Hi my loves! I am back with another skincare post today because it seems like you were very interested in my last post about oils. Talking about oils and the way we use them to seal in all of the skincare we apply, like our serums, lotions, and creams, got me thinking about absorption of all of these products. The most important part of skincare is absorption, because you can put all the wonderful products on your face you want, but if your skin isn’t actually absorbing them, they can’t provide much benefit. I explained why oils should be applied last, so they don’t block the absorption of serums and moisturizers, and also so they can seal them in at the end and prevent them from escaping the skin. In this post we are switching the discussion from the last step of oils to the first step that enables your skin to drink up all of your skincare, including oils: exfoliation.
There are few things that feel as good as a deep, clean scrub. My first experience with exfoliation was in my early teens when I bought the St. Ives Apricot scrub at CVS because I thought it was a good thing to do now that I had hit puberty and my skin was starting to become much more oily and blemish prone. I really knew nothing about exfoliating beyond that I had heard it was good to remove dead skin to prevent breakouts. I instantly fell in love with the baby soft feeling my skin had after my first time using an exfoliator, and I have been big into exfoliation ever since.
Since my early teens, I have learned a lot more about the benefits of exfoliation and the different ways to exfoliate based on your skin type, present needs, and how to avoid damaging your skin while still getting an effective result. In the past, I have definitely over exfoliated and used products that are too harsh for my skin, so I really try to be smart and selective about the exfoliators I use regularly. Over the long term, regular gentle exfoliation pays off big time by softening lines, refining skin texture, minimizing pores, preventing discoloration, and helping your skincare to work more effectively and sink into the deeper layers of your skin. But, if done incorrectly, exfoliation can accelerate aging and leave the skin susceptible to fine lines and sun damage. If any of you have exfoliated too hard, frequently, or with products that are too strong, you know it wreaks havoc on your skin and takes a couple weeks to restore it back to its calm, happy place.
In order to choose the right exfoliators for you, it’s important to know the different between the 2 main types: physical and chemical. They both result in the removal of dead skin, but the way they perform is quite different.
Physical exfoliants use abrasion on the skin – any type of grainy scrub with jojoba beads, sea salt, sugar, etc. is considered a physical exfoliator. They can range from more gentle to quite rough depending on the particles used. Firm loofah sponges and firm bristled shower brushes are also considered physical exfoliators. They use force to physically remove the dead skin by sloughing it off the surface.
Physical exfoliants need to be handled with care. Many scrubs have particles that are too large and sharp for delicate facial skin. When they rub against the skin, they cause micro-tears, which may not be visible to the naked eye, but can create a rough texture on the skin and cause it to be inflamed and exposed for several days after application. A scrub should easily glide over the skin as you massage it around, not feel like you are rubbing sandpaper against your cheek. Physical exfoliants are generally recommended to be used 2x/s week at the most according to the instructions on most over the counter scrubs.
My favorite kinds of physical exfoliants are gentle enough o be used EVERY SINGLE DAY, and contain oils to help lubricate the skin and allow the grainy particles inside to glide easily over the skin and gently lift away any loose, dead cells. I also avoid nut shells, fruit pits (no more St. Ive’s Apricot scrub), and large particles like coarse sea salt crystals. I look for small grains like sugar, fine salt, rice bran, and jojoba beads that don’t dig into my face like little shards of glass. I also love dry charcoal and clay powders that activate with water to gently polish the skin as they soften and froth up into a lather.
I have quite a little collection of physical exfoliators growing in my bathroom since I use them so often, and these are my absolute favorites:
In the other realm are chemical exfoliators. I’m sure you are already thinking wtf, why would I want to put chemicals on my face? Before you get scared away, I will explain what exactly they are and why I use them daily in addition to physical exfoliants. When used correctly, they are incredibly effective for smoothing and brightening the skin.
The most common chemical exfoliants contain AHAs and BHAs. AHAs are alpha hydroxy acids, which are derived from natural substances like sugar cane, milk, grapes, and citrus. They work by dissolving the bonds between skin cells to dislodge dead surface cells from the skin. They are particularly helpful for sun damaged and dry skin because they are water-soluble and their molecular structure is small, so they can help hydrate and draw moisture in the skin. The two most well-known AHAs are lactic and glycolic acids, which are often used in cleansers and serums in varying percentages. Lesser used mandelic acid, tartartic acid, malic acid, and citric acid are also AHAs.
BHAs are beta hydroxy acids, and they are best for oily, acne prone skin. Unlike water-soluble AHAs, whose effects are most noticed on the surface of the skin, BHAs can penetrate deeper. They can break through oil and go deep into the pores, helping treat blackheads and whiteheads. They also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which is key in preventing newer breakouts from forming. The most popular BHA is salicylic acid, which is commonly used in acne medications and is derived from the Willow Bark Tree.
