If you’re looking for baby-soft, clear skin, then exfoliators should be a key part of your regular routine. You can remove dead skin cells through chemical (acid) exfoliators, physical exfoliators, and enzymes — all of which help you skin look brighter and healthier. Exfoliation not only provides that instant glow we all crave, but it helps your other skincare products work more efficiently and effectively when there isn’t any dirt and buildup in the way.
It’s clear that exfoliating has its perks, but the process can easily go awry, especially if you’re new to the world of exfoliants. Below, Dr. Rebecca Marcus, board-certified dermatologist, walks us through the most common exfoliating mistakes — and how to fix them.
You’re not cleansing before exfoliating.
Some face exfoliators also act like cleansers so you can multitask. But, if your exfoliator isn’t meant to also be used as a face wash, it’s important to take the extra step of cleansing your face before you exfoliate so you can start with a clean slate. Cleansing will remove that surface-level dirt, grime, and makeup while exfoliating products are meant to work a little harder at cleaning away dead skin cells and debris that’s sitting deeper in your skin.
You’re too rough when using a physical exfoliator.
Some people may think that classic “squeaky clean” feeling you may get after a physical exfoliator means that it’s working, but it’s actually the result of stripping off too much of your natural oils. “If you choose to use a physical exfoliator, make sure that the particles are round, spherical beads and not irregularly shaped particles. Spherical particles are less likely to injure the skin. Physical exfoliators should be used with great care and should be applied gently to the skin with fingertips moving in circular motions and without applying pressure. Scrubbing too hard will cause micro-tears in the skin and can leave it red and raw. It can also stimulate the skin to produce more oil and keratin in an attempt to protect/repair itself from harsh scrubbing,” says Marcus. If you’re using an exfoliating brush, remind yourself not to apply too much pressure (pressing harder doesn’t mean a deeper cleanse!). If you’re looking for more intense exfoliation, gently massage for a longer amount of time — not with more force.
You’re exfoliating too often (or not frequent enough).
Exfoliating has many amazing benefits, but you can certainly have too much of a good thing. “There is a sweet spot when it comes to exfoliation, and a lot of it really depends on your specific skin type and degree of sensitivity. Oily skin types, for example, may need to be exfoliated more frequently as sebum is produced in greater amounts. But it’s important not to overexfoliate and risk disrupting the skin barrier to the point that it’s unable to perform its function of keeping irritants and infectious agents out and keeping moisture and hydration in,” says Marcus. If you’re not exfoliating enough, you may experience dryness, dullness, or acne from clogged pores.
How often you exfoliate also depends on what type of exfoliating ingredients you use: “Chemical exfoliants work by loosening connections between cells and allowing dead skin cells to be rinsed away by water. Physical exfoliators, on the other hand, contain particles that physically scrub away skin cells,” she says. Particularly with physical exfoliators, exfoliating once or twice a week can be sufficient for most people. However, if you’re using a super-gentle chemical exfoliating ingredient like lactic acid in Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment, it can be used daily.
You’re using the incorrect exfoliator for your skin type.
To get the most out of your exfoliating experience, it’s important to choose the right type of ingredients for your skin type:
- Sensitive skin: “Go for mild exfoliants, such as lactic acid, polyhydroxy acids, and lower strengths of glycolic acid,” says Marcus. You can also use an enzyme exfoliator, which is tolerated by sensitive skin types even more than acids.
- Normal skin: “Those with less sensitive skin may be able to tolerate higher concentration acids,” she says.
- Acne-prone skin: “These skin types often benefit from chemical exfoliation, while physical exfoliation is more likely to lead to irritation and potentially can worsen acne,” she says.
- Oily skin: A physical exfoliator (like a scrub or a facial cleansing tool) or chemical exfoliator works great — just keep in mind not to overexfoliate as this can cause your skin to produce even more oil.
- Dry skin: Choose a physical or chemical exfoliator with hydrating ingredients like ceramides or shea butter.
You’re not moisturizing afterward.
It’s important to replenish your skin after sloughing off buildup. “After exfoliating, skin needs extra nourishment to restore the skin barrier and prevent over-drying. So, it’s ideal to follow exfoliation with your usual skincare, and at the very least, a moisturizer,” says Marcus. Plus, now that your skin is de-clogged of dead skin cells, your moisturizer (and the rest of your skincare routine) will have an easier time penetrating each level of your skin so it can perform its best.
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