Exfoliation 101: Why It’s Important and How to Do It Safely
Exfoliation is something that can be easily overlooked in a skincare routine but is arguably one of the most important steps. If you are suffering from chronic dryness, texture concerns, congestion, or dullness, proper exfoliation may be the game changer you’ve been looking for in your routine.
Why Exfoliation is Important
Dead skin cells can’t hold moisture or receive any nutrients from your skincare routine, resulting in dull, rough, or congested skin. Exfoliating removes the top layer of dead skin cells to reveal fresh, soft skin that can easily absorb moisture and nutrients delivered by your products. Our skin naturally removes dead skin cells but this process can be affected by many factors: sun exposure, aging, hormone fluctuations, and vitamin deficiencies. Regular exfoliation helps to encourage this natural cell turnover as well as to brighten, soften, and stimulate collagen production. There are two main ways to aide your skin in exfoliation: physically or chemically. Both fundamentally achieve the same goal but go about it in different ways.
How Physical Exfoliation Works
Physical exfoliation is what most people think of when they think about exfoliating. In this process, you manually buff away dry or dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. Most common are facial scrubs or tools such as a dry brush or sponge. With most physical exfoliants, it’s a good rule of thumb to use light pressure so as not to cause any micro-tears or irritation to your skin.
How Chemical Exfoliation Works
A chemical exfoliant is one that uses different agents to dissolve dead skin cells. There are a few different types that are commonly found in skincare. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) are naturally occurring and typically derived from plant sugars. These are great for exfoliating dry skin because they break up the glue holding skin cells together and they draw moisture to the skin. AHAs are water soluble, so they aren’t able to penetrate very deep into pores.
This leads us to the next common chemical exfoliant, beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). BHAs are oil-soluble so they can go deeper into your skin and pores. These are great for anyone with acne prone, congested, or oily skin because they are can exfoliate within the pores and dissolve oil. Both AHAs and BHAs play well together and many of our chemical exfoliants have a combination of the two for the best results.
The last common chemical exfoliant is enzymes. These are usually from fruit such as papaya and pineapple, which eat away at any dead skin cells that are sitting on the surface of the skin. Enzymes are a great place to start if you are new to exfoliating since they can be gentler than AHAs and BHAs.
Which type of exfoliant is best for your skin?
Physical exfoliation is best for dry, combination, or oily skin. It can be aggravating for sensitive skin, certain types of acne, and skin conditions such as rosacea and psoriasis. Chemical exfoliation can be used by all skin types and is better for sensitive skin depending on the which type is used. Enzyme exfoliators are great for sensitive or reactive skin since they are typically the gentlest form of exfoliation. They are also a great place to start if you are new to exfoliating and then from there, you can build up to stronger exfoliators, such as products with more AHAs and BHAs in them.
This 3-in-1 cleanser, exfoliator, and mask is great for sensitive and reactive skin types who still enjoy a physical exfoliation. The exfoliant in this is 100% natural jojoba beads, which gently massage away dead skin cells, and the oat protein helps soothe inflammation for a very nourishing and softening exfoliation. It can be used as a cleanser for daily exfoliation or a couple times a week as a mask to calm any inflammation and irritation.
This gently detoxifying and brightening cleanser is great for congested, oily, or dull skin. It uses apricot microspheres to provide a satisfyingly gritty physical exfoliation that won’t tear or pull at your skin. It also gives a boost with rose clay and BHAs from white willow bark for some chemical exfoliation.Both help to decongest pores. This product is ideal as a daily cleanser but it can also be used as a twice-a-week treatment to really detoxify and brighten.
The Clean Dirt is different than other exfoliants in that it is a powder, which means you are able to control the texture. This was May’s original cult favorite product and once you use it, you can understand why. When you add water, it foams up to a gritty mousse that delivers micro-dermabrasion results sans toxins. It’s great to use a few times a week to brighten and stimulate your skin’s cellular rejuvenation to reveal the softest your skin has ever felt. For sensitive, inflamed, or dry skin, it mixes well with May’s Honey Mud instead of water to soften the degree of physical exfoliation.
The Sweet Cherry Brightening Enzyme Peel uses a combination of AHA, BHA, and enzymatic exfoliation to brighten and smooth sun-damaged skin. It uses lactic acid (AHA) to not only break up dead skin cells but also to moisturize, firm, brighten, and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Salicylic acid (BHA) helps decongest and the enzyme bromelain, derived from pineapple, works as a powerful exfoliator to remove damaged and dead skin cells to accelerate healing. The enzymes work best when moist, so use a toner to keep this mask damp or use it while in the shower so the steam can activate them. This mask can be a little strong for sensitive skin, so we recommend doing a patch test to see how your skin reacts.
There’s a reason why this mask has a loyal following—it gives skin that much sought after-glow without harsh, skin-stressing chemicals found in traditional peels. This mask is great for congested pores, dull or rough skin. The active BHA and enzyme treatment minimizes the look of pores, detoxifies, and resurfaces the skin’s outer layer, all to restore your skin’s natural glow. For a flash facial at home, layer this mask on top of the Regenerating Cleanser. The enzymes in the cleanser contribute to the complete exfoliation of your skin and give you major glow in only 5 minutes.
This physical and chemical exfoliator hybrid is great for acneic or sensitive skin that many find typical physical exfoliants irritating. This treatment works synergistically with your skin to gently remove dead skin and reset the skin’s natural regenerative process. The walnut shells stir up dead skin while you massage the mask on and then the papaya enzymes dissolve them so all the restorative oils and honey are able to soak into the skin and restore moisture.
When your skin is in need of a refresh and fast, this facial-in-a-jar is the first thing we reach for. This product is a mask-peel-exfoliant all in one that revitalizes, polishes, and purifies congested, dry, or dull skin. The exfoliation is activated by a natural silica, with spherical particles, which loosen up the dead skin cells while the kaolin clay deeply cleanses and further draws out impurities. You’re left with glowing, brighter and lifted skin, all within 5 minutes.
Olivia Boughey, Bethesda Store Educator | April 15, 2019