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How to Exfoliate Your Face: Proven Methods and Tools

The world of skin care can be complex to navigate. There are many ways to take care of your skin, including exfoliating. But which kind of exfoliation is best? And how exactly do you exfoliate your face? Read on to learn what exfoliation is, the available methods, and how to decide which one is best for you. 

Skin exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells from the top layer of your skin. When you exfoliate, you bring new skin cells to the skin’s surface. The result can be skin that is brighter, clearer, and healthier.

While some people believe that this improves the appearance of their skin, it’s not for everyone. If not done properly, it can do more harm than good. If you choose to exfoliate, it’s important to do so safely so that it does not damage your skin or lead to increased redness or acne breakouts.

The natural process of shedding dead skin cells takes upwards of 30 days to complete.  Proper exfoliation removes the barrier of dead skin cells clogging the skin and uncovers fresh new cells below. This opens the way for moisturizing products to penetrate more deeply into the skin, which makes them more effective. In short, a regular exfoliating routine will leave your skin looking fresh and healthy.

Obtaining the best results from exfoliation depends on choosing the right kind of exfoliator for your skin type as well as knowing what your specific skin type is. There are granular face exfoliator scrubs, scrubs made from different acids or retinols, and tools such as brushes or sponges. Choosing the right product and approach can mean the difference between smooth skin and skin that’s inflamed and prone to breakouts. Read on to identify which type is best for you.  

It’s also important to be aware of your skin type. There are five basic skin types (sensitive, normal, dry, oily, and combination), and your skin may be a combination of two or more of them.

If you have sensitive skin, you may find your skin burns or itches after exfoliating. Normal skin is typically clear and less sensitive. Oily skin, on the other hand, often feels greasy and breaks out more frequently. Dry skin is the opposite and tends to flake or feel rough to the touch.

Many women find their skin is a combination of oily and dry or sensitive, with more oil present across the chin, nose, and forehead. 

Making skin exfoliation a part of your daily beauty routine has its benefits. For one, regular skin care, including exfoliation, can increase skin’s regenerative powers. It also helps improve skin elasticity and smoothness.

Collagen, which keeps skin looking supple and elastic, can also be increased with certain ingredients in exfoliators. Retinols, for example, are known to increase collagen production. What’s more, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, exfoliation helps skin better absorb and use other skincare products, such as moisturizer, by revealing fresh skin cells.  

Deciding how often you should exfoliate your face depends a lot on what your skin type is and your specific skincare needs. In general, using exfoliation at regular intervals is key for improving collagen production and keeping skin clear over time. If you’re using a more aggressive method, such as a chemical peel, you can do it less frequently than a gentle sugar facial exfoliator scrub. 

For all at-home exfoliators, it’s generally recommended not to scrub longer than 30 seconds. Using a gentle touch, apply the product using circular motions. To remove the product, always use lukewarm or cool water. Too hot water can damage your skin. Be careful not to over-exfoliate, as this could lead to skin that is red and irritated.

There are a number of tools and exfoliating ingredients to choose from. Mechanical exfoliation methods include facial cleansing brushes and gloves. Chemical methods include skin peels and certain acids.

When it comes to mechanical exfoliation choices, there are four main methods: scrubs, brushes, sponges, and gloves. Scrubs come in many different formulations, textures, and scents, and they can be applied directly onto your skin with your fingertips. Brushes, sponges, and gloves are tools you can use to do the exfoliation for you.

Brushes, which typically are made with bristles, can be used on your face or body. Dry brushes are meant to be used on dry skin. Other types are meant to be used wet, with a face or body wash. Sponges can also come in face and body forms and are generally gentler than brushes. Gloves are conveniently worn over hands and are most often used when exfoliating larger areas like the legs and back.

Avoid strong chemical or mechanical exfoliation if you have a darker skin tone or notice dark spots on your skin after burns, bug bites or acne breakouts.

