For years I’ve religiously exfoliated – everywhere – well almost everywhere. So I guess you could say I’ve earned my scrubbing stripes. I couldn’t imagine not exfoliating. However, for a number of people I’ve spoken to, exfoliation doesn’t factor in their skincare regime – anywhere. They believe it’s just one more step in an already exhaustive list of beauty chores to be completed and for what? A few days of smoother feeling skin?
Yes, at the heart of it, exfoliation does deliver smoother feeling skin and that may not be enough to encourage people to do it. But, there are so many further benefits of exfoliation and there are a number of simple, affordable and may I say surprising ways to incorporate it into your routine that if you skip it, you really are missing out.
Let’s start with the science part…
Your skin undergoes a natural cell turnover process. New cells are continuously generated at the dermis (the layer below your outer layer of skin). These cells rise to the epidermis (the surface of your skin) and make their way to skin cell heaven (as in – they die). These dead skin cells fill-up with keratin and gradually shed to make way for the next round of new skin cells.
So why should you exfoliate and what are the benefits?
As we get older the natural cell turnover process slows. Which means the dead cells stick around for longer and can cause a number of unwanted skin concerns such as dryness, dullness, break-outs, blocked pores to name but a few.
Exfoliation helps to speed up this process and throws in a few extra benefits for good measure.
Exfoliating can help to:
- Fight acne & break-outs
- Clear pores
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines
- Brighten your skin
- Better absorb your other skincare products – such as serums and moisturisers – enabling them to be more effective
- Create a more even self-tan
- Create a better base for your makeup
- Prevent ingrowing hair
- Remove dandruff
- Prevent or reduce calluses
Quite a few benefits are there not?
As you may have already noted, exfoliation isn’t just confined to your face. You can also exfoliate your body and specific areas such as your scalp and feet.
Let’s look at each of these areas in a little more detail…
I believe you now know why you should exfoliate your face. So let’s start with the different options available to you.
Facial exfoliation is usually completed with either a physical/mechanical exfoliant (such as a scrub or a brush) or a chemical exfoliant.
Where the advice used to be – scrub and polish within an inch of your life – scrubs are now increasingly falling out of favour for a few reasons:
- They are more abrasive so can cause damage and irritation to the skin
- There is a higher margin for error when using one
- They are viewed as bad for the environment for containing micro-beads (however the sale of products containing micro-beads is now banned in the UK )
For some though, you can’t beat the feel of a good scrub. If this is you, don’t despair there is a right way to use a face scrub!
How to use a face scrub:
- Be gentle! You do not want to use a heavy hand when applying this product
- Use small circular motions across the entire face
- Be extra careful around the delicate eye area
- Rinse with luke-warm water. Hot water may irritate your face post-exfoliation
Chemical exfoliators on the other hand are the products of the moment. Alpha or beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid dissolve cells to help along the natural exfoliation process. Despite their names (acid never sounds friendly and approachable does it?) they are actually far more gentle to your skin than their physical exfoliating counterparts.
In essence they work by un-gluing the dead skin cells. They often quite simply involve the gentle sweeping over of a saturated cotton pad to achieve the same (although some would argue enhanced) result.
Many believe chemical exfoliators offer greater benefits to facial scrubs. They can help to stimulate collagen production, firming up your skin and working to reduce wrinkles.
Chemical exfoliation can be done at home but you can also head to your local beauty salon for a more powerful glycolic peel.
“Glycolic facial peels (around 20-30%) achieve many benefits and are great for people concerned about hyper pigmentation -the dark spots caused by sun damage – and acne scarring. They are far gentler than some mechanical techniques which can tear skin and cause inflammation as peels work by dissolving the bonds that bind dead skin to the surface of our skin. They work by healing our skin from within using and stimulating our own skin cells and collagen.”
Good to know: Regardless of whether you opt for a physical exfoliator or a chemical one, always cleanse your skin first. Exfoliators shouldn’t be used to remove makeup. Plus you’ll weaken their efficacy – so be sure to cleanse before you exfoliate.
Top Tip: If you don’t want to use an actual exfoliating product, use a soft flannel soaked in luke-warm water with a touch of your regular cleanser and gently wash your face with this. How’s that for a free and easy way to slough off dead skin cells?
Remember not to rub too hard with the flannel and to regularly wash it in order to minimise the potential for bacteria growth.
How often should you exfoliate your face?
