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Choosing the Right Exfoliant

I had some thoughts this morning and thought I would try to summarize neatly how to choose a good exfoliating product for you skin to use at home. I want to talk about how determine which type of exfoliant is best for your skin type. And how much exfoliation is TOO much?

Exfoliants offer often immediate and long-term improvements for many common issues: from unclogging impacted pores that lead to blemishes, fading sun spots and acne discoloration or simply lessening visible dryness.

An exfoliant is a product with ingredients intended to remove dead cells from the skin’s surface. This reveals a clearer, smoother and more even complexion. When choosing an exfoliant you have 2 types – a chemical exfoliant and a mechanical exfoliant.

  • Chemical exfoliants use acids and enzymes to encourage the turn over of dead skin cells.

  • Mechanical exfoliants use granules, beads, rotary skin brushes (like the clarisonic) to manipulate the product over the surface of the skin removing any blockages and cells.

Chemical Exfoliants

With chemical exfoliants they tend to fall into type main types : AHA and BHA.

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid

  • Beta Hydroxy Acid

To work most effectively at home, an acid must fall within a pH range of 3-4 and be at a concentration of 5%-20%. What I love about chemical exfoliants is that they do the work for you. Meaning, you don’t have to rub and manipulate the skin manually. You put them on and let them work their magic. No fuss.

Who chemical exfoliants are best for: These are good for anyone with clogged pores, blemishes, dryness,fine lines, enlarged pores, dullness, discoloration and/or textured skin. They are perfect for anyone seeking an overall healthier and smoother look for his/her skin. Follow usage directions carefully. However, anyone can safely use acids—even those with rosacea.

NOTE: A tingling sensation may or may not occur when you apply an acid. This is not an indicator of product effectiveness. Rather, a tingling sensation is a result of how your skin’s protective barrier is acting at the time that you use the product. It indicates that the barrier function of your skin is compromised.

Acids can be found in:

  • Cleansers. Acids can make a great addition to both gel and lotion-based cleansers. When massaged over the skin they can quickly dissolve dry cells. Since cleansers are rinsed off fairly quickly, though, you won’t get a lot of exfoliation from them.

  • Liquid toners. These are becoming popular and provide a quick hit of light exfoliation. However, I believe these do not replace the need for a true leave-on formula. This is because water-based products (like toners!) evaporate quickly and won’t penetrate very deep.

  • Masks/Peels. Exfoliating masks are great for that quick treatment. Masks typically only stay on the skin for 5-15 minutes. Therefore, their formulations are stronger since they have to work more quickly. This is a good thing when you want quick results.

Mechanical Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants (aka: facial scrubs) are cream or gel products that contain small particles or beads. When massaged across the skin, they smooth it by lifting off dry, dead skin cells. Other forms of mechanical exfoliants include electric cleansing brushes (Clarisonic) and washcloths. When maneuvered over the face, the bristles and woven fibers can also lift off dead cells.

Mechanical exfoliants make a great complement to chemical exfoliants. Chemicals dissolve and loosen dead cells, but it’s the lifting action that you can get from a physical exfoliator that actually takes them off the surface of the skin. I suggest using them 1-3 times per week for most skin types, whether that’s a scrub, Clarisonic-type brush, or washcloth rubbed firmly over the skin.

Who physical exfoliants are best for: For all skin types, even sensitive skin. The key with facial scrubs and other physical exfoliators is to use a very light pressure. Let the beads gently glide over the skin. People often make the mistake of pushing too hard, which can result in the skin feeling irritated and possibly getting cut.

I hope you found this post to be quick and educational – I would love to know if you learned something new today. As always, please reach out to me if you have any questions.

In Health,


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