I’ve already talked about why exfoliating is so important, so I won’t repeat myself too much. But you should definitely exfoliate once or twice a week to keep your skin clean and remove build-up of dead cells and dirt.
Exfoliants keep your skin clean and bright by clearing dead skin cells, dirt and debris from your pores.
For that, you should use a mix of physical exfoliants (except if you have sensitive skin – then skip these!) and chemical exfoliants. Don’t use them together, but switch it up throughout the week.
Usually a granular scrub with small particles that clean the surface of your skin, scrubbing all dirt off. The particles are usually oatmeal, nut shells, fruit bits, sugar or other organic pieces. The larger the grain, the harsher it is on the skin. Fine grains are best as they gently scrub dirt out of pores without leaving tears on the skin. Do your best to stay away from microbeads, for your skin and especially for our environment. Also, only use smooth bits – anything with jagged edges will cause tiny micro tears in your skin. Ground coffee is often used in homemade scrubs, but is too harsh on your skin (even if it doesn’t feel that way).
The two main exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA). AHA works mostly on the surface of the skin, removing the “glue” that holds dead skin cells together to make it easier to remove them with a cleanser the next time you cleanse your skin. You still use it after a cleanser though, as it takes time to work its magic. If you apply it at night, you’ll get the effect when you clean your face in the morning. One more thing: AHA also makes your skin more vulnerable to sunlight, so either use it in the evening or, if you use it in the morning, make sure to wear enough sunscreen and don’t stay in direct sun for too long.
BHA works deeper into the skin, removing dirt and debris from your pores, making it especially useful if you have oily skin or are prone to acne. Still, don’t wash it off immediately. Like conditioner for your hair, it needs to stay on your skin for some time to work. (But instead of a few minutes, you leave it on for a day/night.)
Also read: Are You Using Toners Correctly?
So, what kind of exfoliant should you choose? Let’s quickly go over the different skin types and what’s best for each:
Exfoliants for oily skin
BHA, especially salicylic acid, are best to help regulate oil production and prevent breakouts by keeping your pores clean. Avoid physical exfoliants if you have active breakouts, otherwise you might burst them and spread bacteria all over your face.
Exfoliants for dry skin
Be careful when exfoliating dry skin, so you don’t strip too much of your skin’s natural moisture barrier and oil (which you already have so little of). Use both AHAs and BHAs, but make sure to always hydrate and moisturize after exfoliating. A serum with hyaluronic acid is great for deep hydration of your skin after a good exfoliation.
Exfoliants for sensitive skin
Especially with sensitive skin, you need to carefully test every new exfoliator on a smaller spot before using it on your whole face. Since your skin is at its most vulnerable during exfoliation, an allergic or sensitive reaction to one of the ingredients would be pretty strong. Don’t use harsh physical scrubs and start with low concentration chemical exfoliants, carefully working your way up. Often, you won’t need a highly concentrated product to get good results, so sticking with gentle products will be better for your skin.
If you want to know more about exfoliants and all the other skin care products, explained as simply as here, check out my book Skincare on a Budget! It’s all about helping you achieve glowing skin without investing a ton of time or money into skincare.