Shelves are overflowing with products that slough off dead skin cells,
but how necessary and beneficial is exfoliation?
The benefits of exfoliation
Removing the dead cells on the surface of your skin is called exfoliation. And although it’s not always an essential step in the skin-care routine,
it can be beneficial to most skin types. When done properly, exfoliating helps reveal a new layer of softer, smoother, more radiant skin with a more even tone and texture. It also allows for better penetration of your skin-care products.
But if you go at it too hard or too often, exfoliation can make certain skin conditions (like acne) worse or cause inflammation, scarring or even infection. This is why it’s important to choose the right type of exfoliating product and start slowly.
Mechanical versus chemical
There are two main types and methods of exfoliation: mechanical (sometimes called “physical”) exfoliation and chemical exfoliation.
Mechanical exfoliation consists of gently massaging a treatment containing granules onto the skin to remove dead cells on its surface. You can also manually exfoliate with a loofah, sponge or brush made specifically for use on skin.
Chemical exfoliation is done by applying a treatment in which one or more ingredients accelerate cell renewal and break the bonds between dead cells on the surface of the skin, allowing them to
be eliminated. Among the most common are acids, like AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), as well as fruit enzymes. Products that contain exfoliating acids range from cleansers and toners to serums and masks. Some treatments offer both mechanical and chemical exfoliation.
When to exfoliate
After choosing an exfoliant suited to your skin type, start by using it only a few times a month. If all goes well and no irritation occurs, increase the frequency little by little, while paying attention to how your skin feels before, during and after each treatment. Also, make sure that you’re spacing out your
use of an exfoliant and other potentially irritating products like retinol or concentrated vitamin C.
If you have normal, dry or combination skin, try a product containing AHAs.
If you have oily skin, BHAs are beneficial because they are fat soluble (they dissolve in oil and can penetrate skin). You can also try a scrub or treatment that combines physical and chemical exfoliation.
If you have sensitive skin, it’s important to avoid overexfoliating, or using harsh ingredients. Turn to PHAs or lactic or mandelic acid, with larger molecules that penetrate less deeply into the skin, making them less irritating.
Don’t overdo it
If you notice redness, dryness, a tingling sensation
or visible flaking on your skin, it may be a sign that you’ve exfoliated too intensely or too frequently. In this case, stop exfoliating and reduce your skin-care routine to the essentials (a gentle cleanser, a basic moisturizer for sensitive skin and sunscreen). The important thing is to give your skin time to recover, which can take a few days to several weeks.
“It’s important to start with a low concentration exfoliant—you can always increase the intensity if your skin tolerates it well. Don’t forget to apply a gentle moisturizer afterward as well as sun protection with an SPF 30 or higher, as exfoliation can be a drying process and make the skin more sensitive to the sun.”
– Dr. Annie Liu, board-certified dermatologist
Our product picks
BURT’S BEES Peach & Willow Bark Deep Pore Scrub, $15, shoppersdrugmart.ca.
GLOW RECIPE Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum, $53, sephora.ca.
SKIN PROUD Detox Tonic Daily Exfoliating Tonic, $17, walmart.ca.
ALUMIERMD MicroDerm Polish, $65, alumiermd.ca.
FEY COSMETICS X² Dual-Action Exfoliating Mask, $55, feycosmetics.com.