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Before we get into the ‘how to’ of exfoliation, let’s look into the ‘why’ of it all.
Your body is covered in skin cells, but they aren’t all alive. Once a skin cell lives out its life-cycle, it gets replaced by new, healthy cells – but that doesn’t mean it leaves your skin’s surface.
Often, they stay on top of your skin and can cause problems like clogged pores, calluses, hair loss, breakouts, and overall dull skin.
Exfoliating allows the skin’s new cells to come to the surface and keeps your complexion bright – but that’s only if you exfoliate correctly! Different skin areas have different levels of sensitivity and respond to different exfoliation methods accordingly.
The two main exfoliation methods you’ll usually hear about are physical or chemical exfoliation.
To keep everything straight, we’ve put together a little guide to keep your biggest organ (your skin) healthy and happy.
Exfoliating your Face
Our face goes through a lot daily.
We wake up after rubbing our face all over our pillow case; probably forget to slather SPF on before venturing out to face our day and may or may not put all kinds of fun makeup on too. Then, we get home and rub it all off before repeating the entire cycle. That means we need to be careful about what products we use on our face.
Some facial products are made to be more aggressive than others – these are chemical exfoliants. They have been carefully designed and tested to work with our skin’s chemistry to dissolve dead skin cells and unclog pores, which sounds insanely cool.
To try something like this, you’ll want an exfoliating serum. They come in varying grades, so start gentle and up the ante once you feel safe doing so.
Another option in this area that works for most skin types is AHA/BHA toners and serums. They are applied before moisturizers and are left to soak into the skin to promote cellular turnover. These are more gentle than the exfoliating serums, too, so you can test the water before fully jumping into the pool of exfoliating.
Retinols are also great for overnight chemical exfoliation since our skin regenerates while we sleep. Some higher-dose retinols are prescription-only, though you can find milder creams over the counter. To see a marked improvement with retinol, you’ll need up to 90 days, especially since it might cause some irritation at first. Patience is vital with this hardcore ingredient!
Physical exfoliants may be more satisfying to the ‘instant gratification’ group of our readers. These scrubs have teensy, tiny, micro-exfoliants in them that slough off the dead skin. Use these scrubs in the shower about 2-3 times a week, where your skin has softened in the warm water. Be gentle – you don’t want to leave micro-tears in the skin!
Follow the exfoliation with a moisturizer to seal in the softness.
Of course, there are also exfoliation tools that help you avoid actual scrubs. Instead of using a scrub with micro-exfoliants, consider a facial sponge that does the scrubbing for you, like a konjac sponge. Konjac sponges are a natural way to cleanse, exfoliate, and detoxify facial skin without drying it out.
One of our favorites is the combo set from KoScrub. The kit comes with a green tea sponge for revitalizing skin, a french pink clay sponge for sensitive skin, and a charcoal sponge for a deep cleanse!
DIY Tip: If you’d instead not buy a pre-made facial exfoliator, you can mix sugar and oil or sugar and honey for a DIY face scrub. You may have to play around with the ratio a bit to get it to a consistency you like. However, honey is a fantastic ingredient to use on skin because of its antibacterial characteristics.
Exfoliating your Body
Your body’s skin can handle a bit more elbow grease – and sometimes, you don’t even need a scrub!
Before getting in the shower, use a dry brush in a slow, circular motion on your tummy, thighs, and arms to brush off dead skin and increase blood flow. This routine is also said to improve cellulite with long-term use.
If you’re not sold on the idea of micro-exfoliating beads in your body wash, never fear. Exfoliating gloves do just as much work as the beads but skip them if you have dry skin.
If you do have dry skin, try a body peel! Body peels usually have ingredients like lactic and glycolic acids, so they’re great for body acne or ingrown hairs.
AHA/BHA Body Loation
If your skin is too sensitive for a full-on acid peel, try body lotions with AHA/BHAs. Like the facial exfoliants mentioned above, these lotions tend to release the active ingredients more slowly than a mask, so they’re not as irritating to the skin.
If you want to go the whole nine yards, find a gritty body wash product or body scrub, preferably with a scent you enjoy, scoop a healthy portion into your fingers, and massage it over your body. Different scrubs can often have different purposes; for example, coffee scrubs can be great for cellulite too – and a morning pick-me-up!
DIY tip: If you’d instead not buy pre-made body scrubs, you can make your own body scrub by mixing Epsom salt or Himalayan pink salt with olive oil. Just be ready to slip and slide a bit in your tub!
This may be a lot to take in at once, but remember: build up slowly with the same ingredients. Please don’t change it up every night; your skin needs time to create a tolerance to the products you’re using. Many chemical exfoliants may increase your sensitivity to sun exposure, so make sure to incorporate SPF if you aren’t already.
Now, go on and let your skin’s beauty shine through!