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Exfoliation: Is it bad for you?

Updated: Apr 26


Mechanical exfoliation

Exfoliation has become a cornerstone in skincare routines worldwide. It involves removing dead skin cells to reveal a smoother, brighter complexion. But there are various ways to exfoliate and not all methods are beneficial for your specific skin type.

The most common form of exfoliation includes mechanical exfoliators, typically scrubs containing sugar, salt, or microplastic beads (yuck!).

Most individuals love this type of exfoliation because you can see and feel the difference in the skin immediately and many mechanical exfoliators are budget-friendly or DIY compatible. Unfortunately, these scrubs tend to be harsh on the skin causing microtears and it's also a lot easier to over-exfoliate certain areas, causing redness or dry patches. While the immediate gratification of a scrub can be tempting, it's difficult to use these gently causing more harm than good in the end. For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, try using a muslin cloth! These provide a gentle physical exfoliation and can help remove dead skin cells and impurities if used with a gentle cleanser.

Chemical exfoliators have recently been seeing more traction and for good reason. This form of exfoliation includes acids or enzymes to chemically dissolve dead skin cells and promote cell turnover. If you've seen ingredients like glycolic acids, lactic acids, and salicylic acid in your skincare routine; you're probably chemically exfoliating! Chemical exfoliants are great because they work at a molecular level, providing a more even and controlled exfoliation. They're also very versatile! Using AHA's (alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid) for example is great for improving skin texture and surface exfoliation (similar effect as scrubs). While BHA's (beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid) focus more on unclogging pores and reducing acne.

chemical exfoliation

So where do chemical exfoliators fall short? Since they work at a molecular level, you can't always tell right away if you've overdone it. It's very important to monitor your skin regardless of the exfoliation method you choose. Pay attention to any signs of irritation, redness, or dryness, and adjust your exfoliation frequency accordingly. To start, begin with once a week and gradually increase frequency as your skin adjusts.

Also to note, chemical exfoliators can make your skin more sensitive to the sun which requires diligent use of sunscreen - but we should be doing that anyway, right? ;)

The American Academy of Dermatology Association, advises 'because every type of exfoliation may not work for every skin type, it’s important to consider your skin type before choosing an exfoliation method:

  • Sensitive skin may sting or burn after product use

  • Normal skin is clear and not sensitive

  • Dry skin is flaky, itchy, or rough

  • Oily skin is shiny and greasy

  • Combination skin is dry in some areas and oily in others.'

Key Takeaways:

  • Exfoliation is an important step in any skincare routine if you want your skin to be happy and healthy, but choosing the right method for you and monitoring your skin's response is crucial for achieving optimal results.

  • While mechanical exfoliators are great for instant gratification, it's difficult to be gentle which is why we recommend a muslin cloth over any variation of scrubs.

  • Chemical exfoliation has greater long-term benefits and is overall safer, making it the preferred choice for many skincare enthusiasts.

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