The Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation

You’ve probably already been told that regular exfoliation is beneficial for your skin, whether this is from the beauty pages of your favorite magazines or your personal dermatologist.

However, did you know that if exfoliation isn’t done right, it can actually cause more harm than good? (Hello, increased redness and acne breakouts! Boo hiss.)

That’s why it’s so important to exfoliate safely based on your specific skin type.

Concerned you might be doing this skincare fundamental wrong? Not to worry—we aim to answer all your questions in this ultimate guide to exfoliation.

What is Exfoliation?

Firstly, let’s go back to basics. 

What exactly is exfoliation? Well, simply put, it’s the process of removing dead skin cells from the outer layer of your skin. 

Your skin sheds its dead cells approximately every month so that new skin cells can come to the surface and shine. Although, sometimes your skin can leave some dead cells behind.

This can then lead to dryness, flakiness, and clogged pores.

Conversely, when you exfoliate your skin, you can eliminate any remaining dead cells and prevent a whole host of skin issues. In other words, it’s a win-win situation.

The Benefits of Exfoliation

Exfoliating your skin frequently can improve the appearance of your skin in many ways.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the benefits of exfoliating include:

  • Removing dead skin cells
  • Improving circulation, carrying oxygen and nutrients to the cells and nourishing skin
  • Promoting healthy skin turnover, resulting in brighter skin
  • Allowing enhanced absorption of topical skincare products, such as moisturizers and serums
  • Preventing clogged pores, resulting in fewer breakouts

Long-term exfoliation can also encourage collagen production.

What’s collagen, you ask? Well, it’s a natural protein found in the body that acts as the “glue” holding it together. It starts declining at the age of 25, which leads to a loss of elasticity and firmness, sagging, wrinkles and fine lines, blotchiness, dryness, roughness, and dullness.

To put it simply, healthy collagen production is the secret to glowing, youthful-looking skin.

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Understanding the Two Types of Exfoliation

There are two main methods for exfoliation—physical and chemical. Even so, the method you choose should be solely determined by your skin type.

Let’s explore both of these methods in detail, shall we?

Physical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation is exactly how it sounds—it involves manual scrubbing or rubbing to slough away dead skin cells.

Some common physical exfoliation tools include:

  • Sponges
  • Dry brushes
  • Loofahs
  • Cleansing scrubs
  • Exfoliating mitts
  • Pumice stones
  • Micro derma rollers or micro-needling
  • sonic facial cleansing system

The best thing about physical exfoliation is that you can do it yourself at home. Just using a muslin washcloth or DIY scrub can deliver immediate results.

The downside is that physical exfoliation can irritate your skin if it’s not done with care. This is usually because of trans-epidermal water loss, therefore, it’s imperative to follow up with a humectant oil or serum.

(Spoiler alert: a humectant is a common moisturizing agent that’s praised for its ability to retain moisture while simultaneously preserving the properties of the product.)

Chemical Exfoliation

On the contrary, chemical exfoliation relies on chemicals to gently dissolve dead skin cells. These chemicals, such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinoids, contain enzymes to renew your skin.

Weaker formulas can be bought over-the-counter or may be used in a facial performed by your beauty therapist. However, stronger ones are typically performed by a dermatologist in the form of a chemical peel.

The key difference between physical and chemical exfoliants is that chemical exfoliation can offer more noticeable results.

That said, like physical exfoliation, chemical exfoliation can cause irritation when not performed properly. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to reach out to your dermatologist or healthcare provider for more tailored guidance.

Here are some common chemicals used in this type of exfoliation.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs help to peel away the surface of your skin to reveal new, more even skin cells. They’re a group of water-soluble acids that usually derive from sugary fruits.

Some popular examples include:

  • Glycolic acid
  • Lactic acid
  • Citric acid

AHAs can also help minimize the appearance of mild hyperpigmentation (like age spots and scars), enlarged pores, and surface wrinkles.

Beta Hydroxy Acids

Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil-soluble. They aim to unclog your pores by going deep into your hair follicles and drying out excess oils and dead skin cells.

Because of this, BHA products are effective in reducing acne, redness, inflammation, and sun damage.

Salicylic acid is the most common BHA.

Retinoids

A class of medications that come from vitamin A, retinoids work by protecting your skin from free radicals. They can also stimulate collagen production, soothe sun-damaged skin, treat acne, and slow the signs of aging.

Some topical retinoids include:

  • Retinol
  • Tretinoin
  • Adapalene

Note that retinoids vary in concentration. If your OTC retinoid product doesn’t seem to be working, your specific skin type may require a stronger formula.

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How to Exfoliate Safely (By Skin Type)

According to Healthline, not every kind of exfoliation may work for every skin type. Therefore, you need to be clued up on your skin type before you consider a particular method of exfoliation.

Even so, the method remains the same whether you use a physical or chemical exfoliator:

1. Apply the product gently using small circular motions (or short, light strokes if you use a brush or sponge)

2. Continue for around 30 seconds

3. Rinse off with lukewarm water (not hot)

Not sure of your skin type and what kind of exfoliation would work best? Don’t sweat it—we’ve provided a breakdown of the various options for you.

Normal Skin

Normal skin is clear and doesn’t have any noteworthy issues. It’s also not easily irritated, which means it’s rare that those with normal skin will experience negative reactions to any type of exfoliation.

(You lucky people, you!)

To put it plainly, it’s completely up to you what exfoliant you primarily decide to use and stick with.

