What You Must Know About Basic Skincare: Exfoliation
'Love is a great beautifier.' –Louisa May Alcott
Another crucially important step in achieving healthy skin, for the vast majority of people (women and men), is exfoliation. This simply means the removal of dead skin cell buildup. I find that most of my clients either exfoliate too little or way too often. Just like cleansing and moisturizing, proper exfoliation can be based on a few general guidelines, based on skin type.
Why do we need to exfoliate?
Our skin, although actually paper-thin, is made up of five distinct layers. In the bottom layer, closest to our blood supply, our skin cells are nourished, plump, and juicy. As these plump cells travel up to the surface of our body (which takes about thirty days), they gradually fill with keratin (the same substance that makes up our hair and nails), harden, and die. For most people, these hardened cells do not shed off naturally as fast as they are produced, leaving skin feeling rough and looking dull. A skin that is properly exfoliated will be soft, smooth, and radiant. Another important factor to consider is skin that's not exfoliated won't absorb a moisturizer as well as a skin that is. That's because the hardened, keratin-filled, waterproof cells 'block' the moisturizer from penetrating, leaving you with dry, dehydrated skin and wasted money on a moisturizer that's just sitting on the surface of your skin and not doing much.
Just like most things in life, the key to exfoliation is moderation. Too often is just as bad as not enough...it will irritate your skin so much it will be sensitive, red, dehydrated, and will break out more due to all that inflammation. In fact, I'm convinced that many women who say they have 'sensitive skin' usually just over exfoliate. With proper exfoliation, an oily or combination skin will have less breakouts and blackheads because there won't be as many dead cells on the surface of the skin to clog up pores. A normal or dry skin will be softer because it's able to fully absorb the moisturizer that it so needs. A mature skin will look younger because it will be more radiant, and exfoliation reduces the appearance of fine lines by removing the extra skin cells collecting around the edges of lines and wrinkles.
What to use?
I strongly recommend that everyone use a scrub exfoliant from head to toe. This will physically buff off the dead skin cells. It's fast, efficient, and provides the best results.
As with every other skin care product, I have experimented with many different exfoliants. The one I keep coming back to is Aubrey Organics Jojoba Meal and Oatmeal Facial Scrub and Mask. It's inexpensive, about $8, and is available at Whole Foods and online. It's gentle yet effective, and keeps my skin soft and clear. Each tube will last several months.
While you can use this scrub on your body, that would get very expensive. The best way to exfoliate from the chest down is with scrubby gloves. They are super inexpensive, about $2-6, are available in just about every grocery or drugstore, and online. Even with daily use, they will last for at least a year, and can be thrown in the laundry every few days for washing.
How to use:
After cleansing, gently pat your face dry with a towel. Apply about a quarter-size amount of scrub to your face. Using your fingertips, start at your chin, and using gentle pressure and circular upward strokes, work the scrub over your entire face. Using your ring fingers, also work the scrub under your eyes, using extra gentle pressure and small, half-moon movements. This will decrease the appearance of any fine lines around your eyes. As with anything that you do to your face, always include your neck, too. You should use extra gentle pressure exfoliating your neck as well, since the skin there is very thin and susceptible to sagging. Most people should spend no more than a minute or two on exfoliation. Concentrate where your skin needs it most, which is typically the jaw and hairline (where most people break out), and the corners of your nose (everyone has buildup here. Keeping the corners of your nose exfoliated will make your makeup look so much better!). Rinse with warm water and follow with moisturizer.
How often should you exfoliate?
For oily or combination skin:
Three times a week is ideal for a skin prone to clogging, blackheads, and breakouts. Regular exfoliation will keep excess skin cells off the surface of your skin, so they will not mix with the oil your skin produces. Excess skin cells mixing with sticky oil leads to clogged pores, which leads to blackheads and breakouts.
For normal, dry, or mature skin:
Once a week is ideal. Maintenance is the goal for these skin types, and a gentle exfoliation once a week will prevent any rough patches from forming. It will also not irritate these skin types that are prone to sensitivity, and will be just enough to allow much needed moisturizer to soak into the skin.
I use my scrubby gloves every day. I lather them up with my African Black soap, and gently and quickly, scrub every inch of my skin, starting at the bottom of my neck. It keeps my skin soft, clear, and my moisturizer absorbs much faster. While I would almost never advise daily face exfoliation, I find that since the skin on our body is thicker and tougher (and I am very gentle about it), daily body exfoliation is just fine.
As with anything else, this may or may not work for you. Try these guidelines and if you don't like the way your skin looks or feels, adjust to what is right for you. Although it is very rare, I have had clients who need daily facial exfoliation, and some who only need once or twice a month. Everyone is different in their own way.
There is another important point I feel is worth making: A sign of youth, femininity, health, and beauty, is soft, smooth, silky skin. Light reflects off of it, making it glow. Hands glide over it, which is delightful. No matter how busy your life gets, caring for your skin in this way is worth every moment that you spend on it. It is a habit worth cultivating. Trust me.
Up next: What You Must Know About Basic Skin Care, Sunscreen.