All About Exfoliation Guide.
Welcome to Part VIII of our exfoliation guide!
In this section we'll cover how to successfully incorporate a new exfoliant or exfoliants into your routine, and best practices for the various types of exfoliants.
As we won't be covering any specific products, this section is written around the general categories covered in earlier sections of this guide. While we hope this will give you sufficient know-how to get started, or helpful tips & tricks if you already exfoliate, the general nature of the guide cannot supersede specific instructions for a quality product, or medical advice given by a qualified dermatologist.
Beginning or changing your exfoliation routine
As we have repeatedly stated throughout this guide, skin is an organ composed of living cells, and treating it roughly will do damage. For acne prone skin, scrubbing too harshly can actually make acne appear worse by aggravating inflammation. Similarly, older, less-hydrated and slower-renewing skin is delicate, and can easily be burned or scraped by overly-enthusiastic interventions.
It's better to exfoliate skin regularly, with a gentler method than irregularly with a harsher one. This method removes buildup gradually, and prevents it from returning. If possible, aim to exfoliate once or twice a week, and at absolute most three times, but avoid exfoliating daily. This includes daily use of electronic face brushes, or extra-rough face cloths.
If you are just beginning to incorporate exfoliation, be prepared to change both products and frequency several times until you find a system that works and is sustainable. When introducing a new product, pay special attention for any signs of irritation, and remember that symptoms may not appear during or immediately after the use of the product.
Instead, in the first weeks after you introduce a new product or method, you may notice an increase in commonly-recognized signs of irritation like redness and irritation. However, you may also experience other signs of over-exfoliation including skin that becomes drier and flaky, sudden or worsening breakouts, or skin that appears tight & shiny immediately after treatment, but then later becomes overly greasy. The first reaction is most common in dry skin and some types of sensitive skin, but the latter types are likely to occur in other types of sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, and oily skin.
If redness and irritation occur immediately, this is a sign of a relatively severe reaction, and you should stop using the product or method immediately. If you notice more subtle symptoms appearing more gradually, you can opt to either discontinue using the product, or adjust your usage.
For a physical exfoliant, consider:
- switching from dry exfoliation to wet exfoliation (more on this later). This increases lubrication, which makes it more gentle
- introducing a cleanser which also increases lubrication
- pressing more gently
- using the exfoliant less frequently
- checking other products used when you exfoliate for an exfoliation effect. For instance, if you are using a brush on your face, ensure that the cleanser you use before or during exfoliation doesn't also exfoliate. Then check any serums, lotions, toners, etc. used after don't exfoliate.
- always using a moisturizer after you exfoliate. This step is critical. By its nature, exfoliation removes a layer of (dead) skin, which shields lower layers of skin. Once you remove this layer, your skin is quite literally more exposed to the environment, which makes it more susceptible to irritants, to drying out and to sun. Protecting skin post-exfoliation is necessary.
For chemical exfoliants, consider:
- using less of the product at a time
- using the product less frequently
- leaving the product on your skin for a shorter amount of time (see below)
- ensuring that you are not using other products that contain other exfoliants or boosters such as Vitamin C.
- using a toner and moisturizer after exfoliating. Especially if you use an acid-based exfoliant, the product may interrupt your skin's pH balance. Any quality toner will correct your pH balance, and as explained above moisturizer is critical to protecting exfoliated skin.
Pay attention to whether your exfoliant is wash-off or not. We have yet to see a scrub that isn’t wash off, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist. With chemical exfoliants, some are formulated to be left on and others are intended to be washed off. The concentration of the exfoliating agent is usually calibrated accordingly, so follow on-label instructions.
After you have assessed how you are using the product, when you are using it and what other products might be interacting with it, if you continue to see irritation after several weeks, you should consider abandoning it. Throughout this process, keep in mind that the full results of any treatments or changes will take time to manifest. It can take an average of 3 weeks from the event that causes a breakout to the time you see the first visible pimple form. Some line-reducing products may take as much as 6 months of regular use to reach their full benefit. This means that it it may take weeks for an adverse reaction to manifest, but also that it may take as long or longer for adverse reaction to fully dissipate.
If you experience very severe irritation, or if signs of irritation do not subside weeks after discontinuing a product, you should strongly consider visiting a qualified dermatologist.
Considering what new product to add and how to add it
You will get more noticeable, immediate results from physical exfoliation, but a better glow & more long-term effects from chemical exfoliation. This is because you are likely to release more surface skin from physical exfoliation, but you will a deeper effect, and more side benefits, from chemical exfoliation, especially when done regularly.
For face, consider alternating physical and chemical exfoliation, with a bias towards chemical. For instance, you might use a chemical exfoliant once or twice a week, and use a face brush or scrub on a different day once a week, every other week or even once a month.
However, if you are introducing new products, we recommend that you do so one at a time over the course of several weeks for two reasons. The first is that if you experience an adverse reaction, you won't know which of the two products caused it, and it will make it harder to determine which one you will need to adjust usage of or abandon. Secondly, it is possible that you might experience over-exfoliation from the combination itself, rather than from individual products. If this is the case, you will know to increase the amount of time between treatments, or keep only one, if they are introduced individually.
Once you have introduced both products, avoid using chemical and physical exfoliants on the same day, unless you have a product that specifically does both. Such products should be formulated to be gentle enough not to cause over-exfoliation, but this will ultimately depend on product quality and your skin type. (If you have very sensitive skin, such products probably won't be gentle enough, as most sensitive skin does not tolerate most physical exfoliation).
Using your exfoliants
For chemical exfoliants, do not use more than directed, and pay attention to whether you are supposed to soak a cotton ball or apply with fingers. If applying with fingers, try to use your finger tips as this is harder to get out of the bottle, but easier to get onto your skin. In either case, pat gently until liquid is absorbed and do your best to resist the urge to rub. We know it’s tough, but rubbing is likely to just irritate your skin and won’t actually make it exfoliate more.
For physical exfoliants, always use a gentle touch (i.e. do not press). We know it’s tempting, but trust us, less is more! With the exception of the weird world of scrapers, you should also use a circular motion, as though you were polishing whatever bit is getting exfoliated.
Wet or dry: it is possible to exfoliate either wet or dry skin. Exfoliating properly wet (rather than damp) skin is the gentler as water will act as a lubricant, affording your skin some degree of protection. Additionally, when exfoliating wet skin, it is possible to use a cleanser to act as further lubrication. This has the added benefit of doing more to work the cleanser into your skin. If you choose to exfoliate dry skin, it is absolutely critical to use the lightest touch possible to avoid damaging your skin. You will also want to rinse your skin afterwards to remove loosened skin.
If you wax, it is critical that you exfoliate the area regularly to prevent ingrown hairs and irritation. You should not exfoliate after waxing until the skin has calmed down (varies from person to person, but usually at least a few days), and otherwise wax regularly until hair has regrown. If you wax regularly, you should increase exfoliation before you wax again so that skin has the least buildup in the early days when you are unable to exfoliate. However, you should still make sure you are using products appropriate for the area you are waxing (so, face-specific products for face, bikini or face appropriate for bikini, and body appropriate for legs, armpits etc.) If you are unsure, always err on the side of less power than more.
Just because we haven't said it enough times on this page: always moisturize after you exfoliate. Remember, the point of exfoliation is to remove a layer of skin and expose newer fresh skin, which will be more delicate and, well, exposed. Even if you have oily, ingrown hair-, or acne-prone skin, you still want to protect your skin’s moisture content (which, we swear, is a different thing) by applying a protective layer to your skin after you exfoliate.