Which Type of Exfoliant is Right for Your Skin?
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Did you know we shed approximately 30,000- 40,000 skin cells every minute?
Just like our pets shed hair all over the place, we shed skin. If you've seen a lot of "dust" around your house lately, you can bet a good bulk of it is skin cells. How many of you are changing your sheets tonight? (🙋♀️)
So, if we're already shedding, why do we need to exfoliate? There are many benefits to exfoliation, such as brightening the complexion, smoothing out rough patches, reducing the appearance of dark spots and scarring, and it can help our other skincare products penetrate better.
The mixture of all the products we put on our skin, along with our natural sebum (oil) and environmental pollutants, can make if harder for our cells to "let go" and as we age, our natural shedding process slows down, resulting in a not-so-glowy complexion.
When this happens, our other products sometimes have a harder time being absorbed as well as they should. The dry, compacted skin cells can create a barrier, and all that money you've invested on that amazing serum gets half wasted, by not getting properly absorbed.
So how should one exfoliate?
Here are 3 types of exfoliation, how to use them and if they're right for your skin;
1. P H Y S I C A L
A physical exfoliant, otherwise known as manual exfoliation, is more commonly used in the form of a product that has small particles in it, known as a "scrub". These small particles help to slough dry, flaky cells from the surface of the skin.
This can also be accomplished through things like microdermabrasion or using a facial brush. Physical exfoliation can be a more abrasive type of exfoliation, which is better suited for the body, but can also be a great tool for uneven skin tone, dry, mature skin and scarring.
2. C H E M I C A L
When I say chemical, I don't mean toxic! In fact, chemical exfoliants are simply natural acids derived from food sources such as fruits, milk and sugar!
Chemical exfoliants consist of alpha, beta or poly-hydoxy acids, otherwise known as AHAs, BHAs and PHAs. Some acids are better suited for normal/dry skin types (AHAs) and others more for oily/acne types (BHAs).
PHAs are less irritating and more suited to sensitive skin types.
Peels (like the ones you get at a spa) are types of chemical exfoliants. They range in intensity and level of depth reached in the skin.
Some, like glycolic and lactic acids (AHAs) are water soluble and can penetrate deeper into the skin.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) help to break down the glue-like protein bonds holding the skin cells together.
This allows for the natural shedding of the cells to occur.
Other hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid (BHAs) are oil soluble and work on the surface of the skin, penetrating into the pores to help break up sebum. This is what makes salicylic acid so popular in acne treatments.
Gluconolactone and lactobionic acid (PHAs), have become increasingly more popular in the discussion of exfoliants, as they have proved to have quite a few benefits, along with increasing cell turnover (shedding of skin cells).
PHAs (according to pubmed) have been shown to be potent antioxidants, thus repairing free radical damage in the skin, are suitable for sensitive and rosacea skin types/conditions, and also acts as a humectant, helping to increase hydration in the skin and reduce TEWL (transepidermal water loss). PHAs have also been shown to be safe and effective to use in combination with other exfoliation methods like mircodermabrasion and laser resurfacing.
*** It is important to note that some hydroxy acids are contraindicated during pregancy.
3. E N Z Y M A T I C
Enzymes from fruit sources, such as papaya, pineapple and pumpkin, are fantastic for anyone suffering from dry, flaky skin. This can also be a great option for more sensitive types, as long as it isn't mixed with other types of exfoliants like hydroxy acids.
Enzymes help to soften skin cells, making them easier to slough off.
It is possible for a product to contain all 3 types of exfoliants; hydroxy acids to break up the bonds gluing cells together, the enzymes to help soften the cells and the physical exfoliant to brush them all away! This is what I call a powerhouse product!
Whenever you're introducing a new type of exfoliant into your routine, be sure to do a test patch to see how your skin reacts. Use the inside part of your arm or your neck, to give you a good idea of what kind of reaction you might see.
Exfoliation should always be done in moderation.
Generally speaking, 1-3 times per week, depending on your skin type and sensitivity. More intense treatments, like the ones you would get in a spa or during a facial treatment, should be recommended by your esthetician, who will assess your skin and evaluate the length of time between treatments. (General rule of thumb- seasonally).
Like I mentioned previously, dry skin cells can act like a barrier, so if you feel like your products "aren't working" for you anymore, maybe it's time to bring out the scrub!
Since it's now fall and the weather is getting cooler, skin can become drier at this time, making it the perfect occasion to polish that complexion before you put on that super emollient night cream or that ultra hydrating face mask! You're skin will be so thankful you did, and you'll be glowing in no time!
Sending you fresh, glowy vibes for a beautiful fall season! 🍂