Exfoliation is one of the most important steps in skincare. Many people skip this step, but it’s what can really make a skin glow. Exfoliating the face works in the same way as exfoliating the body – it helps get rid of dead skin cells faster. The younger you are, the better your skin is at shedding off dead skin cells. But as you age, the dead skin cells tend to hang around longer, making your skin look dull and lifeless. These old cells can also clog pores and cause breakouts. This is the reason why facial exfoliation is a must.
Types of Facial Exfoliating Products
Exfoliators come in different forms. You can find them as scrubs, cleansers, serums, toners, and more. Not all exfoliating products will be labeled as an exfoliator, so you will need to shop based on ingredient.
It doesn’t matter what type of product you use, as long as you pick something that you will remember to use and apply. However, some products can offer more intensive results than others. For instance, a serum that you leave on your face overnight will exfoliate more thoroughly than a cleanser that you only work on your skin for a few minutes. Sometimes, you may find that you need more than one product to use at different times.
How to Pick the Best Facial Exfoliator
But with the wealth of options in the market, it can be difficult to find one that works for you. You may try trial and error, but you don’t want to waste money and risk your face like that. The key is to know what’s out there, so you can narrow it down based on what you need. Picking the best exfoliator depends on several things, and here’s how to pick one:
1. Choose what type of facial exfoliator works best for you.
One key to picking out the best exfoliator is to understand the different exfoliating products out there. While they come in many forms, there are two major types of exfoliators: physical exfoliators and chemical exfoliators.
Physical exfoliators are pretty straightforward – they use ingredients with a scrubby texture to remove dead skin cells from your face. Sometimes, they can be in the form of tools like a brush or a scalpel that can help exfoliate skin and reveal a healthy glow.
Some ingredients found in physical exfoliators include jojoba beads, powders, walnut shells, bamboo beads, oatmeal, and more.
While physical exfoliators are easy to use, they can be harsh, especially for sensitive skin. If you scrub too hard or choose something a little too abrasive, you can end up with red or damaged skin.
Many physical exfoliators found in the market are great for other parts of the body, like brushes, pumice, washcloths, grains, sugar or salt, beads, nuts, powders, and other physical tools. Some of these can be used for the face too, but it’s always best to choose products that indicate facial use to ensure they are gentle enough. The skin on your face is more sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body – plus it’s the body part you probably want to protect more – so, make sure you are not using exfoliators like foot scrubs or body scrubs, which can be too harsh for the face.
Avoid large exfoliants like nut shells or fruit pits for use on your face since these can have a tendency to cause micro-tears on the skin.
Chemical exfoliators dissolve the links that hold skin cells together. It breaks the bonds of skin cells to remove the dead cells still clinging to the top layers of the skin to be washed away. This process helps expose the healthy skin underneath, and it also allows other skincare products to penetrate deeper into the skin layer.
It involves using an acid rather than an abrasive texture to get results. If the sound of acids used in skin freaks you out, fear not! These are acids that are totally safe to use on the skin.
Here are some chemical exfoliators to look out for:
- AHAs (Alpha hydroxy acids)
AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids, are derived from natural substances and are ideal for exfoliating dry skin. It exfoliates the top layer of the skin by destroying the bonds that hold skin cells together. They are water-soluble acids that are naturally found in everything from milk to fruit to sugars.
Some people find AHAs irritating, though all facial exfoliators have the risk of irritating the skin. It can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s important to use sunscreen daily if you use this kind of exfoliator.
Some of the most common AHAs found in exfoliants are lactic acid, glycolic acid, and citric acid. While other types exist, these are three of the most popularly used and most effective AHAs in skincare.
- BHAs (Beta hydroxy acids)
On the other hand, BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) are considered more powerful exfoliants for their ability to reach deeper into the skin and pores and get the gunk out. While AHAs are water-soluble, BHAs are oil-soluble molecules. They have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that can offer a more in-depth exfoliation in general.
The most commonly used BHA in skincare is salicylic acid – a fast, powerful exfoliant that can soften skin. Generally, BHAs are recommended for acne-prone and oily skin. If blackheads are a concern, BHAs will remove them more effectively compared to AHAs.
