What is exfoliation? Why do so many skincare companies focus on it, and why do many people consider it essential in personal care? Is it really important?
The quick answer is Yes. Through exfoliation, the dead cells that accumulate in the skin’s outermost layer are removed. Common belief is that this allows for the skin to have an improved appearance. The truth is, it might not be for everyone - especially if it’s not done correctly. In such cases, it can cause more harm than good.
Exfoliating Your Skin Properly
Exfoliating properly is important, but you have to do it the right way. Safety should be practiced to avoid causing unnecessary damage to your skin. Improper exfoliation may lead to irritation, redness, swelling, or acne breakouts.
Types Of Exfoliation
One factor that you should consider before exfoliating is your skin type, and the second most important factor to consider is the kind of exfoliation to try.
There are two main types of exfoliating at home: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation requires a tool (sponge, scrub, or brush) to mechanically remove the dead skin cells. Chemical exfoliation uses alpha and beta hydroxy acids (chemicals) to get rid of dead skin cells gently.
You have probably tried or seen classic physical exfoliants, like brushes, and scrubs. These often have a grainy and rough texture which assist in exfoliating. Of course, actual physical force is required to manually remove the dead skin cells.
These are quite common and popular, but if not done properly, they can lead to more harm than good. For instance, extreme abrasiveness can destroy the barrier of the skin, particularly in sensitive areas such as the face, by creating micro-tears.
That being said, they are virtually safe for areas where the skin is thicker, like the heels of your feet, or on your back. Still, if you are unsure of how to use these exfoliators, it’s best to lay off them. They are also contraindicated for individuals suffering from skin irritations. It’s also best to not use them on your face.
Despite the negative connotation that comes with the word “chemical”, chemical exfoliants are actually a better option. They do not rely on excessive physical force to remove dead skin cells. Instead, they are formulated with “gentle acids”. These work to get rid of the “glue” that keeps dead skin cells bound together making it easier to remove with the need for unnecessary abrasion - resulting to smoother, brighter, and younger-looking skin.
Tips For Safe And Proper Exfoliating At Home
Check out these pointers to make sure you avoid skin damage while exfoliating at home:
Check The Label
Once you’ve decided to use chemical exfoliants, make sure to check the label of every skincare and over-the-counter product you plan on using. There are certain products that are not good for sensitive skin, and can cause peeling and irritation. Some creams contain benzoyl peroxide which can dry out the skin and cause acne breakouts.
Exfoliate According To Your Skin Type
As mentioned earlier, this is very important. If you have acne-prone, sensitive, or dry skin, you are much better off using a soft washcloth and a gentle chemical exfoliant. Stay away from physical exfoliation to avoid irritation.
For oily skin, go for slightly “stronger” chemical exfoliants. You can also try physical exfoliation especially if you have thicker skin. If you experience dark spots on your skin after bug bites, acne breakouts, or burns, then you should not use strong chemical exfoliants or excessive physical exfoliation. Aggressively exfoliating is found to cause dark spots to occur, particularly in people with darker skin tones.
Gentle Does It
Be nice to your skin. When using either form of exfoliation, do it gently. Use small, circular motions for half a minute. Wash off with lukewarm water, never use hot water. For sponges and scrubs, light and short strokes can do the job.
Skip exfoliating if you have open wounds or active sunburns..
Moisturize Right After
Since exfoliating rids the skin of dead cells, it is not uncommon to experience some dryness, it is wise to always follow exfoliating with moisturizing. Keep your skin happy and hydrated.
Know How Often Should You Do It
It’s not just the wrong kind of exfoliating that can lead to harm, not following a proper exfoliation schedule can also do more bad than good. This will again depend on your skin type. If you exfoliate more aggressively, then the frequency of doing it should go down. Over-exfoliating is dangerous, and can lead to redness and irritation.
You do accumulate dead skin cells every day, so regular exfoliating is required. Having really sensitive skin requires mild exfoliants such as lactic acid, which you should use only once per week for a couple of weeks. You can then slowly increase frequency to 3 times a week eventually. It all depends on your skin type.
If you find lactic acid ineffective after using it for a few months, you can switch to glycolic acid or salicylic acid. These are recommended for dry skin and normal skin, respectively. Use one every three days - and don’t forget to moisturize after.