First of all, why do you want to exfoliate? When you look at the skin, the topmost part is made of multiple layers of compacted dead skin cells held together with fats (the post What Is The Skin Barrier And How To Protect It goes more in-depth). Now if too many layers of dead skin cells don’t shed and therefore build up on the skin’s surface, you get dull skin. It can leave your skin looking dull, wrinkled, rough, and dry.
When you exfoliate, you give your skin a “polish” and remove the dead skin cells from the topmost part. This will
- heighten the clarity of your skin – think of how the skin can better reflect the light and then give you the glow
- lessen the appearance of fine lines
- help to unclog your pores and so prevent acne
- even out skin tone
Seeing these benefits, it seems highly likely that we could get hooked on exfoliation! How do you go about exfoliation? You can do this with a physical exfoliator, something like a brush or scrubs, or with a chemical exfoliator like an acid that will dissolve the layer of the dead skin cells.
We will look at reasons for and against the one or other and how to choose the right exfoliator without damaging your skin.
Devices, products, or methods that need you to scrub, rub, or brush over the skin are physical exfoliators. These can be scrubs, brushes, mitts, sponges, pads, or cloths that you can use and you’ll see immediate results. It will physically brush away the dead skin on your skin and with the motion enhance blood flow and so leave your skin glowing – or red if you were too rigorous.
As you see, with a physical exfoliator, you get immediate results (pro) but it only works topically (con). That is, it will not penetrate your skin. Also, when you go over the areas too many times or use too much pressure, you may damage your skin barrier (con). The last con is that it can get messy when you use scrubs with ground-up apricot kernels or coffee.
As the word already describes, this method uses a variety of chemicals to dissolve the glue that holds the dead skin cells so that it can be whisked away or increase the skin turnover so that the dead skin cells get pushed out. The most commonly used chemicals are alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) like glycolic acid, beta hydroxy acids (BHA) like salicylic acid, and enzymes (fruit enzymes).
The advantages with a chemical exfoliator are that you will achieve a more evenly result than with a physical exfoliator, so it should be less prone to error; and they often have ancillary benefits like stimulating the collagen and decreasing pigments to even out skin tone. But, you see the results are not immediate and you will see the difference after at least two weeks (disadvantage). Before you see any visible results, you have to go about exfoliation with how your skin subjectively feels for you. That means, if your skin feels smooth, then you’re on a good way. A chemical exfoliator can lead to irritation, for example, if you’re using the wrong concentration or are exfoliating too frequently. And the last disadvantage is that it makes your skin photosensitive.
Is It Physical VS Chemical Or Physical AND Chemical
It’s not that physical and chemical can’t be combined. The best approach is to know your skin before you start with exfoliation.
Basically, you start to use a physical exfoliator and get used to it so that you’re not getting any irritation. You can then do the same with a chemical exfoliator. Use only the chemical exfoliator and get used to it without irritation. Once you can use either one independently, you can start to combine both to get the best of both worlds. Especially if your skin is sensitive go about exfoliation as described.
So, when looking at your skincare steps in the evening, you may be doing
- Removing your makeup
- Second step in double cleansing, where you use a sponge with a foam or cream cleanser
- Exfoliate with a chemical exfoliator
- Pat in your essence
- Lock in all the goodness with a moisturiser
Some Guiding Rules
Before you get too excited, these principles will help you ease into exfoliation or any new products for that matter.
Introduce a new product at a time,
3 – 5 weeks apart
Even if adding a variety of skincare products all at one go sounds intriguing, it may lead to unwanted skin reactions like allergy, irritation, or breakouts. In the best case, your skin didn’t react, nay looks fantastic but you have no idea which of the whole bunch of new skincare did the job. But your skincare costs north of $200 and takes at least 3 hours.
As skin cell turnover is more or less every 28 days, you’ll want to wait for that cycle before you introduce a new product.
Take It Slowly
Before using a new product, patch test it, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin. You’ll want to start with once a week and see how things work out and work your way up gradually.
Start with a gentle, soft physical exfoliator like a cloth or the finest grains and use minimal pressure to scrub for only a few seconds.
The same applies to chemical exfoliators: Start with a lower concentration and work upwards. You can also wash off after a few minutes and work your way up to the recommended time for a wash off product.
Should you get red, tight, sensitive skin, then you’ve overdone it. Scrubbing too much of the skin barrier off can hurt your skin and result in a damaged skin barrier. If you see these symptoms, stop exfoliating until your skin returns to its normal state, and then let it rest for a few days more before picking up exfoliation again.
Your Mileage May Vary
This is a general rule of thumb in skincare. Each and everyone’s skin is different, so listen to your skin and go by how your skin feels. Don’t just follow someone on social media with great skin, always take it with a grain of salt. But the inverse is also true, if there’s someone with a similar skin issue as you, it is a good starting point.
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