We all want it – the glossy cheeks and rosy flush of youth. We can't help you turn back the clock, but we can tell you that youthful, more radiant skin comes down to exfoliation, and there's never been a better time to take up scrubbing and sloughing. From two-in-one cleansers to salicylic acid solutions and at-home microdermabrasion or peel kits, women today have a myriad of choices. But which one? How often? And how do brighteners fit in?
Picking the right product – or combination of products – for your face has a little to do with the properties of the potion, a little to do with your age and a lot to do with your skin type. Need clarity? Read on.
Step 1: Exfoliate
"Exfoliation removes dead or damaged cells from the skin's top layer, cleans out pores and helps minimize blemishes," says Dr. Kucy Pon, a dermatologist for Olay. "Overall, the skin is cleaner and appears smoother, so light reflects back better, making the skin glow."
Step 2: Brighten and hydrate
Brighteners usually lighten skin discoloration, brown patches and age spots. Along with antioxidants, they generally contain small amounts of chemical bleaching agents or botanical alternatives. Many also contain pearlized particles that reflect light, tricking the eye with superficial brilliance. Smoothed over hard surfaces -- cheekbones and forehead -- they turn dull into dazzle.
Step 3: Eyes
The eye area is too delicate for standard exfoliation, but you can still turn up the glow with eye-specific treatments.
Finding the perfect match
There are two general classes of exfoliators: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliation products remove dead skin cells by physically abrading them with either a cleansing cloth or a scrub containing sand, salt or synthetic beads. Chemical exfoliators contain alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic and salicylic acid, beta hydroxy acids or retenoic acid (retinol).
Most dermatologists prefer chemical agents because they penetrate deeper and have the added benefit of stimulating cell renewal and collagen synthesis. The result? Increased radiance.
But chemical exfoliators are not for everyone. Those with sensitive skin (and those with rosacea) may find this class of products too harsh. Similarly, if you have dry skin, chemical polishers may be more exfoliation than your skin can handle. Most skin types benefit from a gentle to moderate mechanical scrub. Whether your skin is oily, combination, acne-prone or slightly dry, it's a matter of tuning into the right frequency.
Page 1 of 2 – Find out how often to exfoliate your skin on page 2.
How often should I exfoliate?
Twice daily -- that's the aim, according to Kellett and Dr. David Orentreich, a dermatologist at Clinique. "It's better to exfoliate twice a day using mild or moderate exfoliation than to exfoliate once a week with an extremely harsh process," says Orentreich. "Exfoliation is comparable to exercise; it's better to follow a moderate program regularly than to overdo it randomly."
If you are new to exfoliation or have sensitive skin or an inflammatory condition (acne or rosacea), your skin may need some training before launching into daily exfoliation. Start using an exfoliating product every other day and work up from there, says Kellett.
Once the skin has grown accustomed to regular exfoliating, you may want to increase the weight of your regimen. Exfoliating masks and peels designed for occasional use typically rely on AHAs (including salicylic and lactic acids), while at-home microdermabrasion kits use a combination of mechanical scrub and chemical peel to strip the skin of dead cells with more rigour than a daily product might for that extra boost of radiance.
After using your exfoliating product, your skin should be a pleasant pink and have a slight tingling sensation. If skin is red, peeling, burning or painful, you're being overzealous and should reduce the frequency of treatments or consider a gentler product.
The dos and don'ts
• Don't exfoliate before you cleanse; doing so will remove makeup and dirt but not the dead skin cells responsible for pore blockage and dull tone.
• Do use an exfoliating cleanser, one that gently cleans away dirt and debris while simultaneously sloughing dead skin cells.
• Don't press hard; when using granular scrubs or exfoliating cloths, mild pressure is all that's required. "You want to let the product do the work," says Kellett.
• Don't double-dip. "If you're using a loofah, don't also use an exfoliating gel or cleanser," warns Kellett. "That's overdoing it." Similarly, if you use a cleansing scrub, don't follow it with a glycolic-acid-, retinol- or AHA-based moisturizer unless under the direction of a dermatologist.
• Do hydrate your skin immediately after exfoliation. Moisturizers are most effective after dead surface cells have been whisked away.
• Do wear sunscreen, particularly after exfoliating, a process that removes a protective layer of skin. "I tell all my patients to wear SPF 30 every day," says Kellett. (Click here to find out more about sunscreen.)
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