However, because they can exfoliate deeper into the skin, BHAs can be harsh to sensitive skin types.
- Plant enzymes
In addition to acids, enzymes from plants (especially fruits) make great, gentle chemical exfoliators as well. These natural exfoliators work by eating up the top layer of dead skin off the face, leaving it vibrant and glowing. They are essentially the Pac-Man of exfoliation!
Since they only work on the top layer of the skin, they are not nearly as harsh as BHAs or AHAs. They are gentler, making them perfect exfoliants for those with sensitive skin. The only downside about enzyme exfoliators is that they can become unstable depending on the environment.
2. Know what kinds of exfoliator works best for your skin type.
The most crucial factor to consider when choosing an exfoliator is your skin type. Not every formula that worked for your friends or family will work for you. Here’s a breakdown of which skin types will most likely benefit from which exfoliators:
If you’re lucky to have dependable skin, you can pretty much use any exfoliator you want, whether it’s physical or chemical. For best results, use both to make sure you’re getting all its advantages, and don’t use them so often to prevent overworking the skin. Alternate methods and only exfoliate every few days. As for the ingredients, you can take your pick, but exfoliators with charcoal or bentonite clay are perfect for maintaining your issue-free skin!
Normal to oily combination skin
People with combination skin that’s normal to oily have the option to stick with a physical exfoliator or try using a light chemical exfoliator. If the oiliness in some areas of your skin is what concerns you most, opt for a cleanser with alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) to gently exfoliate and prevent pores from getting clogged with oils and dead skin cells.
Normal to dry combination skin
If your combination skin is more on the normal to dry side, you’ve got more options. You can use any exfoliator you choose. Since your skin is less sensitive to exfoliations and you don’t have acne scars and lesions to worry about, you can use a physical exfoliator with a medium-grade scrubbing particle.
Assuming your skin is just oily and not necessarily sensitive, you can use both physical and chemical exfoliation. The acids in a chemical exfoliant can help dig out all that excess dirt and oil to get your pores nice and clean. Glycolic or salicylic acids are the perfect ingredients to look for to control the oil in your skin.
To lessen extra oil, a good scrub from time to time, either with some grainy product or simply a cleansing brush, is totally fine. But make sure not to overdo it to prevent any irritation. When choosing physical exfoliators, choose finer grains and light granules like jojoba beads to prevent damaging the skin. If you’re using a cleansing or exfoliating brush, use lighter pressure or lower settings as needed.
People with dry skin can benefit from exfoliators that remove dead skin but also provide hydration. Gentle, chemical exfoliants can help your moisturizer work better, which is essential for dry skin. Stay away from physical exfoliants that can irritate dry skin. Choose products with the finest grains in a creamy, lotion texture that contains moisturizing oils and ingredients. Products with kaolin, lactic acid, and honey.
Acne-prone skin has acne lesions that are already inflamed, so they need extra care to minimize further irritation. Avoid abrasive physical exfoliators with grains like salts and sugars, as well as facial brushes. If you have breakouts, chemical exfoliators can help you fight oil and acne from a deeper level. AHA and BHA acids like lactic, salicylic, and glycolic will be the most effective. They won’t only fight oil and remove pore-clogging dead skin cells but can also help repair acne scars and improve skin’s texture. But if you have a serious acne condition or are sporting sensitive skin along with acne, consult a dermatologist for the best exfoliator for your skin.
Older, mature skin tends to be sensitive and dry, but it still must be exfoliated to increase cellular renewal and allow active ingredients of your other skincare products to penetrate the skin. A gentle chemical exfoliator can help restore mature skin’s natural glow, improve the appearance of fine lines, and help revitalize its dullness. Products that offer a combination of AHA and BHA acids will be your best bet. You can also try a physical exfoliator with super fine particles, like a microdermabrasion scrub.
Like people with dry skin, people with sensitive skin should avoid physical exfoliators as they can further irritate the skin. For chemical exfoliants, you have to be careful in choosing so you can help unclog pores and keep skin clean that glows with health, not because of irritation. Choose light powders like rice and oatmeal, for they are a safe option. Fruit enzymes are also friendly for sensitive skin. But if you have sensitive skin due to a medical condition, skip the scrub altogether and consult your doctor.