This is a topic that is often misunderstood within a skincare regimen. One of the primary reasons is because there are so many options to choose from that it’s easy to be confused about what to use. As an esthetician, I would often recommend that people try a few of the options (one at a time) to decide ultimately what works best for them, and delivers the best results for their skin type.
Before I speak to my favorite options out there, let me clarify two important points that everyone should know: 1) yes, it is possible to exfoliate too much (creates irritation), and 2) if you have rosacea or severe acne then you need to ensure your dermatologist helps determine what is best for you.
Physical exfoliators are also referred to as scrubs, sponges, or brushes. Think of them as polishing agents – they will remove dead skin and debris by using granular beads, fibers or bristles to create the exfoliation. I especially like these for dry skin, since flakes and small clogs will easily roll off the skin surface. Tip: use in the shower up to 2x a week on clean skin to start.
My favorite physical exfoliators are:
– Clinique 7-Day Scrub Cream – creamy and gentle, and great for all skin types
– Konjac sponges by Eco-Tools – these are made with Konjac vegetable fibers, and are all the rage in Asia. Gentle enough to use everyday with your cleanser, they are incredibly smooth on the skin’s surface.
– June Jacobs Radiant Refining Exfoliating Powder – this is similar to the ancient practice of rice powders being used in Asia to polish skin. This can be used on it’s own (creates a creamy polish with water), but I really love adding it to my Cetaphil or CeraVe creamy cleansers to brighten and clarify.
Chemical exfoliators are also referred to as peels, serums and solutions. These products rely mostly on alpha or beta-hydroxy acids (glycolic, salicylic, etc), retinoids (vitamin A), or enzymes (papaya) to create a non-physical reaction on the skin that loosens dead skin, clogs, and minimizes wrinkles. Tip: use at night to gain the most repair and avoid sun sensitivity during the day.
My favorite chemical exfoliators are:
– bliss That’s Incredi-‘peel’! pre-soaked pads – these use glycolic acid to refine skin and brighten. I love using them at night, after toning and before moisturizing.
– Olay Regenerist Serum Fragrance-Free (not pictured) – this serum is silky and instantly smooths. Use at night before moisturizing, and it helps boost hydration.
All of these can be used down the neck and chest to help brighten and give anti-aging effects. Men may also like these products as they help smooth skin, reduce ingrown hairs from shaving, and keep skin clear. Ultimately, the best advice I can give you on this is to be gentle to your skin – exfoliation is an essential step, but shouldn’t be overdone. Find something you like, and it will be like having a mini-facial on a weekly basis.