Exfoliators: What Do You Need to Know?

Exfoliators are a necessary part of your skincare routine. They keep the skin healthy, clean, smooth, and glowing. Exfoliators are just as important for the body as they are for the face.

Key takeaways:

There are two types of exfoliators:

  1. Chemical exfoliators break the bond, or "glue," between dead skin cells so they can be easily washed away. Alpha (glycolic acid) and beta-hydroxy acids (salicylic acid) are chemical exfoliators.
  2. Physical exfoliators, also known as scrubs, manually remove the dead skin cells, which are then rinsed away. These include beads, sugar, salt, loofah, brushes, and cloths.

Benefits of exfoliation

Exfoliators have many benefits for the skin:

Remove dead skin cells. This smooths the skin and gives you a more even tone and texture while revealing glowing skin.

Unclog pores. Exfoliation removes dirt and bacteria from the pores to prevent blackheads and acne. Salicylic acid will also treat acne.

Fade hyperpigmentation. Removing dead skin cells helps fade brown spots faster.

Help skincare products absorb better. By removing the dead skin cells, the skincare products you apply will absorb better, which helps to deliver better results.

Deep cleans. Exfoliators remove dead skin cells, dirt, oil, bacteria, and toxins from the skin to give you a deep cleaning.

Prevents ingrown hairs. Exfoliation will prevent ingrown hairs by sloughing off dead skin cells and preventing the hair from curling under the skin.

Increases blood circulation and lymphatic drainage. When you massage the exfoliators into the skin, this increases blood flow to the skin, which brings more oxygen and nutrients to nourish the skin. It also increases lymphatic drainage to remove toxins and excess fluid from the skin.

Lowers stress. Massaging in the exfoliator will also decrease stress and help you relax by triggering your sympathetic nervous system.

Skin type considerations

Any skin type can use and benefit from an exfoliator. However, some should be careful when using an exfoliator to avoid potential complications. Always check with your dermatologist to see if exfoliation is right for you and determine the best exfoliator for your skin type. Some considerations are:

Sensitive skin. Patients with sensitive skin should use chemical exfoliators rather than physical ones. There is less chance of harming your sensitive skin with a chemical exfoliator. If you have sensitive skin, start by exfoliating once a week. After a few weeks, you may be able to increase to twice a week, but do not exfoliate more than twice weekly.

Hyperpigmentation. If you have a history of hyperpigmentation, such as melasma, it may be better to use a chemical exfoliator because they are more gentle. Physical exfoliators are sometimes harsh and irritating, which may increase hyperpigmentation.

Oily skin. Over-exfoliating with physical exfoliators may irritate oily skin and cause an increase in oil production.

Medications. If you use benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, you may not have to exfoliate as often or at all.

Skin conditions. If you have certain skin conditions or problems, such as psoriasis, eczema, infections, open wounds, or sunburn, you may not be able to exfoliate. Exfoliation could irritate your skin and cause a flare of your underlying condition or infection. It is best to check with your dermatologist.

How to use exfoliators

It is best to start out using physical exfoliators once a week. If tolerated, after a couple of weeks, you can increase it to twice a week. If you have oily skin, you may be able to tolerate exfoliation three times a week. Physical exfoliators should not be used daily.

Listen to your skin. It will tell you what it can and cannot tolerate. Here is a step-by-step instruction on how to use a physical exfoliator:

  • Wash skin with lukewarm water in the shower.
  • Apply exfoliator with fingertips.
  • Massage in light circular motions.
  • Rinse off with lukewarm water.
  • Pat dry with a clean towel.
  • Moisturize.

Some chemical exfoliators can be applied daily, if they are mild, while others should only be applied 1–2 times a week. It is important to read the directions. If you have sensitive skin, you should build up very slowly. It is a good idea to try a small spot test of any product to ensure that it does not cause a reaction.

Downsides of exfoliation

While exfoliation is generally safe, it is important not to over-exfoliate. Over-exfoliation can occur when you exfoliate too frequently, too aggressively with physical exfoliators, use hot water when exfoliating, or use the wrong exfoliator for your skin. It can cause cuts, abrasions, infections, and scarring.

It is best to avoid physical exfoliators that contain walnut shells, apricot pit pieces, or any other abrasive, rough, or sharp particles. If you want to use a physical exfoliator, stick to tiny, round, smooth particles or sugar. Abrasive particles can injure the skin.

Aftercare for exfoliation

To maintain healthy skin after exfoliation, it is critical to avoid direct sunlight on the skin. Exfoliation removes part of the top layer of the skin, which protects the skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Without it, we are more susceptible to sun damage and sunburns. Be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, and protective UPF clothing in the days following exfoliation.

Exfoliation can dry out the skin, so it is important to moisturize afterward. This helps restore your skin's barrier and lock in moisture.

Avoid steam rooms and hot showers after exfoliating, as they could irritate your skin and lead to more moisture loss. After exfoliating, your skin is delicate and needs to be treated carefully.

Exfoliation is a great way to keep your skin healthy and looking its best. After exfoliating dead skin cells, your skin appears brighter and more radiant. It feels smoother and has a more even texture and tone. The most critical part is choosing the right exfoliator for your skin type; otherwise, it could damage your skin. Always consult your dermatologist if you need help selecting an exfoliator.

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