One of the best things you can do for ageless skin is exfoliate. Other than daily cleansing, exfoliating offers countless benefits that not only fight the signs of aging but also help to reveal a healthy complexion. Exfoliation also offers immediate results – soft, smooth skin and a brighter more even-look.
Exfoliation is a process to remove dead skin cells on the outer layer of the skin to give the skin a smoother, brighter appearance. It helps to get rid of the dry, flaky skin cells that can cause breakouts and make the complexion look dull and lifeless. It also helps to rev up the skin’s natural regenerative efforts to produce fresh, new, younger cells. Plus, it unblocks pores to help the skin better absorb and make use of the products you use.
According to Board-certified Dermatologist Mary P. Lupo, MD, FAAD, clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine, “Exfoliation can improve the effectiveness of topical skin treatments, which can penetrate deeper once the topmost layer of skin is removed. Long-term benefits of exfoliation can include increased collagen production, resulting in younger-looking skin.”
Dr. Lupo also suggests that regular exfoliation can offer significant results for those who are experiencing premature aging due to excessive exposure to the sun and those struggling with congested skin conditions (non-inflammatory acne) such as blackheads and whiteheads.
The keys to getting the right kind of scrub boil down to three main things: ingredients, skin type and method.
Those experiencing more aggressive inflammation, either from acne cysts and pustules or rosacea flare ups, should consult their dermatologists before exfoliating. Using the wrong types of products or techniques could worsen these conditions.
There are two main types of exfoliators—manual and chemical (also sometimes referred as physical and enztmatic). Manual exfoliators are the most common type of exfoliator — what most of us call scrubs. These typically contain some sort of gritty substance that you manually move around the skin to buff away dry, uneven textures. They are quick and easy to use.
When choosing a manual exfoliator, it is important to look for scrubs that will not tear or damage the skin. With formulas that are too grainy or aggressive, you can actually do more harm than good by cutting or breaking the skin, promoting irritation and possible infections. Save the gritty scrubs for the tick calloused skin on the feet and use a finer-grade exfoliant on the face.
Another manual option is gommage peels, some of which also have a chemical aspect to them. Gommage peels usually have a thick consistency and are applied to the face like a thin mask. The product is left on the skin for a few minutes while it sets up (or dries slightly) then it is rubbed off with the hands, a washcloth or facial gauze taking dead skin cells with it.
Chemical exfoliators, work to dissolve and loosen the “glue” that holds dead cells to the skin. Chemical exfoliators are more about the ingredients in the product and how they react with the skin. Generally, they are applied to the skin and allowed to remain on the skin for a period of time then removed.
Chemical exfoliators typically include some form of acid, like alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s). The most common form of chemical exfoliation is the glycolic peel. They can vary in strength and can effect several layers of the skin. The more aggressive treatments are better suited for professional use rather than home use.
Chemical exfoliants, if not used correctly, can leave painful burns on the skin that can take weeks to heal. They can be extremely active depending on the percentage of active ingredients being used. It is a good idea to spot test your skin before using these to make sure that you are not sensitive to the formulation.
If you have a more holistic perspective, look for products made with natural ingredients that offer a gentle but effective alternative.
Source Vitál Apothecary uses freshwater colloidal silt, natural corundum crystals, micronized red algae and essential oils to slough away dead skin cells, dirt, grime, and improve the appearance of discoloration, hyperpigmentation and the look of fine lines and wrinkles.
These ingredients work to gently smooth the skin without leaving micro cuts on the surface of the skin. The silt has the added benefit of naturally-occurring humic acids, which offer the same skin smoothing benefits as the generally more aggressive AHA’s.
Instead of harsh chemicals, we turn to essential oils. The right blend of 100% pure oils can offer similar resurfacing benefits as expensive and aggressive glycolic or AHA chemical peels. Citrus oils are especially beneficial when used to reveal a healthy, glowing complexion.
Everyone has a different set of genetic, lifestyle, diet and climate factors that impacts our skin. As with any skin care regimen, it is important to customize the products and protocols to meet the particular conditions of your skin. The same goes for exfoliation. Sensitive skin types need a very different approach than do oily or combination skin.
