What does exfoliating do?Simply put, exfoliating helps to whisk dead skin cells from the skin's surface, encourages healthy cell turnover and consequently leads to brighter, softer and smoother skin.
Skin follows a cycle of naturally shedding dead cells every 30 days or so, but if those cells aren't removed, skin is left dry, flaky, and dull. Exfoliating helps to speed up that process, leaving radiant skin that reflects light better.
How should you exfoliate?The main two methods of exfoliating are mechanically with brushes, pumice stones or scrubs containing coarse, abrasive particles such as apricot kernels, or chemically with exfoliating acids and enzymes.
Chemical exfoliants loosen the bonds between dead skin cells and the skin’s surface. As scary as this sounds, they’re not industrial chemicals but rather plant-derived acids that cause a chemical reaction in the skin and dissolve the ‘glue’ that keeps the dead cells sticking to the surface. Surprisingly it's a far gentler way to remove dead skin than using an abrasive scrub.
Further advantages of hydroxy acids is that they’re anti-inflammatory so work on lightening pigmentation and controlling acne, and are also humectants, meaning they draw water into the skin keeping it hydrated.
Chemical exfoliants include:
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) – these include lactic, malic, mandelic, phytic and glycolic acids. Sensitive skins should stick to lactic, mandelic and malic acids, while phytic acid is the gentlest of all.
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs) – there is only one of these – salicylic acid – which is particularly recommended for acne prone and congested skin and along with exfoliating the top layer, also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Polyhydroxy Acids (PHAs) – these include lactobionoic and gluconolactone acids, and although similar to AHA, their molecular size is larger which means they do not penetrate as deeply. They work to gently exfoliate the uppermost layer of the skin so are ideal for reactive and sensitive skin types.
- Enzymatic exfoliants – these use enzymes - usually derived from fruits such as pineapple or other botanicals such as seeds - to literally break down the keratin in the top layer of the skin and dissolve the dead skin cells, rather than working deep in the pores like acids. Since enzymes literally 'digest' the dead skin cells, they won’t over exfoliate, making them a good choice for sensitive skins.
Can you over exfoliate?It is possible to over exfoliate by scrubbing too hard – you may also have heard horror stories of acids leaving skin red, irritated and inflamed. However, this is usually due to using the wrong acid for your skin condition, or using too many different acids.
How to use a scrub free exfoliantAcids usually appear in skin toners which are wiped over the skin after cleansing or in skin lotions that are left on the skin; enzyme based products can be in mask or cream format. Initially it’s best to go slow and use no more than twice a week – also check that the product isn't causing redness or irritation before stepping up usage.
Here are some of our favourite scrub free exfoliating products: