The Beginner's Guide to Exfoliation

Posted by Saaradhaa Muthunatarajan on

Anyone who likes skincare (even those who are pretty new to it) has probably heard of exfoliation. Exfoliation has many benefits. It can improve the appearance of stretch marks, give you smoother skin and even reduce acne. I use the word can and not will because just like everything else, exfoliation is a double-edged sword. Taken too far, it can result in worsened acne, increased redness, irritated skin and clogged pores - the very things one is trying to prevent by exfoliating.


Physical Exfoliation: Dos and Don’ts

There are 2 basic types of exfoliation, chemical and physical exfoliation. Physical exfoliants are more well-known amongst consumers - these are the grainy scrubs that instantly make you feel as if you’ve done something good for your skin, but need to be used with great caution. An important rule with physical exfoliants is that regardless of your skin type, they should not be used everyday. Doing so will very likely lead to sensitive, splotchy skin in just a few days. People also tend to scrub really hard when using physical exfoliants, mistakenly thinking that it’ll result in dead skin cells being removed effectively. This can actually cause microtears (small tears in the surface of your skin), causing rough, uneven skin.


So what should you do when using physical exfoliants? Look for products that contain small particles rather than large ones (an example of what NOT to get would be the infamous apricot scrub by St. Ives), as the former are less likely to cause microtears. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, it is best to get a product that is free of artificial fragrances, as this can react badly with your skin. Also, try to use gentle motions when putting the scrub on your face.


A useful tip would be to mix in a few drops of your favourite facial or body oil into the scrub - this can help to make the scrub less abrasive as well as more hydrating (everyone needs hydration, even those with oily skin!). The coco luxe scrub by Bodyblendz is a great, affordable option since caffeine helps to improve circulation. The scrub is pre-mixed with macadamia, jojoba, almond and coconut oil. This particular combination of oils is deeply hydrating and anti-aging. Since an assortment of 4 oils has already been mixed into the scrub, you needn’t go to the trouble of mixing them in yourself each time you use the scrub. 


The Bodyblendz scrub is suitable for dry and sensitive skin types. For best results when using the scrub on your face, you should scrub in slow, circular motions and can leave it on as a mask for about 2 minutes. Those with acne should use this scrub with caution since coconut oil may aggravate acne - they can instead try the vanilla blush scrub (also by Bodyblendz) that contains calming oatmeal. 


Coco Luxe Coffee Scrub by Bodyblendz (Image: Kydauz)


Another popular option is the sugar scrub by Fresh. Slightly pricier than the Bodyblendz line mentioned above, the scrub is made using grains of brown sugar (less abrasive than white sugar) and small strawberry seeds (lending the scrub its brightening properties). It also contains plum seed oil, which has anti-aging properties, and grapeseed oil, which does wonders for acne and oiliness. The Fresh scrub would probably suit those with oily and combination skin best. 


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Sugar Face Polish by Fresh (Image: Sephora)


Chemical Exfoliation 101

Chemical exfoliants come in liquid rather than solid form, and are often incorporated into toners. They are less harsh on the skin than physical exfoliants in the long run. The appropriate chemical exfoliant can be beneficial for any skin type. They can even be used in combination with physical exfoliants for those who ultimately enjoy the feeling of a scrub, but not in the same day (e.g. a chemical exfoliant 3-4 times a week, a physical exfoliant 1-2 times a week).


As chemical exfoliants are usually acids, it is best to start off with a low concentration, allow your skin to adjust to it and move on to a chemical exfoliant of a higher concentration if you feel that your skin needs it (e.g. for those with acne-prone skin). It is also good to start by trying it out once every few days, and adjusting it to your skin’s needs. I would advise that you only use chemical exfoliants at night as they can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Remember to wear sunscreen the next day, but you should be wearing sunscreen regardless of whether you use chemical exfoliants.


The clearing pads by Korean skincare company Cosrx are pre-soaked with chemical exfoliants that gently exfoliate without causing damage. They are highly suitable for those with acne-prone skin - chemical exfoliation helps to unclog pores and heal breakouts, while physical exfoliation can actually cause breakouts to worsen. 

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One Step Pimple Clear Pad by Cosrx (Image: iHerb)


The BHA liquid by Paula’s choice is also a cult favourite - it contains beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) that offer deeper exfoliation than the Cosrx pads, but at a low enough concentration that it can be used by beginners. If used correctly, it can help to smooth out bumpy skin and improve the appearance of wrinkles. It can be used by any skin type, but can cause irritation if used too frequently by dry or sensitive skin types.


Image result for paulas choice bha liquid

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliator by Paula's Choice (Image: Paula's Choice)


And that’s the end of the basics of exfoliation! If there’s 1 thing you can take away from this article, it’s that exfoliation can be a game changer for your skincare routine when used in the appropriate way for your skin type. As a general rule, don’t exfoliate everyday and always moisturize afterwards! Let us know if you have any questions or comments :-)


- Saa

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