Beauty Lessons: Exfoliation

There are two trains of thought surrounding exfoliation; either you’re scared of it or you’re a face-scrubbing demon. While in principle, at-home exfoliation can be a safe and helpful skincare practice, there are a few things you should know so that you don’t damage or irritate your skin.

As cells in your face make their way to the surface over their lifecycle, they die and become saturated with keratin, or skin debris. Keratin is important because it protects your skin from the elements but the shedding of that outer layer can unclog pores, improve skin luminosity, and even out skin tone and pigmentation. It’s important to note that exfoliating scrubs are not a replacement for a cleanser. While they remove some oil and slough off dead skin, most formulas are not designed to remove makeup and grime. 


There are two main types of exfoliators used in skincare: chemical and mechanical. Shaving and hair removal can also remove dead skin but I wouldn’t recommend women shaving their faces for the skincare benefits.

Mechanical exfoliators manually remove dead skin cells with an abrasive substance such as shells, salt, or sugar. Applicators such as facial brushes, loofahs, and sponges also fit into the mechanical category. The particles are suspended in a cream or gel and should be applied in a soft circular motion. Be weary of products containing harder substances such as apricot pits and walnut shells as they should only be used on rough areas of the body such as feet and elbows. Also, if you have sensitive or dry skin, stay away from products containing pumice, which is crushed volcanic rock, as they may be too harsh. If you’re new to exfoliation or have sensitive skin, opt for a product such as Origins’ Modern Friction $37.50 which is produced without a lot of the harsh chemicals in other scrubs. 

Chemical exfoliators loosen the connectors between the skin cells to allow them to wash off easily. These usually include acids such as alpha hydroxyl, beta-hydroxyl, and salicylic, or sometimes fruit enzymes such as citric acid. If you’re just starting out with chemical face peels, opt for an easy to use product such as Dr. Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta Face Peel $78. 

There are many dangers of over-exfoliation that can far outweigh the benefits. Exfoliating your face can increase sun sensitivity by up to 45% so it’s very important that if you exfoliate, especially during the summer months, you must wear a broad spectrum sunscreen. Many of the indicators of over-exfoliation are simple. If it hurts, stop. If your skin has changed texture dramatically – for example gone from oily to very oily or normal to dry – stop using the product. Never use a body exfoliator on your face, as the particles are usually too hard for the delicate facial skin. Over-exfoliation can also cause severe dryness and irritation because your skin doesn’t have the time to restore it’s natural oil balance. While you think you’re combating acne or unven tone, your skin will rebel and you may end up with worse skin than when you started.

One of the most common mistakes in skincare is shocking the skin with a new product. Don’t buy a product one day and use it every day thereafter. You have to gradually introduce a new product into your skincare regimen or else you may not get the results that you seek.