Exfoliation is the most overlooked part of skincare regimes. Simultaneously, exfoliation is often the most overdone part of skincare regimes when it is finally discovered. This is why you should check out Ethos Spa. Ethos Spa focusses on providing nonsurgical aesthetic treatments that can help you in taking care of your skin easily.
What is exfoliation, anyway? Exfoliation is simply the removal of dead skin cells hanging out on the surface of the skin. Doesn’t sound like a big deal? Exfoliated skin absorbs moisturizer better, making the skin smoother. Makeup lies more smoothly against smooth skin. Smooth skin is obtained by exfoliation.
Skin will look smoother and less wrinkled when properly exfoliated. (Note that I didn’t say wrinkles will go away, just that they will look smoother.) Exfoliation can also help reduce and prevent blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. Also, sun-damaged skin will look smoother if proper exfoliation occurs along with sun protection.
Types of Exfoliants
The first, and most common type of exfoliant, is called a mechanical exfoliant. Wow, what a boring name. Mechanical.
Mechanical exfoliants are awesome, despite their less-refined appearances. In fact, most people use some type of mechanical exfoliation without even realizing it! If you shave, wax, use a washcloth or one of those bath poof thingies (and for god’s sake, if you do use a bath poof get rid of it – that’s so 1998) you are exfoliating your skin!
Now that you realize that you’re exfoliating by accident, know that it’s probably not enough. Do you see dead skin on parts of your body? (Sometimes this is called looking “ashy”.) Yeah… that’s where you need to focus. And that’s why I am here. Sure, you could just muddle through life without me. But look at where that’s got you so far!
Chemical exfoliants are more convenient than their cruder, more mechanical predecessors. Scrubbing with an exfoliant can get tricky, especially if you want big results in a hurry. Are you focusing too much on one area? Are you totally missing that area next to your ear? Chemical exfoliants are usually in a liquid, lotion, or gel base so it’s easy to tell where they are and where they are not.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid, or AHA, is perhaps the best-known chemical exfoliant you can buy over the counter. AHA is water-soluble, which means it has limited success in penetrating oilier areas of the skin. However, AHA is the chemical exfoliant of choice for those with sun-damaged skin. AHAs are sold over the counter anywhere from 2.5% to 15%, with peels available from professionals as high as 30%.
Beta Hydroxy Acid (or BHA) is a commonly used chemical exfoliant. Sometimes referred to as salicylic acid, this chemical exfoliant is known for being able to penetrate oil. BHA can come in concentrations anywhere from 0.5% to 2%. If you’re looking for a deeper exfoliation, find a licensed aesthetician who can do BHA peels with concentrations as high as 30%. Many people prefer BHAs over AHAs because salicylic acid is very closely related to aspirin (or acetylsalicylic acid to medical professionals). This makes BHAs less irritating than AHAs.
Picking the Right Exfoliant
But what does all of this mean to you? How do you pick the right exfoliant for your skin? There are several factors to consider.
Mechanical exfoliants are arguably cheaper, especially when you consider that you probably have everything you need to achieve your goals in your kitchen. But a mechanical exfoliant won’t perform as well as a chemical exfoliant if you have sun-damaged skin, excessively oily skin, acne or blemishes, or rosacea.
I recommend a home-made mechanical exfoliant once to twice a week for the body, with a daily chemical exfoliant for the face and problem areas. That means, if you have really bad acne on your arms, you’d treat your arms just like you would treat acne on your face. I know, it’s a novel concept.
First, tell me about your skin:
- Do you have any oily areas? If so, are any of those areas accompanied by acne, blackheads, or whiteheads? If you said yes to both questions, then try a BHA.
- Do you have dry areas of skin? Do you have sun damage? (Premature wrinkles, freckles that you didn’t have years ago… dare I say it… liver or “age” spots?) If so, then I recommend an AHA.
- Is your skin what you call “normal” and your friends call “annoyingly perfect”? Do you rarely, if ever, break out? Do you have anything at all resembling a blemish? Yeah, get a mechanical exfoliant. And don’t stand next to me, you’re making me look bad!
Now, this doesn’t mean that, because you said “yes” to question numero uno that you have to slather your entire body with a BHA. I use a BHA for my T-Zone, an AHA for the rest of my face, and a mechanical exfoliant for my body. You can spot-treat! It’s okay — I give you permission.
Mini Exfoliant Guide
You can buy a ready-made mechanical exfoliant, or you can make one of your own. For the body I recommend mixing salt with oil, or sugar with soap, depending on your skin type. If your skin is dry, go for the oil. You can use anything from cheap cooking oil to some really nice, cold-pressed olive oil. (Alternatively, use a nice, simple soap if your skin is oily. If your skin makes enough of its own oil there’s no need to add more!) Just mix the two together and rub into the skin while in the shower. The salt and/or sugar will dissolve, so the only thing you have to worry about is not slipping!
Since the face is usually more delicate than the body, you can try mixing a little bit of baking soda with liquid water. Just gently rub it in, and make sure to rinse completely.
As far as finding a reliable chemical exfoliant, I have a few tried-and-true suggestions.
- Alpha Hydrox 10% AHA Oil-Free Formula
- Neostrata Ultra Skin Smoothing Cream AHA
- Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion “Night” (8%, the sensitive version is 4%)
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control 3-in-1 Hydrating Acne Treatment (2% BHA)
How To Use Exfoliants
Start out using your BHA or AHA once a day. If it is too irritating, try once every other day. Still, irritating? You can try a lower concentration, or you might consult a dermatologist. Oh, and remember: it won’t do you any good to try and repair sun-damaged skin if you don’t wear sunscreen every day. Yes, that means you.
The mechanical exfoliants should be used once or twice a week, depending on your skin.
That’s… basically it for this section. It’s pretty easy.
When NOT to Exfoliate
- You have a really bad sunburn
- Or a really bad rash
- Or you have road-rash, rug burn, rope burn, or any other kind of really bad abrasion injury
- If it seems like every time you exfoliate, your skin hurts a lot
- You exfoliated yesterday, and you want to get more of the dead skin off, but you noticed that some of the areas you scrubbed for four hours are… oozing something…
Another note of caution: Rosacea, Psoriasis, Seborrheic Dermatitis, Seborrhea, and other skin issues should be accompanied with the advice of a qualified medical professional. Last time I checked, that wasn’t me.
By now it should be readily apparent why so many women over-exfoliate. But like everything else, too much exfoliation can be a very bad thing. Drink too much water and you’ll be in the bathroom all day. Eat too many carrots and your skin will look like a faux tan gone wrong. Exfoliate too much and your skin will be raw and painful. I know, I know. Beauty is painful. But beauty shouldn’t make you look and feel worse!