How to Exfoliate Skin
How Exfoliation Works
Skin naturally sheds billions of skin cells each day. When this natural shedding slows or stops due to sun damage, dry skin, oily skin, genetics, or different skin disorders, the results are unmistakable: dull, dry, or flaky skin; clogged pores; blemishes; white bumps; and uneven skin tone. Using an exfoliant steps in to help put everything in balance again. When you gently get rid of built-up skin cells you can undo clogged pores, stop breakouts, smooth out wrinkles, even make dry skin become a thing of the past!
Exfoliating Can Make You Look Instantly Younger
How is that possible? Think about it in comparison to the skin on your heels before you get a pedicure. The built-up, dead layers of skin on your heels usually looks dry, rough, discolored, scaly, and lines are really obvious. Once that layer is removed, your heels immediately look smooth and unwrinkled! Of course, what causes calluses on your feet is different than what causes skin cells to build up on your face, but the same benefit of exfoliating heels holds true for your face; you just have to be far gentler. With well formulated AHA or BHA exfoliants, that's easy to do!
What's The Difference Between AHA and BHA Exfoliants?
Great question! When properly formulated, both AHAs and BHA are brilliant options for exfoliating the surface of skin. Both AHA and BHA work to reduce wrinkles, stimulate collagen, and firm skin but each has its special qualities you'll want to consider when deciding which one to use:
- AHAs are preferred for sun-damaged and dry skin because they exfoliate on the surface of skin and have the added benefit of also improving moisture content.
- BHA is preferred for oily, acne-prone skin and for treating blackheads and white bumps because BHA can get through the oil that's clogging your pores, normalizing the lining of the misshapen pore that contributes to acne.
- BHA has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial action. Those are two more reasons to use a BHA exfoliant if you have acne or sensitive, reddened skin.
- BHA is preferred for those struggling with rosacea. Not everyone with rosacea can tolerate an exfoliant, but it is wise to experiment with a BHA product to see how your rosacea responds. It is quite likely you'll see less redness and a smoother, more even skin with fewer breakouts.
If your skin is sun-damaged and you're also struggling with acne or clogged pores, add a BHA product to your routine. If you'd like to use an AHA and BHA at the same time, that is an option, though not really necessary. Some people find they work well when they're applied at the same time, but if you want to give this a try it is best to apply them separately, one during the day and one in the evening.
How Do I Use an AHA or BHA Exfoliant?
- You can apply an AHA or BHA product once or twice a day.
- You can also apply either of these around the eye area but not on the eyelid or directly under the eye.
- Apply the AHA or BHA product after your face is cleansed and after your toner has dried.
- Once the AHA or BHA has been absorbed, you can apply any other product in your routine, such as moisturizer, serum, eye cream, sunscreen, and/or foundation.
- If you're using a topical prescription product such as Renova, other retinoids, or any of the topical prescription products for rosacea, apply the BHA or AHA first.
- The Paula's Choice Research Team's complete list of the best AHA and BHA products is available on Beautypedia.
Should I Use a Scrub to Exfoliate?
Scrubs are certainly an option for exfoliating your skin, but they have limitations you don't have to worry about with an AHA or BHA exfoliant. Scrubs only deal with the very top, superficial layer of skin while most of the unhealthy, built-up skin cells are beyond the reach of a scrub. What is most problematic is that many scrubs have a rough, coarse, uneven texture that can cause skin damage by tearing into the skin as it abrades away the surface, causing tiny tears that damage the skin's barrier. Scrubs often cause more problems than they could possibly solve.
If you do want to use a manual scrub, you can simply use a gentle washcloth with your daily cleanser, which works just as well to exfoliate the surface of skin as any cosmetic scrub you can buy. As a bonus, washcloths are softer (thus gentler) and of course they don't contain pore-clogging ingredients that oily, acne-prone skin doesn't need.
Is it Possible to Exfoliate Too Often?
Exfoliating your skin is great, but how often to use one that works best for your skin type takes experimenting. It is possible to overdo it, and your skin will tell you if you've gone too far. For some people once a day works best, for others every other day, or once a week. However, exfoliating does not negatively affect how healthy skin cells are generated in the lower layers of skin. If anything, exfoliating unhealthy dead skin cells on the surface of skin can improve collagen production, increase skin's ability to hold moisture, and allow pores to function normally!
Find the Best Exfoliant
Now that you know the many ways an AHA or BHA exfoliant can improve your skin, all that's left to do is find the one that works best for you! You're on your way toward brighter, smoother, more radiant skin that will look younger, not to mention be free from acne, blackheads, and bumps. For guaranteed results, check out the state-of-the-art AHA and BHA exfoliants from Paula's Choice or our recommendations from other lines in the Beautypedia Reviews section of this site.
(Sources: Journal of Cosmetic Science, June 2008, pages 175–182, and March-April 2006, pages 203–204; Free Radical Biology and Medicine, May 17, 2008; Archives of Dermatologic Research, April 2008, pages S31-S38, and June 1997, pages 404–409; Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, March 2007, pages 59–65, and September 2006, pages 246–253; International Phytotherapy Research, November 2006, pages 921–934; Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery, May-June 2006, pages 356–362; Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, May 2006, pages 283–289; Journal of Dermatology, January 2006, pages 16–22; International Journal Cosmetic Science, February 2005, pages 17–34; Experimental Dermatology, January 2005, pages 34–40, and April 2003, Supplemental, pages 57–63; Cancer Letters, December 2002, pages 125–135; Cosmetic Science, September-October 2002, pages 269–282; European Journal of Dermatology, March-April 2002, pages 154–156; Dermatologic Surgery, May 2001, page 429, and May 1998, pages 573–577; and British Journal of Dermatology, February 2001, pages 267–273.)