You’re cleansing your face twice a day, applying a serum with active ingredients, and using your sunblock religiously. But if you’re not exfoliating, you’re missing an essential component of your skincare routine — one which has many benefits for your skin’s health and appearance, regardless of your skin type.
But when it comes to the delicate skin on your face, exfoliation isn’t as simple as rubbing in a DIY sugar scrub (which can be seriously abrasive). Instead, more gentle and nourishing ingredients are needed to get you the results you want, whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or sensitive skin.
In this guide from Nourishing Biologicals, we’ll go over what it means to exfoliate, how to choose the best exfoliating product for your skin, and the benefits you can reap from doing so.
Read on for your best skin yet!
What Is Exfoliation?
In simple terms, exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin.
You can exfoliate with a granular substance (like salt), a chemical ingredient (like retinol), or an exfoliating tool (like a loofah).
Your skin naturally sheds dead skin cells every 30 days or so. This is known as cellular turnover, as it gets rid of old skin cells and replaces them with new ones.
But this process can get impaired, leading to a build-up of dead cells on your skin. The result? Flakiness, dry patches, and clogged pores. Hardly the way we want to face the world.
Regular exfoliation can help with this. An exfoliator can reveal the smooth, bright, and radiant complexion that lives underneath by sloughing off dead skin cells and supporting regular skin cell turnover.
But in order for this to happen, exfoliation must be done right. In the next section, we’ll go over the different types of exfoliators and explain which ones you should choose for the best results.
What Are the Different Types of Exfoliants?
While your options for exfoliants are endless, they can all be roughly grouped into one of the following two types:
1. Physical Exfoliators
Most people are first introduced to exfoliation with physical exfoliants. These include anything that requires manual scrubbing or rubbing (think body brushes, loofahs, and scrubs).
The biggest advantage of mechanical exfoliation methods is how easy it is to get your hands on them. If you don’t have any exfoliants at home, you can make one in a breeze with salt, sugar, or ground coffee, or simply use a wet washcloth to scrub in gentle, circular motions.
Physical exfoliants also offer immediate results. If you wake up with flaky skin, you can scrub for as little as 30 seconds and watch your complexion transform before your eyes.
But there’s a reason why some dermatologists are a little cautious when it comes to physical exfoliants. In some cases, using them can cause microtears or disrupt the delicate skin barrier, leading to water loss. In the long run, this can make your skin more sensitive, irritated, and dry.
But if it’s performed correctly, physical exfoliation is an excellent way to get the benefits of exfoliating. And following up with a nourishing moisturizer, like our Miracular Skin Essence, can help with replacing any lost moisture.
2. Chemical Exfoliation
Chemical exfoliation uses different types of chemicals to dissolve dead skin cells.
Chemical exfoliants can reach deeper layers of the skin, such as the dermis, where collagen and elastin production takes place.
You can buy chemical exfoliants over the counter. However, many popular types — like tretinoin, which offers seriously impressive results — must be prescribed by a dermatologist.
The different types of chemical exfoliants broadly include:
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs): AHAs are a group of water-soluble acids derived from fruit. They include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acid, amongst many others. Basically, if there’s a fruit, there’s probably an acid that can be derived from it.
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs): Unlike AHAs, BHAs are oil-soluble acids. They can penetrate deep into your pores to dry out excess oil, which makes them excellent for those with acne-prone skin. The most well-known BHA is salicylic acid.
- Retinoids: Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives considered the gold standard in anti-aging skincare. They penetrate deep into the skin, supporting proper cellular turnover, which makes retinoids excellent for skin exfoliation. Some retinoids include retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene.
What Does Exfoliating Do? 7 Surprising Benefits
With a good overview of the different types of exfoliants, you might have a rough idea of what they do and what makes them so important.
But some benefits go far beyond the sloughing off of dead skin cells.
Here are seven surprising benefits of exfoliation you may not have known about.
1. Supports Cellular Turnover
Our skin’s cells naturally get replaced every 30 days or so. Through cellular turnover, our skin brings dead skin cells to the surface and replaces them with new ones. But the older we get, the longer this process takes, making our skin look dull, taking away from that ultra-dewy complexion we all strive for.
Well, it’s possible to get that glow back with the right exfoliant. By sloughing off the dead skin on it, exfoliants make room for healthier ones to come to the surface. And if you’re using chemical exfoliants that penetrate deep into the skin — glycolic acid being an excellent option — this process can work effectively and efficiently.
2. Unclogging of Pores
Clogged pores not only look unsightly but can lead to breakouts.
One reason pores clog is that dead skin cells stay on their surface, effectively sealing them in. When our skin’s naturally-produced oils try to escape, they’re blocked from doing so, which can lead them to get “stuck.”
To keep our skin’s natural oils flowing as freely as possible, we want to eliminate those dead skin cells with exfoliation. Keeping the top layer of your skin clear can go a long way in preventing clogged pores.
3. Less Frequent Breakouts
Acne is a complex condition that’s more than skin-deep. However, clogged pores play a significant role in its development. So, by unclogging your pores (with the help of an exfoliant), you can also prevent future breakouts and blemishes.
4. Reduced Hyperpigmentation
Whether your hyperpigmentation comes from sun damage, old pimples, or dark spots, they can take forever to go away on their own (we’re talking months!). Nobody has time for that.
We can’t think of anything better than exfoliation to help fade hyperpigmentation. By speeding up how quickly your skin replaces those damaged skin cells with new ones, you can cut down on how long it takes to see an even complexion.
5. Supports Youthful-Looking Skin
While physical exfoliants (most likely) can’t help here, we know that glycolic acid and retinoids are excellent ingredients for supporting an overall youthful-looking complexion. If you experience any issues in your skin’s texture, exfoliation can help reduce the appearance of these issues.
6. Supports Lymphatic Drainage
Our lymphatic system does a pretty excellent job of draining toxins all on its own. But if it has a lot of work to do (like after a night of heavy drinking), you might wake up feeling puffy and bloated, with your face the first to show the signs.
Well, exfoliating can help stimulate proper circulation in your face, bringing oxygen-rich blood where it’s needed for a glowing complexion. And along the way, it just might help your body get rid of that extra fluid that makes you look puffy.
7. Supports Proper Product Penetration
You spend a lot of money and effort putting together the perfect skincare routine. So, understandably, you want your skincare products to work. Well, it’s hard for your products to be effective if they have to penetrate through layers of dead skin cells.
By exfoliating, you’ll be revealing the living skin cells underneath, which is where you want your products to do the work.
Skin Nourishment Is Even More Important With Exfoliation
Whether you choose to go the physical or the chemical route (or a combination of both), exfoliation is incredibly important. By sloughing off dead skin cells, exfoliating can help increase cellular turnover, unclog pores, even out skin tone, and even help your products work better.
But exfoliants may be a little rough on your skin, leading to some irritation in the beginning. That’s why it’s especially important to nourish your skin with soothing ingredients when you start exfoliating.
At Nourishing Biologicals, our products are made with all-natural botanical ingredients that won’t irritate your skin. Our cleansers, serums, and creams are gentle, soothing, and nourishing — so you can reap all the benefits of exfoliation without the side effects.
Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare | PMC
Skin barrier changes induced by aluminum oxide and sodium chloride microdermabrasion | NCBI
Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety | PMC
Acne: more than skin deep | PMC
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