This is completely down to the product you choose to use – some chemical exfoliators can be used daily. But when it comes to more traditional face scrubs, I would advocate not more than twice per week, ensuring you leave a break between exfoliations for skin recovery.
We rarely give as much attention to the skin on our body as we do our face, but although tougher, it still deserves (and requires) some TLC from us.
As mentioned before, exfoliating can help prevent or reduce break-outs (back acne anyone?) prevent ingrowing hairs (especially helpful if you wax or shave) and create a smooth canvas to absorb self-tan.
Due to the larger area to cover, exfoliating the body is usually done with a scrub rather than a chemical exfoliant. The skin of the body is more robust – so whilst you still shouldn’t scrub like you hate yourself – you don’t need to use as gentle a product as you would for your face.
Alternatively you can always consider the use of an exfoliating mitt (tread a bit carefully with these as they can be harsh but do work wonders), a loofah, or again even the good old flannel. These can be used in conjunction with your regular body wash.
All of the above can be done during your regular shower/bath time.
Dry brushing is another (often raved-about) body exfoliation option, which if you have a spare 5-minutes pre-shower can make your skin glow. Plus the boost in circulation stimulated by exfoliating with the dry brush has been reported to help reduce the appearance of cellulite. The Body Shop has a good article on the benefits of dry brushing which you can read here.
TOP TIP give rough skin areas such as elbows and knees a bit of extra attention when exfoliating.
For an extra indulgent body exfoliation treat head to your local beauty therapist or spa for a full-body polish followed with a massage of essential oils – heaven!
How often should you exfoliate your body?
Again this depends on the product and/or the method, but once or twice a week should be sufficient. Be sure not to exfoliate immediately before or after you wax or perform any type of hair removal.
Keep in mind that incorporating body exfoliation into your weekly routine need take up no additional time (you can occasionally switch in a scrub instead of a shower gel) or additional money (just by applying your regular shower gel with a flannel)
Feet can definitely fall within the ‘most neglected body area’ category for the majority of people (or anyone who isn’t a chiropodist!)
Left unloved, exceptionally rough, dry skin can form, leading to cracked heals and calluses.
If you routinely exfoliate your feet throughout the year, it will save you time and stress as sandal season approaches.
Immediately post-shower or bath is optimum time to run a foot file over them. However, if this seems like too much additional effort, simply keep a pumice stone in your shower and buff away a bit each time. Or just be sure to include your feet as part of your full-body exfoliation.
Plus running an exfoliating scrub over your feet does feel like a mini-foot massage – so win-win!
How often should you exfoliate your feet?
Around once a week, but some say fortnightly or even monthly is sufficient. I say – if you’ve no irritation or soreness – as regularly as you feel is required.
Did you even know scalp exfoliation is a thing?
Exfoliating the scalp helps to remove excess skin cells, reduce oil and control dandruff, leaving your scalp clearer and your hair shinier.
So if you suffer from dry scalp, oily roots or dandruff this is something you should consider.
Plus massaging the product into your hair provides a really soothing scalp massage which helps you work on your stress-levels too – bonus!
Applied to wet hair in even sections, massage in, leave to work and then rinse out.
The key is to be gentle with your massaging in, you don’t want to damage your hair at the root. But it’s worth the bit of time, effort and care to create an environment new hair will want to spring up in!
How often should you exfoliate your scalp?
If you have a scalp concern such as dandruff, then initially once or twice per week, reducing to fortnightly or even monthly as a maintenance treatment.
It’s important not to over exfoliate the scalp. Scalp masks remove oil from the scalp, if this is done too regularly the scalp will panic and start to over produce oil making your hair even oilier. So every so often will be sufficient.
Finally it’s ultra important to remember these 3 key exfoliation rules:
- Always apply a moisturiser post exfoliation. ALWAYS. Exfoliating can be initially drying and irritating to the skin. Moisturising is required to re-hydrate and soothe. (This rule doesn’t apply to your scalp.)
- One exfoliation product does not do all. Keep products designed for the face, body (feet) and scalp separate. Our skin and its needs are different in each of these areas so it’s important to use a product designed for the appropriate area.
- Wear sunscreen. Our skin post exfoliation is particularly vulnerable and susceptible to sun damage – be sure to apply sunscreen if you are heading out. This includes protecting your scalp too by either wearing a hat or using a hair UV protection spray.
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Do you already include exfoliation as part of your routine? Did you know of all the different ways in which you can exfoliate? Any top exfoliation tips to add? Whether you have questions or comments, get in touch via the comments box below – I’m happy to help and I always love to hear from you!