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Why you need a scrub in your skincare line-up

Physical exfoliants now come in a variety of formulations for all skin types. We find out why you should own one

Exfoliators and scrubs have experienced a substantial rise in demand lately, with #FaceScrub gathering over 67.8 million video views on TikTok. And it’s easy to see why: with sunscreen, pollution, oil and bacteria all building up on the skin, exfoliation is the best way to effectively break down the top layer of skin.

Many people appreciate the sense of control physical exfoliants provide, explains Julie Scott, EV Expert and Owner and Clinical Director of Facial Aesthetics. “Unlike chemical exfoliants, where the degree of exfoliation may not always be within your control, physical exfoliants allow you to target specific areas, avoiding sensitive patches.”

Why do we need to exfoliate?

“Exfoliating is like hitting the refresh button for your complexion” says Scott. During an average 24-hour period, skin sheds almost a million skin cells. This is where they die, break away and fall off, allowing new cells to push up from beneath. “However, as we age or when our skin's vitality is compromised, this process can slow down, leaving us with a lacklustre complexion and clogged pores," explains Scott.

Introducing exfoliants into your skincare routine will help to increase cellular turnover and promote a smoother, brighter-looking complexion. “Furthermore, exfoliation prepares the skin to better absorb and benefit from subsequent skincare treatments,” says Scott. “Whether you're applying serums, moisturisers, or other targeted treatments, exfoliated skin is more receptive, allowing these products to penetrate deeper and work more effectively.”

What is physical exfoliation?

Physical exfoliation manually dislodges dirt and removing dead cells from the surface of the skin, usually using naturally derived particles like silica or sugar to physically buff them away. The removal of this top layer will uncover fresh skin cells underneath. “Residue, impurities, sweat, dead skin cells and makeup can sink into your pores, even when cleansing your face every morning and evening,” says Dr Simon Ourian, Co-Founder of Simon Ourian MD and Cosmetic Dermatology Doctor. “As physical exfoliation sloughs away dull, dead skin cells, it also smooths and regenerates your skin, leaving you with a bright and even complexion.”

What are the benefits of physical exfoliation?

“Regular physical exfoliation not only prevents clogged pores and reduces breakouts, it also accelerates cell turnover, diminishing fine lines for a youthful appearance,” says Scott. Research* also suggests that regular physical exfoliation may stimulate the production of collagen, the protein that gives skin its elasticity. If your body is producing a healthy amount of collagen, skin will appear firmer, smoother, and softer.

Physical exfoliation also has the ability to improve circulation and provide a moment of self-care. “The massaging action of manually removing dead skin cells stimulates blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to cells, promoting a natural glow and vitality,” explains Scott. “Additionally, it offers a therapeutic, meditative experience that enhances your overall sense of wellbeing.”

How does physical exfoliation work?

Physical exfoliants require a mechanical action to lift away dead cells using beads, seeds or granules found in cleansers, treatments and masks, "whereas chemical exfoliants use acids and enzymes to dissolve and loosen the cells,” explains Dr Ourian. Face brushes, flannels and muslin washcloths also produce this friction to release old cells and debris for easy removal. When choosing a physical exfoliator, make sure to avoid harsh particles that can cause micro tears in the skin.

Can you combine physical and chemical exfoliation?

Absolutely. In fact, this dynamic duo can work wonders for addressing various skin concerns. “If you're dealing with issues like breakouts or hyperpigmentation, incorporating a gentle chemical exfoliant into your routine can help tackle these concerns at a deeper level,” says Scott. “Then, a physical exfoliant once or twice a week can effectively slough off the loosened dead skin cells, revealing a smoother, more radiant complexion.”

However, a word of caution: moderation is key. Over-exfoliation can compromise your skin's barrier function, leading to sensitivity and irritation. So, whether you're opting for physical, chemical, or a combination of both, always pay attention to your skin and adjust your regimen accordingly. By striking the right balance, you'll achieve that coveted glow without compromising your skin's health.

Products to try

Medik8 Pore Refining Scrub is a gentle facial scrub that diminishes pore size and refines skin texture. It effectively removes dead skin cells and promotes skin cellular renewal.

Simon Ourian MD Exfoliating Scrub is a mild physical exfoliant that features Apricot Seed Powder and Cellulose to gently exfoliate skin for a smoother and brighter complexion.

ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Polish is suitable for all skin types and contains ultra-fine magnesium-oxide crystals that gently sweep away dead skin cells without being abrasive.

PCA Skin Pore Refining Treatment is a dual-action exfoliator with rice powder and pumice for physical exfoliation; mandelic acid for cellular exfoliation; and papaya fruit enzyme for enzymatic exfoliation.

*Source: Kiehls

Julie Scott, Owner & Clinical Director

Julie Scott has over 25 years experience in the field of plastics and skin rejuvenation and is a member of the BACN...

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