The Ins and Outs of Exfoliation

With America's recent ban on plastic microbeads in topical products, most people are taking a second look at what exactly goes into their exfoliating products. What you may not know is that exfoliating products come in all shapes, sizes and textures, and you may not be using the right one for your face.

Physical vs Chemical Exfoliation

Physical exfoliation is what most people are familiar with. Some form of scrub or cleanser containing an abrasive material like salt grains or shea beads (or those dreaded microbeads). Physical abrasion is great for your body. It's easy to use on rough areas like the soles of your feet, your knees and your elbows. For example, our Espresso Scrub uses the grit from coffee, brown sugar and Himalayan pink salt to polish away dead skin and bacteria, while other natural ingredients help to firm and moisturize your skin.

But this form of exfoliation is often too harsh on thinner areas of skin like on your face and neck. Rigid abrasives can cause microscopic tears in your skin, leading to infection, scarring, and breakouts. If you're going to use a physical abrasive on your face, try something like John Master's Organics Jojoba and Ginseng Exfoliating Face Cleanser, which uses gentle jojoba beads to remove dead skin cells. And unlike those plastic microbeads, natural abrasives are able to dissolve without polluting the environment.

Chemical exfoliation is often associated with intensive chemical peels and treatments administered by dermatologists. Therefore, it is not always considered when it comes to your daily routine. However, in low strength formulations, it can actually be a more mild alternative to physical exfoliation. Case and point: Our Enzyme Facial Cleanser is silky and smooth with no physical abrasion to irritate your skin. So how does it work? We use natural enzymes and alpha-hydroxy acids derived from fruits like papaya, bilberry and orange. These enzymes break down and loosen the dirt and dead skin from your face so that they can easily be washed away and down the drain. Generally speaking, these low-strength chemical exfoliants can be used just as often as their physical counterparts.

There are many factors which add up to frequency of how often you should be exfoliating your skin. Common sense dictates that you should always follow the directions on the specific product that you're you're using, but what happens when those instructions are up to interpretation?

1) Season

Depending on the season, and even weather, you'll have to adjust how frequently you exfoliate. Predictably, you should be exfoliating more frequently in a hot, humid climate as opposed to the cold, dry seasons when your skin is more dehydrated and brittle. 

2) Location

Take a minute to think about your surroundings. Someone in the smoggiest area of downtown LA will need a considerably greater amount of upkeep to deal with free radicals damaging their skin than someone in a more rural area of the world. Exfoliate accordingly.

3) Age

The older you get, the less frequently your skin cells are replacing themselves. When I was 12 and just starting to experiment with skin care, I could get away with exfoliating once a week. Now, in my 20's, it's escalated to once a day. By middle age, studies show that your skin's ability to regenerate its cells can decline by 50%. This makes exfoliation crucial to maintaining your skin, but do so with caution. Since mature skin is often more dehydrated and fragile, you have to be careful not to exfoliate too often. It's best to use gentle fruit acid based cleansers and firming peels, starting at once a week.

4) And the most type

People with dry skin are often conditioned to believe they should not exfoliate. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, I've witnessed people with oily skin vigorously exfoliating their faces multiple times a day, as if they were attempting to scrub their sebaceous glands away completely. The truth is, both are erred.

Dry / Sensitive Skin

If you're prone to dry, flaky, or irritable skin, it's best to shy away from overly abrasive exfoliators that can tear your fragile skin. Opt for a gentle alpha-hydroxy acid cleanser which will slough away the dead skin and bacteria without the abrasion. Another trick is to wash your face with a warm washcloth. Washcloths allow you to effortlessly buff your skin with maximum control. Just make sure to wash the cloths in between every use. Try something like Aquis Essentials Exfoliating Washcloth. Start by exfoliating once a week and work your way up from there until you find your comfort zone.

Oily / Acne Prone Skin

Oily and acne prone skin tends to be on the tougher side, which means you have more options. Its best to alternate between a physical and chemical exfoliant to see which one works for you. An exfoliating clay mask can also help balance the excess oil on your face, while simultaneously removing the bad stuff. Try something like the Marble & Milkweed's Cleansing Grains. Having oily/acne prone skin means you should be exfoliating in some shape or form at least 2-3 times per week.


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