Exfoliators 101

Dead skin, gross. Have you ever cleaned the inside of your vacuum cleaner and removed all the fine dust particles. Most of that is dead skin that stuffs off during the day. For thousands of years, The removal of that skin traditional has been to simply scratch your legs or arms or wherever. Mites would live on us and eat the dead skin cells. now we use exfoliators to remove the majority of those dry , dull, and flaky patches to give us radiant, glowing skin. We exfoliate in order polish the skin, keep it glowing, improve skincare penetration, remove fine wrinkles, improve the appearance of our makeup and ease of application.  There are dozens of reasons we exfoliate our skin. Several skin conditions exist that change how dead skin cells are removed: eczema, dermatitis, keratosis and psoriasis are common.  I suffer from dermatitis and my family has a history of psoriasis.  Each of these are different conditions with different causes but they all leave their human host with changes in how the dead skin cells are removed.

Exfoliators are grouped into 2 basic groups: chemical or physical.  A chemical exfoliator uses a chemical compound such as AHA or BHA to dissolve/remove the top layer of skin or remove impurities from the pore. Physical exfoliators use a powder or small beads to remove skin as it is drawn across the face. Pros of chemical exfoliators are they are very consistent and produce better results than physical exfoliators; however, they tend to be more expensive. Physical exfoliators, although less expensive can produce less reliable results since the user decides how hard to scrub and for how long. Chemical exfoliators can cause skin irritation for sensitive skin types or due to the chemical was left on the skin for too long. If you’ve ever removed hair using Nair, part of the reason your skin can feel smoother after treatment is because it acts as a skin chemical peel.

Chemical exfoliators are beginning to be found in drugstores; however, their usefulness is very limited. The active ingredient is rarely strong enough to produce significant results due to the ability for young persons to buy the product and the risk of potential damage to misuse is higher thus harming a companies image. Physical exfoliators are very common in the market. They’re available at every drug store and can feature ‘natural ingredients’. Coffee and sugar scrubs are common products found in drug stores that can be easily replicated at home. They’re cheap to manufacture and popular among the public.

For the face I’m a huge fan of chemical exfoliators. The results are more consistent and you’re much less likely to have negative effects and irritation due to over scrubbing. However for the body I use a sugar or coffee scrub. It’s just too expensive to use a chemical exfoliator across the entire body, although I did try use Peter Thomas Roth’s Pumpkin Enzyme mask on my lower legs and it cause severe irritation.

For oily skin types, it’s important not to over exfoliate. Over exfoliation triggers the repair response which includes the production of extra sebum. New skin is very prone to drying out and so part of our natural defense response (skin protects us from diseases) is to over produce sebum in order to keep that new skin supple. If you’re new to exfoliators start with using them once per week and increase to 2-3 times per week slowly. Oily skin can be all over the place when introducing a new skincare regiment to it so take it slowly.

Acne prone & oily skin exfoliation is an absolute MUST. I had oily + acne skin and exfoliate, exfoliate, and exfoliate. It keeps the amount of keratin at a minimum that can get trapped in the pore thus reducing your breakouts and making any topical treatment you use more effective since it can be delivered to the pore more easily.

For dry skin types, exfoliation is key to keeping skin supple. Drier skin types are prone to have flaky skin so removal of that skin is necessary. This also facilitates better absorption of your moisturizer and skin care products that help to keep that flaky skin at bay. Using an exfoliator 2-3 times per week is necessary especially during the drier months of December-February, but so is a rich moisturizer or face oil.

For normal skin types, you can easily use exfoliators 2-3 times per week and your skin should be able to bounce back quickly without negative consequences. Being a normal skin type means you’re able to do so much to your skin without changing it’s makeup so severely you have to remove for 3-4 days.

For sensitive skin types, exfoliation can be tricky. Chemical exfoliators can be too harsh for your skin as will most physical exfoliators; however removing that dead layer of skin helps sensitive types become more resilient. Using an aspirin mask (recipe below) without rubbing the mask in might provide enough of a chemical peel effect without being too harsh. There is a lower concentration of salicylic acid than in many chemical peels. Since I don’t have permanently sensitive skin I’ve never experienced this and am at a loss for suggestions that I’ve used. Research produced very limited results as well.

Chemical exfoliators I love:

This list is short

  • Peter Thomas Roth Pumpkin Enzyme Mask
    • Both a chemical and physical exfoliant. And a little bit will do you. When i started to use this my poor little face turned a lovely shade of red from the chemical but after nearly a year of dedicated use it doesn’t do that anymore. There are little plastic beads that help remove the larger skin flakes allowing the chemical portion of this peel to even the skin tone. You’ll feel nice and glowy afterwards.
  • Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare – Alpha/Beta chemical peel packets
    • Listed as a chemical exfoliant it really works as both a chemical and physical exfoliant. The physical exfoliant comes from the cloth pad that is used. You wipe this across your face and neck until the pad is ‘dry’. As it dries out a bit the pad becomes more of a physical exfoliant. This is not a good option for this with sensitive skin. If your skin doesn’t like the physical exfoliation portion of this treatment just stop wiping once your face and neck have been coated with the exfoliator/neutralizer solution.

There really isn’t a lot of these that I really like. Chemical exfoliant are such a unique situation for each skin type it’s really a matter of finding what works before for your skin. Home remedies have worked best for me. The Apricot scrub hasn’t worked for me at all, ever {cough: Kylie Skincare $20 waste}. The graduates are not a uniform shape and have very jagged edges which does more ripping of the face instead of polishing.

Tatcha’s polishing cleanser has worked really well for me. I only use it once or twice a week otherwise it becomes irritated due to over-exfoliation. But it’s an expensive skincare line that not everyone can afford and doesn’t really last a super long time, especially if you’re able to use it 3 times per week.

Below are my favorite home remedies for physical exfoliators. I don’t really buy too many because I find these just as effective if not more so than what I can buy at the store, drugstore purchases or luxury lines.

Favorite home remedies:

General Exfoliator

  • Baking soda
  • Gentle cleanser

This is a great physical exfoliator. It won’t clog the drains and the baking soda particle doesn’t desolve immediately yet its so small you can get a good polish without being overly harsh on your skin. A great dupe for Tatcha’s polishing cleanser.

Acne Prone Exfoliator

  • Ingredients
    • 6-8 UNCOATED aspirin tablets
    • water
    • favorite gentle cleanser – cheaper is better.  Cetaphil actually works well here

For anyone who has read my Cleanser 101, you know I am not a fan of Cetaphil at all, except here. In a small bowl drop in you 6-8 aspirin tablets and 1 drop of water per tablet. The tablet will break down rather easily when you start to mix it up into a kind of mush powder.  Break up all the large chunks.  Now add more water to create a loose paste. Now add a couple pumps of Cetaphil or really any liquid soap works well.  This helps with the consistency.  You could probably even use a moisturizer if you wanted that’s just a pricey way to make this mask.   So now you should have a good mask consistently worked together.  Put that on your face and next.  Allow of set for a couple of minutes then buff the mask with your hands.  You’ll probably need to get your hands wet to rehydrate the mask. Once your skin feels well polished, rinse with warm water.
How it works: the active ingredient in aspirin is salicylic acid, the same thing used in many acne treatments.  It’s also present at a high enough concentration it works as a very mild chemical chemical peel.  The mask is also slightly gritty and helps to remove dead skin cells. I used this continuously through adulthood and my teenage years.  It won’t solve all your acne problems but it helped me keep the dead skin off my face.

After polishing make sure to use a good moisturizer.  I’d even go so far as to use a face oil.  4 or 5 drops to the palm of your hand then pat onto your face. This should be enough to pat onto the face and neck.  Wait 10 minutes and if your face feels dry after the first round is absorbed, use another 3-4 drops across your face and neck.  Remember to pat, not rub.  You don’t want to drive the oil into the pore, but set it atop the skin.

Body Scrub:

  • Ingredients
    • Olive oil
    • Brown Sugar

This is ALL you need. Put in around 1/2 cup of brown sugar and wet it with oil. Should only need around 1/4 cup at the most.  Or just grab a handful into a bowl and add enough olive oil to just wet the brown sugar.  My husband hates this scrub because I use a coffee mug to mix it and the handle is very handy so I can hang onto it in the shower. The problem is that the mug doesn’t always leave the shower so we have a small collection of ‘shower mugs’ under the sink. I use this on my legs religiously. Beware the shower can become rather slippery. This is the only thing that keeps my legs looking remotely well moisturized year round.  I am a white girl who has ashy legs. Trust me that’s a skill.

Let me know what exfoliators you love. Over the years I’ve used a lot but only been excited about the two I mentioned above. Every girlfriend has been told and used my at home remedies. Some loved it, but some didn’t.

Keep it clean and glowy and always remember that you shine. Until next time.

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