant, we reviewed the best exfoliants that we actually use.
Do you prefer a physical or chemical exfoliant? What’s your favourite exfoliant? Share with us your thoughts and product reviews below.
Main image credit: Getty
Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.