The basics of skin exfoliation
Exfoliation is an important part of any skin care routine. After all, exfoliating is the process of removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, uncovering the new, more radiant skin cells underneath. But many people are confused about how – and even how often – they should exfoliate.
Why do I need to exfoliate?
Our bodies are pretty efficient at doing what they need to do to stay healthy. Of course, we have to do our part by making sure our bodies stay nourished and hydrated and active. When taking care of our skin, exfoliation not only helps to remove the dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores, but it also helps improve blood circulation to the skin, keeping the skin looking healthy and radiant. And removing those lifeless skin cells from the surface gives a boost to the rest of your skin care regimen: after all, your products will work better when they are able to reach the healthy skin, rather than sitting on top of dead skin cells.
How often should I exfoliate?
When it comes to exfoliation, less is more. Exfoliating too frequently or too vigorously can actually do more harm than good. Exfoliation should typically be done gently, and no more than 2-3 times per week, depending on your skin type. While you want to make sure you remove the old skin cells on the top surface, too much exfoliation can disrupt the skin’s natural balance, stripping away much needed moisture and oils from the skin. Exfoliating once or twice a week is usually plenty for someone with normal skin. If you suffer with blemishes, clogged pores, or overly dry skin, you may want to exfoliate at least twice a week, though again you want to be careful not to overdo it. While exfoliation can do wonders for dry skin, over-exfoliation can strip moisture. And if you have oily skin, exfoliating too frequently can cause the skin to overcompensate: by stripping the oils that are causing your blemishes and/or clogged pores, your skin may start producing even more oils to combat perceived dryness. Exfoliating is a balancing act.
What’s the best way to exfoliate?
There are several methods of exfoliation, from extremely gentle to harsher methods that should be performed by a professional. But the two main methods of exfoliation are chemical and mechanical.
This is what we usually imagine when we hear the word exfoliation. We think of brushes, loofahs, grainy scrubs – basically an abrasive of some kind. While cosmetic companies are no longer using the plastic micro-beads due to their environmental impact, there are still abrasive agents to be found in skin scrubs: salt, sugar, seed kernels (like the Ecuadorian Ivory Palm Seed Powder found in Mellisa B Naturally’s Microdermabrasion Scrub), pumice, etc. It’s important to know that not all of these abrasives are create equal. Some are extremely gentle, while some can be harsh on the skin. No matter what type of mechanical exfoliant you choose, take care with your skin. When using abrasives – even gentle ones – it’s possible to scratch or irritate your skin. You want to remove dead skin cells, while not damaging the healthy new cells underneath.
Chemical exfoliation is a bit less well-known, but just as effective as mechanical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliation is achieved with enzymes (like the Lactobacillus/pumpkin ferment extract in Mellisa B Naturally’s Pumpkin & Coconut Exfoliating Mask) or acids that remove the dead skin cells by loosening the bonds between the dead skin cells, allowing them to slough off. You may have heard of “chemical peels” – these are typically a more aggressive treatment performed by a professional. But chemical exfoliants are found in many over-the-counter skin care treatments – simply at lower concentrations than what is used for the more intense chemical peels. When using a chemical exfoliant, it’s extremely important to follow the directions on the package to avoid leaving the product on too long and potentially irritating the skin.
When you remove the dead skin cells from the outermost layer of skin, you are exposing new skin cells that need to be protected. After exfoliating, you will want to make sure you’re using a good moisturizer to protect the more delicate skin. You will also want to take extra precautions against sun exposure. Avoid sun exposure if you can for at least 24 hours after exfoliating. Or, if that’s not possible, make sure to use a good broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Which exfoliant is right for you?
If you’re able to get a professional facial, your aesthetician can give you a good idea what kind of exfoliant would work best for your skin type. If a professional facial isn’t something you can do, the next best thing is to start gentle. Try a gentle chemical or mechanical exfoliant and see how your skin looks and feels. If your skin is particularly sensitive, look for one that is known to be gentle enough for sensitive skin. An exfoliant that also protects and moisturizes (like Mellisa B Naturally’s Pumpkin & Coconut Exfoliating Mask) can be a great option, as it will exfoliate and protect your skin.
Whatever you choose, make exfoliating a part of your skin care routine, and you will see how much better your other skin care products work, and how much healthier your skin looks and feels.