Our skin also changes seasonally, just like the weather, so what works for your skin in the summer may not be the best tactic to care for your skin during the winter months.
Before we discuss the different skin types, remember those with the following skin conditions should use caution when exfoliating:
- Skin that is very thin and has visible capillaries
- Thin skin that turns red easily (see sensitive)
- Mature skin that is thin and bruises easily
- Skin prone to cystic acne with inflamed breakout
- Skin being treated with medications—Retin-A, Accutane, AHA’s, salicylic acid or other prescribed products
If you are experiencing any of these skin conditions you may want to consult a dermatologist about the best way to care for the skin. Using the wrong products or method of exfoliation can worsen these issues.
Unsure about your skin type? Check out our previous blog on Skin Types to help you figure out the right exfoliation protocol for your complexion.
Sensitive Skin – Sensitive skin requires more caution that other skin types. Sensitive skin is reactive skin. It reacts to stimulation with redness and breakout. It is common to “feel” tingling and sometimes a slight burning sensation when trying new products.
Finding the right exfoliation method requires some trial and error.
- Opt for manual exfoliators
- Gommages are the gentlest option
- Use less pressure when buffing the skin
- Limit exfoliation to 1 x a week
- Always spot test before applying all over the face and neck
After exfoliation, sensitive skin will still turn red but it should dissipate after a short time. Use products post-exfoliation that promote a sense of calm and hydration.
Dry Skin – The goal with dry skin is to reduce flakiness, remove cell build-up and rough texture, and to create softer, smoother skin. Whether your skin is dry due to dehydration (water dry) or the skin simply isn’t producing enough of its natural oils (oil dry) the method of exfoliation is the same.
- Manual or chemical exfoliation is appropriate
- Start by exfoliating 1 x a week
- Up exfoliation to 2 x a week, if your skin can tolerate
Oily & Acne-Prone Skin – Oily skin tends to be thicker and builds up dead skin cells more quickly than other skin types; therefore, exfoliation is extremely important. If oily skin is not taken care of properly, dirt, dead skin cells and grease can clog the follicles, creating pimple, blemishes and even acne.
- In the beginning exfoliate up to 2 x a week (for 2 weeks)
- Exfoliate 1-2 x a week for average maintenance
- Treat acne skin similar to oily skin
- Avoid exfoliating over areas experiencing active, inflamed breakouts
- Use caution if using acne medication
Normal & Combination Skin – Basically, normal skin is non-problematic skin. While normal skin tends to not experience problems associated with breakouts, dryness or the feeling of excessive oil, it still can appear dull and lifeless from a build-up of dead skin cells. A simple weekly exfoliation can make all the difference in the appearance of the skin.
- Manual or Chemical exfoliation is appropriate
- Start with exfoliating 1 x a week
- Up exfoliation to 2 x a week after 4-6 weeks, if your skin will tolerate
Mature/Prematurely Aging Skin – Mature skin is often thinner and more delicate. This becomes more apparent as we age. More care is required with the exfoliation techniques we use to avoid pulling and stretching the skin and causing more damage. However, the skin naturally slows down it’s natural regeneration efforts so exfoliating to stimulate blood flow and the removal of damaged cells is critical.
- A gommage is especially good for this skin type
- Use gentle motions and less pressure with mechanical exfoliators
- Spend a little more time with the exfoliating process
- Take care not to pull or stretch the skin
- Support the skin by holding it in place with one hand and exfoliating with the other
- Exfoliate 1-2 x a week
By following these guidelines, you will still see results with less stress on the skin.
Gentle is the key here. We are treating our skin, not scrubbing pots and pans! A healthy pink glow is the goal, not red, raw skin.
Massage, Don’t Scrub
When exfoliating, you want to think about lightly massaging the skin, using small, circular motions. This movement helps to stimulate the skin, encouraging blood flow and oxygen the cells need for good health. This movement helps to stimulate the skin, encouraging blood flow and the delivery of oxygen our cells need for good health. You can also use soft facial gauze, natural-fiber sponges (no loofas on the face) or gentle washcloths as a buffer.
