Your entire body is covered in skin cells. But many of them are no longer alive. If that sounds creepy, take comfort: skin cells naturally die and fall off your body all the time. But sometimes, they overstay their welcome. These lingering dead cells can cause issues like clogged pores, dull skin, and breakouts.1 But if you exfoliate your body and face regularly, you may help prevent these issues.
What Is Exfoliation?
Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. The purpose is to uncover healthy skin underneath.2
Your skin naturally sheds dead cells about every 30 days. But sometimes, dead skin cells don’t fall off on their own. This can result in dry, flaky skin or clogged pores. Exfoliation may help prevent this. Exfoliation is typically done using a physical exfoliant or chemical exfoliant.3
You may already be using a physical exfoliant without even knowing it. Anything that scrubs your skin, like a loofah or body brush, counts as a physical exfoliant. Granular substances, like cleansing scrubs or body polishes, are also physical exfoliants.
The main benefit of physical exfoliation is the ease of access. Pick up (or make) a body scrub, grab a washcloth, and bam, you’re exfoliating. The potential drawback of physical exfoliation is that it may cause micro-tears in your skin if you don’t use the right ingredients. To prevent this, avoid scrubs that contain large exfoliants, like fruit pits or nut shells.4
This form of exfoliating uses chemicals, like hydroxy acids and retinol, to slough off dead skin cells. They work by dissolving the bonds that are holding the dead skin cells together. This makes it easy to sweep them off of your face.5 Here are some of the active ingredients you’ll often see in chemical exfoliants:
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic acid and glycolic acid
- Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid
- Fruit enzymes, like papain from papaya and bromelain from pineapple6
While the word “chemical” might sound a little intense, this type of exfoliating can actually be quite gentle for your face. Chemical exfoliation can be used for any skin type, even oily skin or sensitive skin. Some chemicals, like lactic acid or fruit enzymes, do tend to be gentler than others, so you’ll want to keep an eye on ingredients.7
Both types of exfoliants can get the job done, and it can be good to have both for different circumstances.8 Be sure to ask your doctor or dermatologist and do a patch test before you start using a new product.
The Benefits Of Exfoliating
Now you know that exfoliating can remove dead skin, but why would you want to do that? Here are some potential benefits of exfoliating:
- It may help unclog pores by removing dry skin and other debris.
- It may help prevent skin blemishes and ingrown hairs.
- It may help other skin care products to penetrate deeper into the skin.
- It might help with an even-looking skin tone.
- It may support circulation, allowing oxygen-rich blood to nourish your skin’s surface.
- It may support healthy-looking skin.
- It may support collagen production.9
How Often Should You Exfoliate?
As for how often you should exfoliate, you’ll want to listen to your skin and consult your dermatologist. Here are some general guidelines:
- Face: 1-3 times per week, depending on the strength and type of your exfoliant.10,11
- Body: Exfoliating daily is often okay, as long as you’re using high quality, gentle products.12
- Lips: 1-2 times a week may suffice, but watch to make sure you aren’t over-exfoliating.13
- Hands: Exfoliate your hands as needed. If you’re already exfoliating your body, you may want to pay special attention to your hands, too.14
How To Exfoliate Your Entire Body
To exfoliate your face, you may opt for either physical or chemical exfoliation. Here’s how you would do each method:
- Using a high quality scrub, scoop some out into the palm of your hand.
- Use small, gentle, circular motions to rub the product onto your face.
- Rinse with lukewarm water.
- Pat your face dry and apply a high quality moisturizer. Don’t skip this part because exfoliation can be drying.15
- Start by cleansing your face.
- Use a high quality chemical exfoliant product such as a glycolic acid peel pads.
- Follow the directions on the product label.
- If using peel pads, generally, you’ll need to gently swipe the product over the face and neck.
- If the product is meant to stay on your face for a few minutes, be sure to follow the product directions to get the timing right.
- Gently dry your face and apply moisturizer.16
For body exfoliation, people typically choose a physical scrub, like an exfoliating body wash. You’ll typically do this in the shower. The process is straightforward:
- Dispense a quarter-sized amount of body polish or scrub onto your fingers or a loofah.
- In a circular motion, scrub your body (on wet skin) in gentle circular motions. Make sure to get your arms, legs, torso, bottom, and feet. Don’t forget your elbows and knees.
- When you’re finished, rinse the scrub down the drain and dry off with a towel.
- Apply a body lotion all over your newly sloughed skin. You may find that it absorbs better after exfoliation.17
Exfoliating your lips may help prevent chapping and allow lipstick to go on more smoothly. The skin on your lips is thin, so you’ll want to reach for a gentle product specifically made for lips.
- In the evening, after your face skin care routine, massage your lip exfoliant all over your lips and then rinse.
- Follow this up with a hydrating lip balm.
- Repeat 2-3 times a week.18
Just like other parts of the body, you can use a chemical or physical exfoliant on your hands too. Here are some ideas for exfoliating your hands:
- In the evening, apply a cream that contains retinol to your hands.19
- If you prefer a physical scrub for your hands, apply a hand scrub in the morning once a week and then rinse.20
- Make sure to hydrate afterward by using a high-quality hand serum.
If you want fresh, glowy-looking skin, you may want to consider exfoliating. Regular exfoliation is an easy way to keep up with your beauty routine and get in some self care. If you’re intimidated to start, you may want to pick up a simple, high quality body scrub or a gentle AHA exfoliant and see how it goes. And if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your dermatologist.
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