Many consumers, both men and women, have probably asked themselves “why exfoliate?” After all, it’s an additional step in one’s skincare routine, so it’s important to know why it can be beneficial for the skin (when done properly).
What does “exfoliate” mean? Broadly stated, it involves rubbing a granular substance on the skin to help remove dead cells from the skin. There are many ways to do this: 1) using a loofah or washcloth; 2) using an exfoliating soap or scrub; 3) using a brush; 4) using a chemical (AHA or BHA) peel or other treatment. Exfoliation can be useful as we get older, when our body’s ability to slough off dead skin diminishes. In order to prevent buildup that can lead to skin dullness and clogged pores, exfoliating is a useful addition to a skincare regimen. It need not be done every day to be effective.
There are pluses and minuses to using the above-mentioned methods to remove dead skin cells. Loofahs are difficult to keep clean, for example, and must be disinfected regularly. They should not be shared. Washcloths should be tossed in the washer regularly, as well, but they are easier to keep clean. Exfoliating soaps are easy to use and often contain natural exfoliants like sea salt, sand, clay, oatmeal, etc. Fortunately, the US banned the use of plastic beads in skincare products recently. There are many more earth-friendly alternatives that one can look for in their products, like jojoba beads, walnut shells, or the items mentioned previously.
Sugar scrubs (like our Body Smoother sold here) are gentler than salt scrubs and help to draw moisture into the skin. Body brushes can also be used for “dry brushing” which can improve circulation overall. Choose the product that best suits your type of skin and your lifestyle.
Perhaps the harshest products for sensitive skin are the chemical peels and other Alpha hydroxy or Beta hydroxy acid treatments on the market. Designed to speed cell turnover, they are often administered in a dermatologist’s office. However, many milder DIY treatments are available. It’s important to follow instructions and not over-indulge in these treatments, as they can still cause irritation. They also make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so a good sunscreen is a must. Treatments containing salicylic acid (a Beta hydroxy acid) can also penetrate skin and help with conditions ranging from acne to keratosis pilaris (those annoying bumps on the backs of the arms, etc.)
If you decide to exfoliate regularly, it’s a good idea to start slowly – say, two to three times a week before bedtime. If you notice any sign of irritation, cut back or try a gentler exfoliating product. Moisturize immediately following exfoliation to soothe and lock in moisture. Use a barrier sunscreen when going outdoors to prevent sun damage. And if you notice any unusual changes in your skin that don’t disappear, see a doctor. If you follow these steps, chances are you will be rewarded with smoother, clearer, and younger-looking skin.