Do you ever wonder how some people have all the luck and have perfect-looking skin? Their skin just looks so smooth and glowing. It can really make you want to overhaul your skincare routine to emulate their radiance — but the good news is you can easily obtain glowy and smooth skin by exfoliating.
Exfoliating is removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. There are two types of exfoliation that you can utilize in your skincare routine and we will discuss which one I recommend. The two types are manual exfoliation or chemical exfoliation. Both types of exfoliation help to rid the skin of dead skin cells, which in turn can benefit your complexion.
The benefits of exfoliating are hard to beat. Exfoliating works to clear away dead cells that can cause dull-looking skin and even breakouts. For those with acne-prone skin, proper exfoliation may be a crucial step in blemish prevention.
Exfoliation also sets the scene for other skincare products to work effectively. Once the layers of dead skin are removed, other treatments you may use, like serums or retinoids, may be able to penetrate your skin more easily and will be more effective.
While some skincare treatments must be done at a dermatologist’s office, exfoliation can be easily done in your own home. You likely already have exfoliating products containing acids that can be used to slough off dead skin cells.
There is a proper way to go through the process to make sure that your skin reaps the benefits, no matter what your skin type is.
What Are Manual Exfoliants?
Manual or physical exfoliation entails using something physical, like a washcloth or scrub, to scrub dead skin cells off of your face.
Exfoliation is an important step in any skincare routine, but it's important to choose the right type of exfoliant for your skin. While manual exfoliants like scrubs and brushes may seem like a good option, they can actually do more harm than good.
Manual exfoliants work by physically scrubbing away dead skin cells, but they can be too abrasive for the delicate skin on your face. Scrubbing too hard or using a product with rough particles can damage your skin's natural barrier, leading to irritation, redness, and even breakouts.
Additionally, manual exfoliants can spread bacteria and irritants around your face, increasing your risk of infection and potentially worsening pre-existing skin conditions. If you have sensitive skin, manual exfoliants can be especially problematic, as they can cause redness, itching, and flakiness.
To recap: while manual exfoliants have some potential benefits, they also have the potential to harm your skin. Due to the harsh scrubbing, I recommend choosing a chemical exfoliant over scrubs.
What Are Chemical Exfoliants?
Chemical exfoliants, also known as acid-based skincare, are becoming more popular due to how effective they are at removing dead skin cells from your complexion. They can be more effective than manual exfoliants but are less harsh due to the absence of harsh, abrasive exfoliating particles.
Chemical exfoliants work by supporting cell turnover, which is the process of dead skin cells being replaced by younger cells. We want those younger cells to be on the outer layer of the skin, as this helps us retain a youthful glow.
No matter if you have oily skin or dry skin, there is an acid out there that can help brighten your complexion and give you glowing skin. Chemical exfoliants can be highly effective for minimizing the look of fine lines and wrinkles and reducing the appearance of dark spots on the skin.
Just like physical exfoliation, you’ll want to apply a hydratingmoisturizer to your skin after using any acids. Your skin may experience dryness, and keeping your skin moisturized will help protect your skin’s barrier.
What Are AHAs?
AHAs, which stand for alpha hydroxy acids, are great for combatting fine lines and improving your skin tone. AHAs have different sizes of molecules, which determines how deep it can penetrate your skin.
Glycolic acid is made of small molecules, allowing the acid to penetrate the skin more easily. On the other hand, lactic acid has larger molecules. Although you may not see results as rapidly with lactic acid, its larger molecule means that it may be a good choice if you often experience skin irritation.
If you are a beginner with using acids, try a more mild AHA, like lactic acid, to see how your skin reacts. Once your skin gets used to the lactic acid, you can make the switch to glycolic acid.
To incorporate the benefits of both, try using my Triple Acid Signature Peel. Formulated with lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid, as well as kaolin clay and bentonite clay, this peel can help draw out impurities while refreshing your overall appearance.
AHAs can cause more irritation than BHAs, so start slowly and with a lesser concentration. A face wash formulated with AHA is a great way to introduce this acid to your skin since you are only applying it for a short time and then rinsing it away.
What Are BHAs?
BHAs, which stand for beta hydroxy acids, are oil soluble and a good choice for anyone with acne-prone skin. The most well-known BHA is salicylic acid, which is present in cleansers, toners, and moisturizers. Since BHAs are oil soluble, they can get into pores and clean out sebum and any excess oil in the skin. This is how salicylic acid works to clear acne from the skin.
If you want to see the benefits for yourself, try these Alpha Beta Peel Pads from Dr. Dennis Gross. These peel pads incorporate a complex of seven alpha and beta acids, as well as chamomile and green tea extract, to resurface the skin and soothe irritation.
While combining AHAs and BHAs separately is not recommended, there are specially formulated products that contain both AHA and BHA. These products have been formulated to have the correct concentrations that play nicely with each other. Also, they’re great multi-taskers if you have combination skin.
What Are PHAs?
PHAs are cousins of AHAs and are more tolerable for sensitive skin.
While similar in molecular structure to AHAs, PHAs are milder and are typically used in products with other acids, as they can boost the effectiveness of other active ingredients. PHAs are also great moisturizers and a valuable add-on for those who experience dry skin.
That’s why I use gluconalactone, a gentle PHA, in my Lactic Acid Serum. Combined with the brightening properties of lactic acid and my exclusive soothing complex of ingredients, this serum can help brighten and invigorate skin while also protecting your rosy glow.
What Are the Benefits of Chemical Exfoliants?
Chemical exfoliants share their own set of benefits, which is why I ultimately recommend chemical over manual.. Their results are far more obvious than manual exfoliation, even though it may take longer to see effects. They are also easily applied and rinsed off.
Chemical exfoliants can help reduce the look of fine lines and dark spots more effectively, while results from manual exfoliation can vary.
How Often Should I Exfoliate?
While cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen are all everyday parts of your skincare routine, you’ll want to space out the days between exfoliating to avoid over-exfoliating your skin.
Over-exfoliating can happen, and it is not fun. Your skin will feel raw, and you may experience peeling after a few days. While we want dead skin cells to be gone, it is not ideal to upset your skin’s protective barrier. Micro-tears can occur, which invite bacteria that can cause infection or breakouts to occur.
Your skin type is an important factor when deciding how often you should exfoliate. More sensitive skins should exfoliate once a week, while normal skin can exfoliate up to twice a week. If you experience irritation, give yourself a little more time between sessions.
Are There Any Precautions When Exfoliating?
No matter which type of exfoliating you utilize in your skincare routine, there are a few precautions you should be aware of.
- While using sunscreen is a wise choice no matter if you exfoliate or not, you definitely want to protect your skin from sun damage. Exfoliating makes the skin more susceptible to burning. Choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and ensure that it offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
- If you are a retinol user, you’ll want to avoid using retinol on the days you exfoliate. When in doubt, consult with a board-certified dermatologist or esthetician to ensure that you are using the correct skincare products for your skin type. Your dermatologist/esthetician will also be able to recommend when to incorporate your products for the best results.
- After exfoliating, whether you do it by manual or chemical means, slather on a good moisturizer, like my Weightless Oil-Free Moisturizer. My formula contains hyaluronic acid to help attract and retain hydration for optimal skin moisture. Hyaluronic acid can help add a boost of hydration for skin after exfoliating.
Exfoliate the Right Way
Exfoliating is one of the best things you can add to your skincare routine. Your skin will thank you.
Check out even more of my skin tips and soak up all the skincare knowledge you like.
5 Ways to Exfoliate Your Skin Without Irritation | Cleveland Clinic