There are two main types of chemical exfoliators: those with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and those with beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). AHAs, which are derived from natural exfoliant ingredients such as fruit enzymes, are better for dry skin because they stop dead skin cells from sticking together. Since AHAs are water soluble, they only penetrate into the outer layers of skin. BHAs, which are oil soluble, can go deeper into the skin. They also contain antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, ideal for skin prone to breakouts, especially blackheads.  

Avoid strong chemical or mechanical exfoliation if you have a darker skin tone or notice dark spots on your skin after burns, bug bites or acne breakouts. For some people, especially those with darker skin tones, more aggressive forms of exfoliation may result in dark spots on the skin.

It’s up to you whether you want to try a mechanical or chemical form of exfoliation. There is no one face exfoliator or face wash that fits all skin types.

When exfoliating your face at home, begin by pulling your hair securely away from your face. You can use a headband, hair tie, or shower cap. Doing so will keep the product from getting into your hair and scalp.

Whether you’re using a mechanical or chemical method, splash your face with warm water, using either your hands or a washcloth. If using your hands, don’t forget to wash them first. 

If you have more time, soak a washcloth in warm water, wring it out, and leave it on your face for a minute to help open up your pores. You can also stand in the steam of your shower before beginning. Although these pore-opening techniques are nice if you have the time, this step is not crucial.

If you are using a brush, sponge, or glove, you can either put your face wash on the tool or apply it directly to your face. Once you have applied the product, move the glove, sponge, or brush around your face with very gentle, circular movements, paying close attention to any problem areas. Remember to use a very light touch.

Whether you’re using a mechanical or chemical method, splash your face with warm water, using either your hands or a washcloth. If using your hands, don’t forget to wash them first.

Always use an exfoliator on damp skin, unless you’re using a dry brush. When you’re done, rinse off with warm water. To close up your pores, follow with a splash of cold water. Check along your hairline and ears to make sure you’ve removed all the scrub, since it can leave sticky granules behind.

Dry your skin with a clean, soft towel. Afterwards, apply a moisturizer or serum and eye cream. Your skin will be better able to absorb the benefits now that your pores have been opened and dead skin cells removed. 

If you’re looking for a stronger, more aggressive form of exfoliation, consider an electric exfoliating brush, microdermabrasion, or chemical peel at a dermatologist’s office. Electric brushes are far gentler on skin than microdermabrasion, making them a better choice for those with sensitive skin. Microdermabrasion, which is done using a mechanical suction tube, exfoliates skin by cleaning out pores and removing dead or dying skin cells. While a popular exfoliation method, it can also be expensive and needs to be repeated every few weeks to maintain results. 

Chemical peels speed cell regeneration. Available in different intensities from light to deep, chemical peels cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. You and your doctor will want to discuss your health background and needs to determine whether it’s right for you.  

Most people can safely exfoliate their skin without any problems. However, there are times when you should avoid exfoliation. Those with certain allergies and conditions will want to take greater precautions.

If you are allergic to aspirin, for example, avoid any products or peels containing salicylic acid, which is also found in aspirin. Those with sensitive skin will want to use products specifically formulated for their skin to avoid skin damage. And anyone with an open sore or wound should not exfoliate.   

If you’re exfoliating your skin at home, the best way to take care of it is to use the right kind of moisturizer or serum afterwards and make exfoliation a part of your regular beauty routine. However, if you’ve had a chemical peel or microdermabrasion done, you’ll want to take special steps to care for your skin.

Following either of these treatments, use a very gentle cleanser on your skin to avoid irritating it further. Keeping skin well moisturized is also key. Most importantly, avoid direct sunlight if possible, wearing a hat and sunglasses when outside and staying out of the sun during peak sun exposure hours. And never skip the sunscreen

Exfoliating skin has many benefits and few downsides. The most important part is deciding which exfoliation method is ideal for you. Personal preference, skin type, and an awareness of any underlying issues are key to making the best choice. If you are new to exfoliation, have sensitive skin, or are considering more aggressive options such as a chemical peel, speak with your dermatologist. They can guide you through the various options and help you choose the best course of action. 





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