Support the Skin
Try not to pull or overly stretch the skin, especially when working with the delicate area around the eyes. Start working with small areas, use one hand to support the skin while the other performs the massaging technique described above.
How Often & For How Long
Consistent is more important than frequent when exfoliating. How often you exfoliate the skin really depends on your particular skin type. Most skin types do not need to be exfoliated more than once or twice a week – especially sensitive and mature/aged skin.
The bottom line is overdoing exfoliation can over-stimulate the skin, which can lead to undesired results.
When you first start to incorporate exfoliation into your routine, it is best to ease in. This also is the case whenever you are using a new product. It gives time for your skin to get used to the new regimen without flipping out.
Start by exfoliating once a week. Choose a day and try to stick with that day. Use something that’s easy to remember, like garbage day, as your day to exfoliate. Think of it like ridding your skin of all the garbage that has built up.
Instead of a chore, make polishing the skin a part of your personal care ritual like relaxing in a soothing aromatherapy bath. Begin this self-care routine with exfoliating the skin on your face and smoothing the skin on the body as well. A useful tip is to keep your exfoliants in the shower (if using a manual exfoliating “scrub”), it makes for easy use and clean up.
After 4-6 weeks, try upping your regimen to twice a week, though this is not recommended for more sensitive skin types. See how your skin accepts the increase.
At this point, try mixing and matching the exfoliation products you use. Try alternating manual scrubs with a gommage peel or try a chemical exfoliator, like Aroma Peel once a month (or even once a quarter).
Remember that too much exfoliation can over-stimulate your skin. “Listen” to your skin. It can be very vocal with break outs or sensitivity when it doesn’t like what you’re doing to it.
Don’t forget to factor in the season. Avoid chemical peels in the summer when you are exposed to more sun and never exfoliate broken or inflamed skin.
Always follow the suggested use directions on the packaging. This is especially important when using chemical exfoliators.
Generally, for manual exfoliation, massage the product into the skin for about a minute. You may let it sit on the skin, like a mask, for another minute or two before rinsing off.
For gommage peels, you need to let the product set up for several minutes and dry slightly before working it off. If it is still tacky to the touch it isn’t ready.
Chemical peels can vary with how to use. Some you apply, leave on for a few minutes and then rinse away. Others, like our Aroma Peel, you apply it to the skin and it will immediately start to sink into the skin; there is no removal required as it is left on the skin.
If there is ever any uncomfortable burning or itching with any product for the skin or body, remove it immediately.
Moisturize & Protect
Once you are done exfoliating think calm. It’s a good idea to use a nourishing face oil like our Hydrating, Restorative or Soothing Infusion and a moisturizing serum such as one of our Algae Serums or combine these steps by making your own Customized Facial Cocktail and use a few drops on the face after exfoliating.
Finish by protecting the skin with your favorite moisturizer. The skin will drink up the hydration and nourishment as the skin is prepared to absorb it more efficiently. For now, keep clear of any products that contain potentially irritating active ingredients. Let the skin first come back to a place of balance.
For the Body
The guidelines above are geared mostly for exfoliation of the face, neck and décolleté - upper chest area. Many of these recommendations are the same for the body.
While it is ok to use facial exfoliants on the body, it is not ideal to use body exfoliants on the face. Formulas for the body usually contain a bit more grit, tend to be more emollient and are designed to be used on areas that take more abuse.
Dry brushing is an excellent body care ritual for good skin health. All you need is a natural bristle body brush. Use the brush on dry skin (hence the name dry brushing) and use short quick strokes to sluff away dry, rough skin. Start from your feet and move upwards to the arms, chest area and torso, always stroking towards the heart.
Dry brushing really gets your blood and fluids flowing, resulting in super soft skin and an energized state of mind.
As with the face, pamper the body after exfoliation with a rich, hydrating moisturizer or luxurious body oil. It will make the skin glow and feel silky soft.