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There’s three ways to exfoliate: How to find the way for you

January 1 | 4 minute read

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Words by Emily Deacon

Originally published on | October 1

Exfoliating: you know it should be a part of your skincare routine, but not always how often to do it or which type of exfoliation method to use.

We’re here to provide you with a little exfoliation explanation; from the difference between physical, chemical and enzymatic to the best product picks. Whether you’re a seasoned pro looking to change things up, or you’ve never exfoliated before (there’s a first time for everything!), there’s plenty to choose from.

Let’s start with what exfoliating actually is and why it’s an important step in any routine. Let’s throwback to when you were a baby; you would’ve had silky-soft skin from head to toe while you were getting around in a nappy. This is because the skin cells of babies are naturally replaced every few days. As we grow older, the rate of cell turnover slows down a lot. Dry, dead skin cells on the surface of the skin don’t budge as easily and can emphasise the appearance of fine lines. Those dead skin cells can also dull your skin’s natural glow—to put simply, they’re a real drainer. By removing these skin cells through exfoliating, we make up for the gradual slowing down of skin’s natural skin renewal process—improving the overall texture and tone of the complexion.

That’s not all, with regular exfoliation comes minimising the appearance of pores and acne scars, the unclogging of pores (less breakouts, tick!), the fading of age spots by removing dead skin cells containing the pigment and better penetration of your moisturisers or serums.

We’re breaking exfoliation into three categories below to make things a little clearer.

Mechanical/physical exfoliation

Who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned scrub? The feeling of those physical granules working their way across your skin is always satisfying, and the immediate gratification of silky-smooth skin after you’ve rinsed with water is a real treat. These types of exfoliators physically loosen stubborn dead skin cells that are sitting on the surface; they work with the friction of your hands to really get into every pore and area of the face that needs exfoliating. A physical exfoliant is perfect for someone who likes the feeling of granules; or perhaps someone who doesn’t exfoliate very often and wants to remove the really stubborn layer of skin that may have built up over time. Physical scrubs have evolved over time, too—no longer the harsh formulations they were many years ago. They’re now made with more gentler granules that are still effective at sloughing away dead skin.

Our picks:

The GoldFaden MD Doctor’s Scrub uses a combination of ruby crystals, red tea extract and seaweed extract to exfoliate, brighten and firm skin over time; added hyaluronic keeps freshly exfoliated skin plump and juicy.

Mario Badescu’s Botanical Exfoliating Scrub is a gentle formula with a neutral scent, making it appealing to anyone who might spot it on a shower shelf (looking at you, boys). It has finely ground Ecuadorian ivory palm seeds that’s suspended in a refreshing gel base to gently slough away dulling dead skin cells—while aloe vera and coconut alleviate irritation and nourish even the most sensitive skin.

Chemical exfoliation

This refers to an acid-based exfoliator, normally one which contains alpha hydroxy acid or beta hydroxy acid (also known as AHA and BHA). The AHA family of acids is derived from natural sources, like fruit, milk or sugar. Two of the most popular used in skin care are glycolic acid (made from sugar) and lactic acid (made from milk). People with oily skin will really benefit from AHAs.

As for BHAs, they’re a great treatment option for acne-prone skin; a popular BHA is salicylic acid, a synthetic derivative that assists in unclogging pores leading to a reduction breakouts.

An “acid” may sound a little scary at first, but they’re actually very gentle. They loosen the bonds between skin cells allowing them to shed faster. You don’t need to use any friction when it comes to applying a chemical exfoliator, the acids do all the hard work for you. Easy!

Our picks:

Summer Fridays AHA Exfoliating Solution is a brand new product and is brimming with lactic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid or AHA), glycolic acid (AHA) and niacinamide. The powerful AHAs assist with smoothing fine lines, re-texturising and brightening skin, while added niacinamide (which is a water-soluble form of vitamin B3) clarifies skin and reduces the appearance of pores. Like any solution that contains AHAs, the aim of the game is to improve cell turnover and refine skin, all while keeping it juicy and hydrated (thanks to aloe vera).

REN Clean Skincare’s Glycol Lactic Radiance Renewal Mask is a potent active peel mask made with six percent glycolic acid to gently buff away dead skin cells while smoothing and refining the appearance of the fresh layer of skin below.

If you’d prefer to try a chemical exfoliant in the form of face pads, then the Eve Lom Rescue Peel Pads —infused with AHAs and BHAs—are a good option, plus the unique 100 percent biodegradable pads help to penetrate the product into skin better.

Enzymatic exfoliation

Usually derived from fruit or rice, enzymes digest the “glue” that holds dulling skin cells together in a Pac-man-like action leaving behind new plump skin cells. The longer you leave them on, the deeper they’ll exfoliate. Enzymatic exfoliation is a little gentler than AHA chemical exfoliants, so a good choice for those with more sensitive or reactive skin that don’t want to miss out on that post-exfoliation glow.

Our picks:

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment uses a blend of papaya, pineapple and pumpkin enzymes that naturally exfoliate dead skin cells without over-drying the skin.

Verso’s Enzyme Peel just needs three minutes to work its magic. The gel formula removes dead skin cells, helping to unblock pores and accelerate skin cell renewal; while added niacinamide softens lines and improves the appearance of skin texture.

You could also try a polish; these are often gentle enough to use daily. The Sodashi Enzyme Face Polish actually uses a little physical exfoliant in the form of rice powder and then combines pomegranate enzymes to instantly remove dead skin and soften the top layers of the skin. Added macadamia oil soothes and geranium helps to support skin regeneration.

Related topics and brand tags

ExfoliantSkin careSkincare treatmentsNormal skinOily skin

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