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Unlock your glow! Everything you need to know about exfoliation

Is your skin dull, dry, or rough? Are you prone to congestion and spots? If so, regular exfoliation could be the key

Have you discovered the benefits of exfoliation? Skin is constantly renewing itself, producing new cells at the bottom of the epidermis which work their way to the surface of your face, then die and are shed. We don’t tend to notice this unless the dead skin cells clump together and come off in flakes.

In simple terms, exfoliation is the process of clearing away the old dead cells and keeping skin looking fresh and clear. In addition to preventing breakouts and acne, regular exfoliation can diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduce visible signs of sun damage and boost the effectiveness of other skincare products, allowing them to penetrate deeper into the skin.

Why should you exfoliate?

As we get older, cells shed more slowly, leaving skin looking dull, drier and uneven in texture. “As we age our skin’s natural ability to shed skin cells slows down, which can lead to dull, flaky and congested looking skin, which can make you look older,” says EV Expert Dr Ross Perry, Medical Director of Cosmedics Skin Clinic. “Cleansing won’t do quite the same job as an exfoliator and actually, the dead skin cells left on the skin can inhibit other products working.”

Keep in mind that skin becomes drier and more sensitive as you grow older, so choosing gentler exfoliants over abrasive physical scrubs can be favourable to delicate skin. If your skin is oily, exfoliation will help clear the pores so they are not blocked by the dead skin cells, leading to breakouts and acne. Dry skin will benefit by regular exfoliation by keeping the surface clear of debris and allowing skincare products to be absorbed more efficiently and evenly.

How often should you exfoliate?

Regular exfoliation is great for your skin as long as your skin is in good health, but it is crucial to exfoliate gently. If your skin is oily, you may need to exfoliate daily or every other day–all other skin types should limit exfoliating at home to once or twice a week.

Ways to exfoliate

Chemical exfoliants or hydroxy acids loosen the bonds or ‘glue’ between dead skin cells and the skin’s surface. The three types of hydroxy acids include alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which include lactic, malic, mandelic, phytic and glycolic acids; beta hydroxy acid (salicylic acid) which is particularly recommended for acne prone and congested skin and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, and polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), which have slightly larger molecules than AHAs and exfoliate the uppermost layer of skin, making them ideal for reactive and sensitive skin.

Enzymes are usually derived from fruits such as pineapple and papaya–they literally break down keratin in the skin’s top layer, and dissolve dead skin cells. Enzymes are ideal for sensitive skin as they don’t penetrate as deeply.

Manual or physical exfoliants include tools such as body scrubs with granules, exfoliating mitts, loofahs, pumice stones and brushes. These need to be used gently as skin can become inflamed.

Topical retinoids are a class of medication derived from vitamin A. Retinoids can help treat sun damaged skin, minimise signs of ageing and treat acne.

What about body exfoliation?

Just like our faces, the skin on our body will also benefit from regular exfoliation to help keep it smooth and allow body lotions to absorb more efficiently. Body exfoliation can include more abrasive products like pumice stones, that you would never use on the more delicate skin on your face, but gentler chemical exfoliation is also an option. Dead skin can build up anywhere, but pay particular attention to areas that tend to be drier such as knees, elbow, feet, thighs, and buttocks.

What about in clinic exfoliation?

A dermatologist can help you decide on the best method or product for your skin, including in clinic treatments such as chemical peels, which have a higher acid concentration than home peels and must be applied and removed by an aesthetic specialist; dermaplaning, whereby a scalpel blade is used to remove dead skin cells and baby hairs from your face, and microdermabrasion, which involves fine crystals used in a handheld device to remove dead skin cells.

Hardworking exfoliators to try 

Zo Skin Health Exfoliating Polish
Magnesium crystals are used in this gentle polish to restore a smooth texture and healthy glow.

Alpha-H Liquid Gold with 5% Glycolic Acid
This award-winning product is clinically proven to improve skin tone, luminosity, skin texture and skin elasticity.

Revision Skincare Brightening Facial Wash
A combination of AHAs and BHAs are combined in this cleanser to gently cleanse and exfoliate the skin.

Obagi Blue Peel Radiance, available at Thames Skin Clinic
A blend of salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids is used to improve a range of skin conditions including acne, photodamage and hyperpigmentation.

Ross Perry, Medical Director

Dr Ross Perry is a leading aesthetic and dermatology doctor who specialises in botulinum toxins (Botox), fillers and...

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