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How to Exfoliate: Types of exfoliation, benefits, and tips

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Today’s skin care products have an incredible ability to improve the health and aesthetics of your skin thanks to advances in ingredient research and development. And while serums and creams formulated with peptides, green tea, hyaluronic acid and other potent ingredients will have a measurable effect on your skin (we wouldn’t carry products like A-Firm-Ative peptide serum or Revital-Eyes firming eye cream if we felt otherwise!), getting those results requires patience.

If you want to see improvements in the health and appearance of your skin without the wait, exfoliation is where it’s at.

We’ve talked about exfoliation on the blog before and if you want to read a longer overview, click over to Exfoliation 101 – A Must Read for Those Unsure About this Skin Care Step . Today we want to revisit the topic with just the key takeaways of why exfoliation is beneficial, the different types, and when each should be used.

First, let’s quickly tell you about some of the benefits of exfoliation:

  1. As we age and as our skin experiences damage (like that caused by sun exposure), our skin’s natural process of cellular regeneration slows and becomes less efficient. Exfoliation essentially jump-starts this process.
  2. Sensitive skin is often the result of skin that is not functioning properly. Exfoliation helps to normalize skin function.
  3. One of the four main causes of acne is abnormally “sticky” skin cells that don’t slough off properly, thereby clogging pores. Exfoliation addresses this cause of acne.
  4. Enlarged pores are often due to build-up of dead skin cells and sebum in the pores. By unclogging pores, exfoliation helps them to appear smaller.
  5. When dead skin cells (keratin) build up on the surface of our skin, our complexion looks dull, fine lines are more pronounced and our texture is less than optimal. Exfoliation helps to soften skin, create a more even complexion and reduce the appearance of fine lines while giving it an instant glow.
  6. If you use self-tanner, exfoliation helps your artificial tan appear more even, natural and will help it to last longer.
  7. If you have post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, like those left after blemishes have healed, or sun spots, exfoliation helps to break up pigmented skin cells and, with time, can help hyperpigmentation to fade.

Skin exfoliation can happen through two methods:

Chemical exfoliation, which uses acids to remove keratin. While the idea of using acid to dissolve layers of dead skin sounds a bit scary, we promise you that chemical exfoliation is a wonderful thing. In fact, when a well-formulated product is used, this form of exfoliation is not only incredibly effective but also very gentle to the skin.

Chemical exfoliators rely on alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to dissolve the intercellular cement that holds dead skin cells together. For best results a product with a pH of 2.0 – 4.0 should be used – a level that will make a positive improvement in the skin but not too strong that it will cause harm. Lexli AloeGlyC® is a glycolic acid exfoliator that has been met with rave reviews because of its pH, which is similar to that of a physician-strength chemical peel, and its base of organic, pharmaceutical-grade aloe vera, which counteracts the potential for burning or inflammation. (Learn more about why aloe vera is good for skin .)

When to use this form of exfoliation:

We recommend that you use a chemical exfoliator regularly, regardless of your skin type. While traditional chemical exfoliators are recommended for use just a few times each week, those who use Lexli AloeGlyC® can use the product daily – and up to twice-daily.

Mechanical exfoliation, which requires physical force to remove dead skin cells. Keep in mind that this form of exfoliation requires significant and/or repetitive physical force to effectively reduce the build-up of keratin (dead skin cells). For that reason, mechanical exfoliation is an ineffective form of at-home exfoliation.

Ever notice that the lower half of men’s faces tends to look youthful? This is because of shaving, a mechanical form of exfoliation. Other forms of mechanical exfoliation include professional treatments like microdermabrasion and laser resurfacing, as well as the use of facial sponges and rotary cleansing tools at home. Products that are marketed as scrubs and polishes tend to fall into the mechanical exfoliation category, as they use an abrasive ingredient to abrade keratin.

When to use this form of exfoliation:

Mechanical exfoliation is great for getting immediately softer skin and reducing the appearance of flaky patches. However, mechanical exfoliation isn’t a very effective form of exfoliation and requires consistency (as in shaving) and/or physical force to get results. Because of this, we don’t recommend that you turn to mechanical forms of exfoliation as your main source of at-home skin exfoliation. Rather, we consider mechanical exfoliation a nice accompaniment to regular chemical exfoliation. If you do use facial scrubs or polishes, we recommend limiting their use to just a few times each week.

Finally, a few notes of caution:

  • Chemical exfoliation makes the skin extremely sensitive to sun exposure. (Think about it – you’ve removed the outermost layer of dead skin cells and exposed the fresh, new skin cells beneath.) Therefore, sunscreen is an absolute must when you’re exfoliating.
  • Certain mechanical exfoliators (scrubs), like those that use crushed nut shells, should be avoided. These harsh ingredients can create microscopic tears in the skin and result in lasting damage.
  • The skin of many individuals needs time to adjust to a regular chemical exfoliation practice. Therefore, we advise starting slow by first buffering the product with moisturizer (half exfoliator/half moisturizer mixed together). When your skin can handle a full-strength application, work up to the product’s recommended frequency.
  • During the period of time when your skin is adjusting to chemical exfoliation (first few weeks of use), you may experience side effects, including increased breakouts, increased redness, and flaking. If these side effects don’t subside within three weeks, discontinue use of the product.
  • Some individuals truly do have sensitive skin and may find that chemical exfoliation is just too much for them. If you find your skin feeling uncomfortable even when buffering an exfoliator with moisturizer, discontinue use.

We’d love to answer any questions you have about exfoliation. Feel free to post them in the comments or send us a direct message to and one of our skin care experts will offer a personal response.

Simple Skincare, Beautiful Skin: A Back-to-Basics Approach
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