How to Properly and Safely Exfoliate Your Skin

While everyone’s skin is different, there are a few things everyone should consider when exfoliating.

Also known as peeling, exfoliating is when you use a product or tool to fluff off dead skin cells. It’s a great way to rejuvenate your skin, but it shouldn’t be overdone!

Our skin has a natural barrier that keeps our skin hydrated by holding in moisture. If you over exfoliate or use a method that’s too abrasive, you could damage this barrier through micro tears in the skin. Here are a few tips to help you determine the best way to exfoliate for your skin:

Mechanical and chemical exfoliators

Depending on your skin type, you may find that one type of exfoliation works better than another. Mechanical exfoliation uses a tool like a brush or a sponge or a product like a scrub with a granular substance to physically remove dead skin. Chemical exfoliation, on the other hand, uses acids like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), and beta hydroxy acids(BHAs), to dissolve dead skin cells.

For sensitive skin, you might find that a mild chemical exfoliator is better than mechanical methods. Normal and combination skin types can handle more, so if you have this skin type there are potentially more options. I have dry, sensitive skin, however, and I am able to (and do) use both mechanical and chemical methods.

My favorite chemical exfoliator at the moment is Herbivore Botanical’s Blue Tansy Mask. It’s gentle enough on my skin to use pretty regularly, but I save it for times when my skin really needs some help clearing up.

For more regular use I’m currently using Rosalia’s Gentle Exfoliant. The whole line is super gentle and smells like candy, and I’m a really big fan of the cleansing milk.

How often you should exfoliate

It shouldn’t be part of your daily routine, no matter how dry and flaky your skin may be. If your skin is really dehydrated, consider increasing your toner or facial oil use (keeping in mind that there’s a difference between dry and dehydrated skin). In any case, trying to rub away dry skin is likely to make the problem worse.

A good average for exfoliation is about one to two times per week, give or take. It’s really about experimenting and listening to your skin – try out a few different methods and how frequently you use them.

If in doubt, however, err on the side of caution so as not to irritate or damage your skin. Also, try to exfoliate in the morning, after your skin has had a chance to do its overnight repair work.

What about body scrubs?

Just like the skin on your face, you should be gentle and cautious as to not over exfoliate with body scrubs.

Scrubs made with coffee grounds seem to be really popular at the moment, but they can also be pretty harsh (and make a huge mess). I would use a scrub like this prior to applying sunless tanner, for example, when I need a deep clean.

Otherwise, a more gentle formula is best for regular use. Right now I’m obsessed with i+m’s Madame Inge Creme Peeling (I’m actually obsessed with the whole line, it smells sooo good). I will be repurchasing this product when I finish.

What to look for in a product

The U.K. just recently banned the use of microbeads (basically tiny pieces of plastic) in cosmetics. Though that’s great news, there are still LOADS of products on the shelves that use microbeads or plastics (mainly scrubs and toothpastes) that should be avoided. Skip anything with Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polymethyl methacrylate, Polyethylene terephthalate, or Nylon in the ingredients.

On the other hand, DO look for products that contain natural, biodegradable exfoliants like seeds, grains, sugars, salts, and oil and wax beads. Keep in mind that the “rounder” the beads the safer for your skin. Seeds and nuts have a tendency to have sharp edges that could cause micro tears in the skin.

In a chemical exfoliator, look for the concentration level of the peeling acid. If you’re just starting or have sensitive skin, choose a product with a lower percentage and work your way up until you find what works best for you.

What are your favorite exfoliating products at the moment?


*some of the products in this post are PR samples

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