How to Use a Skin Exfoliant


Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant, 2.6-Ounce
Dead skin cells often need a little help to slough off. A skin exfoliant with ingredients like an alpha hydroxy acid or a beta hydroxy acid can leave you looking fresh and feeling smooth again.
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Our skin is constantly renewing itself, growing new skin cells to replace the surface skin cells that grow old, die, and fall, or slough, off. Every minute of every day, between 30,000 and 40,000 dead skin cells flake away.

Factors like age and dry skin can mean that dead skin cells don’t fall away as easily as they should. When these cells build up, they can make the complexion look rough and pasty and can also contribute to the clogged pores that lead to adult acne. The regular yet careful use of a skin exfoliant can help slough off dead skin cells and uncover fresh, more youthful skin.

There are two main types of skin exfoliants: mechanical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Both are commonly available, and both have pros and cons regarding their use and the types of skin conditions for which they are most appropriate.

Mechanical Skin Exfoliants

Mechanical exfoliants work by sanding off dead skin cells using mildly abrasive substances. These skin exfoliants typically are facial scrubs, creamy cleansers with tiny, rough particles. As you gently massage the exfoliant over the surface of your face and skin, the friction works to loosen the old skin cells.

Mechanical skin exfoliants are readily available in drugstores and easy to use. They are particularly good for people with oily skin or acne, as they remove skin cells and debris that clog pores, but only if you don’t scrub too hard as this can cause further irritation.

However, mechanical exfoliants can be harsh. When you use them, you’re literally sanding away the outer layer of your skin. Some contain particles so jagged and rough that they could actually cut the skin. Because of this, dermatologists recommend using a gentle motion when using a skin exfoliant, and skipping them altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Chemical Skin Exfoliants

A chemical skin exfoliant uses gentle acids to dissolve whatever bonds are preventing the outer layer of dead skin cells from falling off your face and body. There are two main types of chemical skin exfoliants, those that include an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and those that include a beta hydroxy acid (BHA):

Alpha hydroxy acids are derived from different foods, from fruits, such as apples and grapes, to milk. Some of the most common AHAs to look for on product labels are glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, alpha-hydroxyoctanoic acid, and triple fruit acid. An alpha hydroxy acid is best for people with dry or thickened skin.
Beta hydroxy acids are the chemical cousins of alpha hydroxy acids, but are more oil-soluble and therefore better at exfoliating oily skin or acne-prone skin. The best known beta hydroxy acid is salicylic acid. On product labels, look for salicylate, sodium salicylate, beta hydroxybutanoic acid, or tropic acid.

Alpha hydroxy acid and beta hydroxy acid skin care products tend to be less harsh on the skin than mechanical exfoliants. They also help refresh the skin in ways a facial scrub can’t: They lower the skin’s pH level and help smooth small, shallow wrinkles, improving the look of skin that is dry or sun damaged.

Finding the right formulation for your skin involves some trial and error. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you should choose alpha hydroxy acid-based chemical exfoliants with an alpha hydroxy acid concentration of 10 percent or less and a pH of 3.5 or more. Beta hydroxy acid-based exfoliants containing salicylic acid are effective at levels of 1.5 to 2 percent. Using stronger solutions can cause skin irritation.

Another caveat: These types of exfoliants increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun for as long as a week after each use. Before going out, always apply sunscreen — a skin-saving recommendation for everyone.

How and When to Use Exfoliants

You should not use an exfoliant every day. Your skin needs time to regenerate its topmost layer, which exfoliation strips away. People with dry skin should only exfoliate once or twice a week, while those with oily skin can exfoliate two to four times a week. Stop using an exfoliant if you find your skin becoming irritated or developing a rash. Remember to moisturize your skin after exfoliating, to soothe it and keep it from drying out.

Checkup: Winter Skin

Checkup: Winter Skin

From Woman’s Day

Changes in the look and feel of your skin during cold, winter months are not abnormal, but you can counteract unpleasant irritation.
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What are the signs?

The telltale symptoms of dry skin are easy to spot: Skin just generally feels drier and tighter. Other signs may include roughness, itching, severe redness, flaking and scaling. Sometimes pores become less visible or skin may look dull. In severe cases, skin may crack and bleed, especially on the hands and fingertips.

Why does it happen?

Sun exposure or cold, dry air can cause skin to become dehydrated. Dry skin is more common in the winter because the air contains less humidity. It can also be genetic or hereditary, or a natural effect of aging.

What are your options?

Over-the-counter lotions, such as Eucerin and Curél, can relieve dryness and flaking. Or try a body cream that contains oil to help seal in moisture. Look for fragrance-free products with alpha hydroxy acids, which gently exfoliate to allow more water and moisture into the skin.
Avoid antibacterial and deodorant soaps, which can be harsh and drying. Instead, use a gentle cleanser, such as Dove or Aveeno, or a mild shower gel with added moisturizers.
Don’t take extremely hot baths, or shower or soak in the tub for more than 10 minutes. Doing so breaks down your skin’s natural protective oils, which keep it soft and smooth.
Use a humidifier during the winter. Central heating and space heaters can dry out the air in your home.
Choose natural, breathable fabrics, such as cotton and silk, for your bedding and innermost layer of clothing.
Drink plenty of water and other liquids to keep skin hydrated from the inside out. Omega-3s (essential fatty acids found in foods such as salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, soybeans and broccoli) can also help keep skin supple.

When should you worry?

See a dermatologist if dryness and itching keep you awake at night, if OTC lotions aren’t working, if you have open sores or large areas of scaling or peeling skin, or if you develop an infection from scratching. You could have a more serious condition such as eczema, psoriasis or another skin disorder.

Did you know?

Although everyone’s skin changes with age, a man’s skin tends to stay moist longer. That’s because a woman’s skin becomes much drier after menopause.
The best time to apply lotion is immediately after a shower or bath, when skin is still damp.
Since dry skin is extra-sensitive, it’s important protect it from the sun, especially if it’s snowing (snow can reflect as much as 80 percent of the sun’s rays). Apply SPF 15 or higher every day to your face, neck and ears.