I personally love chemical exfoliants, and find that over time they do much more for hyperpigmentation, sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles, and acne than physical exfoliants do. I like to use a gentle physical exfoliants every night after my normal cleanser because I wear a lot of makeup, so I feel that helps remove any last traces my regular cleanser left behind, and I enjoy the instant gratification of feeling perfectly smooth polished skin, but my true exfoliation BFFs for long term visible results are chemical.
My favorite chemical exfoliants are usually in serum or mask form. I have found that my skin gets overworked and irritated when I use things like glycolic cleansers or salicylic toners because those are generally used more regularly on an everyday basis, twice per day, all over the face, whereas a serum or mask can be more targeted. I have also noticed it is best for me to use AHA and/or BHA products only once per day (usually at night). Applying a chemical serum in the morning and night causes my skin to get irritated and flaky because it’s too much exfoliation for me. Whenever I sense my skin is a little overworked, I take a week off of all exfoliation or switch to an every other day routine until it is back to normal. However, some people can totally handle chemical exfoliants twice a day and benefit greatly from them, specifically if they have oily skin. It’s really about finding the right amount of exfoliation for you.
Hands down, my favorite exfoliant of this entire post that has been rocking my world for the last 6 months, and I am already on my third bottle, is this one:
I know, this shiz is expensive, but it works. This is a straight up lactic acid serum that really agrees with my skin. It contains aloe to help soothe, and something about the blend is just so effective for evening out my skin texture and brightening its tone without irritating it in the very slightest. It does smell a little…yogurt-y, so you have to overlook that, but I recommend this more than anything else I am talking about today.
A more intense chemical treatment that combines 25% AHA with 2% BHA, and should only be used once per week, is this one. This is more of a mask that you leave on for 20 minutes, and rinse off. I will say, it stings for a couple seconds when you first put it on, but that goes away quickly and your skin will be the softest thing ever! This is what I use on Sunday nights to revive my skin after the weekend and prep it for the week ahead, and it has made my skin smoother than it has ever felt after using it for a few months. I think it is just a really incredible product.
This brand also makes and amazing glycolic serum I love. It is a bit stronger than the Sunday Riley Good Genes serum, so I don’t use it everyday, but I work it into my routine every other day when I need some extra radiance or if I have been travelling and my skin is feeling dull.
This AHA/BHA serum isn’t one that I use all the time, but when I am breaking out or it’s right before that time of the month, I love having it on hand. If you are acne prone and struggle with blemishes frequently, buy this before anything else I am recommending in this post because this is an acne sufferer’s dream! If I put this on a breakout area or spot treat on a blemish at night, it is literally half the size by morning. I don’t know what it is about this formula, but the high concentration of salicylic acid and glycolic acid just kills acne fast. I find it to be too drying for me to use all the time, and I don’t feel the need to use it when my skin is clear because there’s just no need to put something more on my face, but when I need it…it always does me right.
This last serum is my most recent discovery and I have only been using it for about two weeks, but I am already in love. Unlike the Sunday Riley serum, which is predominately lactic acid or the Drunk Elephant serum, which is predominately glycolic, this 10% AHA serum is a multi-acid blend containing glycolic, lactic, tartaric, and malic acids. First Aid Beauty is known for making effective products for sensitive skin, so it also contains oatmeal, aloe, and hyaluronic acid to moisturize and soothe. It is a really fabulous product, and I have been using it half and half with the Sunday Riley serum everyday at night.
Now that we know the difference between chemical and physical exfoliation, and why they are both beneficial in their own ways, I want to quickly remind you of how to care for your skin after exfoliating.
Particularly after using more high grade chemical exfoliants, it is crucial to put moisture back into your skin to help it rebuild and regenerate new cells. Exfoliants can strip moisture from the surface of the skin, and you don’t want your skin to go into overdrive and produce extra oil to make up for it, so it’s important to rehydrate. After applying my chemical serums at night, I always apply a nice, rich moisturizer followed by an oil (you can read about my favorites here). When I wake up in the morning, I use a gentle creamy cleanser and rose water toner in lieu of anything harsh, followed by a day cream and a few drops of argan oil to further retain moisture and keep my skin from becoming irritated. How you care for your skin after exfoliating is just as important as exfoliating itself.
Alright babes, I hope this post was informative for those of you who are new to exfoliation or just didn’t understand the different types of exfoliators out there! I would l love to know your experiences with exfoliation and what types of products have been most effective for you!! Also, please feel free to let me know what types of posts you would like to see next from me!!