It’s arguable, but some experts will tell you that exfoliation is the most important step of your skincare routine – when done correctly. That’s because as long as you don’t go overboard (and it’s very easy to do so!) there are many benefits to exfoliation. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be exfoliating like a pro and get glowing, gorgeous skin in return. We’ll take a look at exfoliation in-depth in this piece to help you understand the process better.
What Exfoliation Does
Exfoliation is the act of using either physical or chemical agents to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Exfoliation can be done with physical or granular substances like jojoba beads, chemical substances like acids or some type of tool like a brush (this counts as physical exfoliation). All of these will help remove surface dead skin cells that can contribute to uneven tone, rough texture, clogged pores, and even acne or wrinkles. Your skin naturally sheds cells approximately every 30 days, but sometimes these cells don’t shed as quickly as they once did in your teens. This is where exfoliation comes in handy.
Benefits of Exfoliation
As exfoliation sloughs away dead skin cells, it helps brighten your complexion and improve texture to make it look smoother and feel softer—instantly and over the long term.
Perhaps one of the main reasons people exfoliate is to help unclog pores. Clogged pores can lead to acne, and regular exfoliation is one way to prevent breakouts and blackheads. Exfoliation also preps your skin to make it easier for it to absorb beneficial ingredients from other skincare products like serums and moisturizers. If you never exfoliate, it will seem futile to use other products because you just won’t get the most benefit out of them. Regular exfoliation can also stimulate collagen production, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. As a protein, collagen helps give skin structure and strength. Collagen further keeps the skin firm and prevents sagging and wrinkling.
Chemical vs. Physical Exfoliation
As we mentioned, there are two types of exfoliation: chemical and physical. They work in different ways, and both are effective.
Chemical exfoliation involves using some type of acid like glycolic, salicylic or lactic acid to help dissolve surface skin cells. Glycolic, categorized as an alpha hydroxy acid, is one of the most popular. It offers a lot of benefits, including stimulating collagen production and working to unclog the “glue” like oil and dead skin cells that stick to each other and clog pores.2 Glycolic acid works well to improve the appearance of wrinkles and signs of aging as well, especially because it is so great at increasing collagen in the skin.
Salicylic acid, on the other hand, is used most often to treat breakouts and blackheads. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid. It is better at unclogging pores than glycolic acid because it is oil-soluble and penetrates deeper into pores. Salicylic acid is also a good spot treatment for pimples.
It is generally recommended you do chemical exfoliation 1-3 times a week depending on your skin. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to do it just once a week and work up from there.
Physical exfoliation involves scrubs that include small beads and tools like brushes. As you can surmise, this type of physical exfoliation involves manual work to help remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. It is generally considered a little less gentle on the skin because some types of exfoliants (like crushed walnut shells) can be harsh and cause small microtears in skin, although beads like jojoba beads are far gentler and won’t cause tearing. When you physically exfoliate, you rub the scrub over your skin in a circular motion before washing it off or using a warm washcloth to remove it. A brush is also used to go over the skin in a circular motion. Physical exfoliation can be great for the face as well as the whole body, especially rough areas like heels and elbows.
The Best Exfoliators: Our Top 5 Recommendations
1. For physical exfoliation of your face, try the Cleanse & Buff Facial Brush. It is soft as silk and 100% vegan that can be used with your daily cleanser to give you a glowing complexion.
2. Another great physical exfoliant is the Sweet Almond Exfoliating Crème, which uses natural jojoba and bamboo beads, both of which are very gentle on the skin and suitable for sensitive skin as well.
3. The Chia Seed and Passion Fruit Exfoliating Gel is another excellent choice. It uses gentle-on-skin jojoba beads and finely ground passion fruit seeds to help unclog pores and remove dead skin cells to restore radiance.
4. For the body, you’ll be able to benefit from rougher exfoliating agents, particularly for thicker and rougher areas like your heels. In fact, the Eucalyptus Foaming Foot Scrub With Pumice was formulated specifically for the extra-dry, callous-prone areas on your feet. With granulated pumice to exfoliate and a pure essential oil blend of eucalyptus, lemon, and lavender to freshen up, this is the ultimate rejuvenator for your tootsies.
5. For the rest of your body, trust the Bamboo Lemongrass Foaming Body Scrub, which features powdered bamboo—the perfect texture with just enough grittiness to smooth out the skin on your legs, arms, and body. It’s gentle enough to use every day so you can keep your skin polished on the daily!