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How to Exfoliate Without Damaging Your Skin

Nov 29, 2021

Skin Care

One of the staples of skin care, particularly for our faces, is exfoliation. First of all, it’s incredibly satisfying to slough away dead skin cells and be left with soft, glowing skin. But, as many of us have experienced, it’s possible (and also very easy) to go overboard. Exfoliating too much can have negative results, stripping your skin and causing it to get red and irritated, or dry out and start flaking. So how do we find that perfect balance between exfoliating the right amount and harming our skin? First, we need to get a better understanding of what exfoliating your face actually does and how it works.

What actually happens to your skin when you exfoliate?

Exfoliation is the process of removing the top layer of dead skin cells from your face or other parts of your body. By getting rid of this dead layer and exposing your healthy skin underneath, it not only clears skin cells that can trap toxins, dirt, and excess oils, but also allows any products you use to absorb deeper into your skin. This means that your skin care products are more effective and the cycle of new, healthy skin cells replacing old, dead skin cells is strengthened.

Mechanical vs. chemical exfoliation

When we talk about removing the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, this can be achieved in two different ways.

  • Mechanical exfoliation: This method physically removes the dead skin using something like a brush or scrub with abrasive components like sugar or ground nutshells. Mechanical exfoliation also has a long history in cultures across the globe using different abrasive ingredients for centuries.
  • Chemical exfoliation: Chemical exfoliation is a newer concept and does exactly what it sounds like. Instead of scraping or scrubbing off the dead skin, chemical exfoliating uses compounds like hydroxy acids (like Salicylic or Glycolic Acid) to dissolve and shed the cells.
Why is exfoliating important?

Removing the dead cells from your skin has many benefits, including unclogging pores, improving blood flow, encouraging skin turnover, and improving the effectiveness of your skin care products. All of these help keep the skin healthy and clear of dirt and toxins that can cause serious issues — like acne. Clearing the dead skin and deep cleaning your pores also means that your other skin care products can be absorbed deeper and be more effective because they’re not being stopped at the surface by dead skin.

Risks of exfoliating

While exfoliating has a lot of benefits, it also comes with some drawbacks if not done properly. One of the most common mistakes people make is over-exfoliating. This could either be using an exfoliator too frequently or scrubbing too harshly when it’s used. Over-exfoliating causes red, dry, and irritated skin that makes it more susceptible to what we’re trying to prevent in the first place.

By drying out your skin too much, your body will start overproducing oil to compensate for it. In addition, if the abrasive ingredients are used too roughly, it can tear the skin barrier and lead to weakened protection from dirt, bacteria, and other irritants.

Skin type matters

This is also where skin types can really play a role in what results you see from exfoliating. For instance, those with skin conditions like rosacea that make the skin very sensitive to irritation will probably have to be much more careful about exfoliating — if they do it at all. With such a spectrum of skin types from dry to oily (and combination in between), how you exfoliate and approach or layer your skin care will also have a range, so let’s break it down.

How to exfoliate your face without stripping the skin

In general, the key to properly exfoliating is to be gentle, whether it’s with a mechanical or chemical exfoliant. Typically, you should gently exfoliate with small, circular motions using your fingers for about 30 seconds before rinsing your face with warm (not hot) water.

However, there are also other considerations to make sure you’re getting the most out of your exfoliation without stripping and damaging your skin.

  • Dry Skin: While you might think exfoliating isn’t a good idea for dry skin because it can exacerbate things, it’s crucial for removing the buildup of dead and flaky skin. Mechanical exfoliation tends to be more drying, so instead try a chemical exfoliator like Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs). Glycolic Acid can help shed a lot of the dead cells to stimulate cell turnover without being overly drying.
  • Oily Skin: On the other side of the spectrum, mechanical exfoliation is often the more effective route for oily skin. An exfoliating scrub massaged in a circular motion is great for removing the excess oil in addition to the dead skin.
  • Combination Skin: Unsurprisingly, combination skin can need a combination of mechanical and chemical exfoliation. However, it’s important to note that you should never use both types of products on the same day. This can really irritate and strip the skin, so stick to alternating them on a schedule.
  • Sensitive Skin: Because scrubbing and abrasion can be very irritating to the skin, using a mild chemical exfoliant is your best bet. How sensitive your skin is will determine how mild you have to go but Salicylic Acid, a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), is a popular choice.
  • “Normal” Skin: If your skin doesn’t have any complications, you’re basically free to try and choose any type of exfoliator. Whether it’s mechanical or chemical exfoliation, Alpha or Beta Hydroxy Acids, or something completely out of the box, exfoliating can be a very personal ritual and decision. Because this is such a wide-ranging skin type, there’s no “best” ingredient or method because everyone’s skin is so different.

After you’ve exfoliated your face, make sure to put on a hydrating moisturizer to help repair and protect your skin. This will keep it from drying out and will keep it healthy and glowing.

How often should you exfoliate?

So now that we know how to exfoliate, how often should we be doing it to avoid over-exfoliating? This also depends on your skin type, as well as the product you use. Some chemicals can be very powerful, but also might be used in smaller doses to counteract this.

A good rule of thumb, however, is that exfoliating your face two or three times per week is generally effective for most skin. Oily skin may require more frequent exfoliation, while sensitive skin will probably need it to be less frequent to keep irritation in check.

Use a gentle, all-natural exfoliator

No matter what type of skin you have, a gentle exfoliator helps you avoid irritation and stripping your face’s natural oils. Couple that with 100% natural ingredients like Turmeric, Honey, Jojoba, and Neem and you get an effective yet soothing exfoliator and clay mask. Try our Glow Activating Exfoliator and turn your skin care into a ritual today.



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