Physical exfoliates consist of products like brushes, sponges and scrubs derived from a number of different ingredients such as stones, nuts, sugar or pumice. The functions of these products are to physically scrub old, dry and dead skin cells from the stratum corneum, which is the top or outermost layer of the epidermis.
Physical exfoliates can leave the skin feeling incredibly soft and polished however they should be handled with care. Scrubs or brushes may have large particles or bristles that can cause micro-tears in the skin and lead to inflammation, dryness or a rough texture. Problem skins that are prone to redness or acne may also react to the harsh friction of a physical exfoliant and can lead to additional irritation.
The right product for the right job is key… as an example, Dirty and Oily skin doesn’t always mean scrub harder; a gentle scrub containing activated charcoal would be a better choice to help absorb more of the oils while cleaning the pores.
Chemical exfoliates (Alpha Hydroxy Acids or Beta Hydroxy Acids) and enzymes which include fruit acids, salicylic acid, and lactic acids dissolve the glue and dead tissue that hold old skin cells in place. These products work by themselves (without scrubbing) to help the skin speed up its cell turnover to reveal a fresh layer of tissue. Chemical exfoliants have also shown that over time they can aid with hyperpigmentation, helping repair sun damage, fading fine lines and wrinkles, and acne more than physical exfoliants.
Like the scrubs, you need to use the correct product for each skin type. BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), specifically salicylic acid derived from the Willow Bark Tree are typically great for oily, acne prone skin. Good BHA products penetrate slightly deeper and break through oils going into the pores, helping treat blackheads and whiteheads. They also have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help prevent newer breakouts from forming.
Products like overnight masks that use fruit enzymes as the exfoliate are perfect for most combination skin types since they are gentle enough to not damage drier skin while still providing a fresh glow. Also, aging skin does not turnover as quickly as younger skin so it’s important to use the correct product as you get older and increase how often you exfoliate. Products containing glycolic acid will gently but effectively remove those dull skin cells and can be used two times per week.
One of the most important things, especially if you have dry skin, is to follow up after your exfoliant with a good moisturizer. Whichever product or method you choose, the key to younger looking, healthy skin is keeping the proper balance of moisture and regulating cell turnover.