What You Need to Know About Exfoliation

What’s that saying about cracking an egg?

Ah, yes: There’s more than one way to do it!

In that way, exfoliating your skin is like cracking an egg. (Except, you know, without the whole mess all over your kitchen and those tiny shards of shell that insist on lodging themselves into your pancake batter no matter how long you fish after them with your spoon.)

Anyhow. Point?

Cracking eggs. Exfoliation. More than one way to accomplish both!

And in the case of exfoliation, you have two options to reveal your glowing skin underneath–by using a chemical or physical exfoliant.


What is Chemical Exfoliation?

In short, chemical exfoliation relies on an acid of some sort to encourage the cell turnover on your top layer/s of skin. Over the counter, this is usually achieved with products containing an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or beta hydroxy acid (BHA).

According to experts, AHAs include lots of different types of acids–glycolic, lactic, malic, mandelic. And BHAs include salicylic acid.

Both will help to remove the surface layer of dead skin cells, but only doctor-grade chemical peels (usually done in office) will immediately remove a serious layer of skin. With the over-the-counter products, expect to use them for a week or two before noticing a serious difference.

What is Physical Exfoliation?

Physical exfoliation is the removal of dead skin cells using a product that physically removes them–like a scrub, microdermabrasion or dermaplaning.

Although there are at-home tools for microdermabrasion, it’s probably advisable to go with a professional for your first go-round.

And then there’s dermaplaning, which is basically face shaving done by a professional. And yes, even girls can do this. (This girl does!) It’s less about removing hair from the skin–although it will accomplish that, too, so say goodbye to your peach fuzz!–and more about removing that top layer of dead skin. I am obviously NOT a professional, but I have come to be kiiiind of obsessed with at-home dermaplaning, and I use these razors a couple times a week. All I will say so that you don’t throw up your lunch a little bit in your mouth is that seeing that top layer of skin flake off is kind of addicting. (Go ahead, judge.)

No matter what type of exfoliation you choose, here are a few things to know:

It Does Give You a Glow…

When you find the right exfoliating product or treatment, your skin will be smoother–reflecting light a little better and allowing for smoother application of makeup. That’s the goal of any exfoliation–to make you look smoother, and maybe with a little glow.

…But It Doesn’t Work Miracles

Exfoliation can help with making your skin look smoother and overall healthier. But it can’t perform miracles.

Case in point: If you see a product that advertises “shrinking pores,” run. Okay, maybe don’t run, but just know that you’re probably being had. Pores don’t shrink with the application of a topical ingredient. A good product (typically one with a BHA) can really clean out your pores, which may give the appearance of smoother skin–therefore the look of smaller pores–but shrinking those guys back down to childhood size? Not gonna happen.

You shouldn’t turn to an exfoliating product or procedure and expect to walk out with ? Brand ? New ?Face. If you’re using an over-the-counter product, it can take a week or two to see results.

If you do an in-office chemical peel with your dermatologist, that’s a different story. But anything you’re doing yourself, give it some time.

Either Way, Beware the Sun

Many chemical exfoliators can make your skin a little red immediately upon, and following, application. Translation: Don’t use a seriously exfoliating product and expect to slap on makeup and walk out the door right away.

Some acids also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, so using a good sunblock the following day is a must! You don’t want to go through the process of exfoliating dull skin only to go out in the sun again right away and make it spotty again!

To be on the safe side, use AHA lotions at night. There is evidence to suggest alpha hydroxy acids can make your skin sensitive to sunlight, possibly leading to sunburn or spotting. So slather on that SPF! (Here are my favorites.)

There’s no ingredient that interacts with your skin when you do a physical exfoliation, but your skin will still be tender after a physical exfoliation, so a good sunblock even after that is also a must.

There Are Lots of Benefits to Exfoliating

In addition to improving the overall appearance of your skin, it’s thought that exfoliation also allows the active ingredients in your beauty products to penetrate more deeply, giving better results.

Here are some things you can expect after starting a good exfoliation routine:

  • Smoother makeup application
  • Brighter skin
  • A noticeable glow
  • Reduction in the appearance of fine lines

…But Don’t Overdo It

Most experts agree, two to three times per week is enough exfoliation. You can’t constantly be chipping away at your top layer of skin and expect your skin to maintain its health. So on the days when you’re not exfoliating, be super gentle on your skin and let it recover as much as you can.

And a word about overdoing powerful ingredients: New research is showing that it’s important to have certain healthy bacteria strains present on your skin, and over-scrubbing or over-exfoliating can end up working against your the health and integrity of your skin. So remember–everything in moderation, including exfoliation!

And if you’re inclined to add a few more good bugs back onto your face after you’ve exfoliated, consider this product, which can be added into any skincare routine. Just make sure you use it as the very last step in your routine–after everything else!

Exfoliating Products I Love



Do you have a favorite exfoliating product? Tell me more in Comments below!

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P.S. More on my good bacteria skincare products, and why I love using Mother Dirt products. (Not sponsored!)

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