Dry Skin

Dry skin is flaky, rough, or itchy. It can make you feel like a reptile every time you look in the mirror (even though you’re not—obviously).

Although it seems like chemical exfoliation might not work for this skin type, the opposite is known to be true. In fact, AHAs specifically (such as glycolic acid) can break through the surface of your skin—and this is a good thing, we promise!

Why? Well, it allows your moisturizer, oil or serum to better hydrate and nourish your new skin cells.

Physical exfoliation may be too irritating for this skin type. As a result, you may find that just a washcloth and mild chemical exfoliator does the job nicely.

Oily Skin

Oily skin looks greasy and shiny. The bad news is that it’s challenging to find makeup products that don’t just slide off your face. (We’ve been there…)

The good news is, people with oily skin find that their skin is tough, enabling them to use stronger chemical and physical exfoliators. A heavy-duty scrub or an electric facial cleanser massager machine tends to be the most effective.

That said, avoid strong chemical or physical exfoliation if you have a deeper skin tone. This may result in dark spots on your skin.

Combination Skin

Combination skin has dry areas and oily areas. It can be tricky to find the best method of exfoliation for this skin type because what works for one section of your skin may not work for another.

For instance, a chemical exfoliator or scrub could make your skin as glowy as J.Lo’s in the oily area. Then a low-level AHA may need to be applied to dry areas at a later date to achieve the same effect.

(We know—not ideal, right?)

Just focus on each section on its own and then change up your products according to what gets the best results.

Sensitive

Sensitive skin can sting or burn after certain products are applied, which can be nothing short of frustrating (not to mention painful!).

If you have sensitive skin, BHAs are considered the way to exfoliate your skin safely. They’re normally less irritating than other chemical or physical methods of exfoliation.

Acne-Prone

People with this skin type are prone to breakouts and mild to moderate acne. This can consist of:

  • Acne nodules and cysts, which penetrate deep into the skin and can cause scars
  • Pustules, which is the medical term for pus-filled pimples with a white- or yellow-colored middle
  • Papules, which is the medical term for a series of small, red bumps that feel hard to touch
  • Blackheads, which is the black dot that you see when a pore fills with debris but stays open
  • Whiteheads, which is a tiny bump that looks white or flesh-colored and appears when the pore closes up

Acne occurs when your pores become clogged with excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells. Look for products containing retinoids, glycolic acid or salicylic acid to effectively exfoliate acne-prone skin.

Introducing the One Method of Exfoliation for All Skin Types

No matter what type of skin you have, there’s one method of exfoliation that you could try to improve its vibrance, smoothness, and general appearance.

Sure, there are some types of facial cleansing massager that can be too abrasive on certain types of skin. However, if you invest in a brush with silicone bristles, you’ll be happy to hear that the benefits of silicone facial cleanser devices are unparalleled.

Facial cleansing massager company meejee offers a sonic facial cleansing device made from ultra-soft silicone, meaning that it’s gentle enough for all skin types. Its flexibility in vibration intensity also allows you to buff away dead skin cells while promoting blood flow and new cell growth without causing irritation.

Hooray for being kind to your skin!

How Often Should You Exfoliate?

Ah, the age-old question.

The answer to how often you should exfoliate depends entirely on your skin type and exfoliation method.

Generally speaking, the more aggressive the exfoliation, the less often it needs to be done. Experts believe that you should exfoliate your face two or three times a week as a rule of thumb. Any less than this and it’s not enough.

The truth is, we lose 50 million skin cells a day, which makes the skin look dull and dry when they’re left on the skin. An acid serum is recommended two to three times a week to remedy this, as well as a weekly mask or peel.

If your face is prone to redness or irritation, you should exfoliate just once or twice a week. This is so that you don’t aggravate your skin further. 

Additionally, some people with dry skin may choose to exfoliate just once a week seeing as though the practice of exfoliation is very drying in itself.

Can I Use A Face Massager Daily? 

If your facial cleansing massage brush has non-abrasive bristles, like meejee’s silicone facial cleansing device, normal and oily skin types can work up to once a day. Whereas, dry, sensitive, and acne-prone skin types should stick to once or twice a week.

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When Should You Exfoliate?

Newsflash: there’s no set rule of when exactly you should exfoliate.

Whether it’s first thing in the morning when your skin is looking dull or last thing at night when you’ve stripped away the day’s sweat, makeup, and grime, it’s up to you to make the decision.

Although, always use an exfoliator after you cleanse. If you cleanse after you exfoliate, you end up washing the exfoliant from the skin before it’s been able to do its magic. Ergo, this would be a total waste of time and money.

Also, consider the following factors.

  • If you’re using any medication or OTC products for your skin, space out the time in between applying them and exfoliating. After all, these can cause skin sensitivity, irritation, dryness, or even acne, especially prescription retinoid creams or benzoyl peroxide.
  • If you notice redness, inflammation, peeling or irritation during exfoliating, stop exfoliating immediately.
  • Never exfoliate skin that is sunburnt, has open cuts or wounds, or has bug bites.

Lastly, follow-up exfoliation with a moisturizer. In essence, exfoliating can be drying to the skin so you should apply moisturizer straight afterwards for optimal skin health.

The Takeaway

Even though everybody’s skin is different, we could all benefit from exfoliating regularly and using a silicone facial cleansing brush.

Just make sure you choose the right exfoliation routine for your skin type to minimize the risk of irritation and maximize the chances of achieving radiant, renewed and ravishing skin.