Beginner’s Guide to Exfoliation

Exfoliation can lighten spots on the skin and makes use of the body’s adaptive response to increase skin regeneration. It has been touted across both the western and eastern world as a great way to rejuvenate the skin and return its youthful glow. Exfoliation removes the oldest, dead layer of skin to reveal its younger version. Exfoliation stimulates new skin cell production and does a range of good from reducing wrinkles and fine lines to lightening freckles.

If you want to start exfoliation, read on to learn the best practices that will benefit your skin in the best way.

Exfoliation can damage the skin says that abrasive scrubs can seriously damage skin. According to them, this damage often goes unnoticed and builds up to frightening results. They quote celebrity beautician Renée Rouleau for saying that the damage from exfoliation leads to redness, dehydration and premature aging. Ironically, these are the very things that we want to reverse when we exfoliate.

Take caution when exfoliating

For this reason, SA Spotters warns to exfoliate safely. They warn against exfoliating more than once per session and they advise not to exfoliate for two days in a row. You should not exfoliate more than two times a week. Since exfoliation removes the outer, dead layer of skin, the exfoliated area will be very sensitive to damage. When you focus your exfoliation efforts on a specific area like freckles or pimples, you increase your chances of causing damage. Re-exfoliating this area will damage the skin because there is no dead skin left to protect it. You must give your skin enough time to recover – similarly to the way you give your body time to recover after a workout. They also warn against scrubbing your skin until it goes pink or red. This is what causes permanent damage. If exfoliation feels painful, you are exfoliating way too harshly.

Exfoliation encourages your skin to renew itself faster because it loses the top layer and tries to replace it. Like with any adaption routine (changing a habit or exercising), your body needs time to adapt. Scrubbing off more skin than your body can replace will thin out the skin too much for it to cope with. For this reason, people who haven’t exfoliated in the past should be extra gentle and exfoliate at an extremely low frequency. As your skin gets used to producing more skin cells at a faster rate, you can slowly increase the amount of times that you exfoliate. I recommend doing a light exfoliation every 10 days for the first month before increasing the frequency to once a week.

Different types of exfoliation

There are two different types of exfoliation: chemical and mechanical.

Chemical exfoliation says that skin damage is much less likely to occur through chemical exfoliation because there is no physical scrubbing involved. Instead, a chemical acts as an acid to break apart the dead skin cells.

Common chemical exfoliants

AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acids, derived from natural ingredients like milk, grapes or sugar cane) such as glycolic acid (derived from cane sugar and a popular ingredient in many cosmetic products), are often used for sun damaged skin because they have the added benefit of improving overall moisture.
BHA’s (Beta hydroxy acids) are derived from sweet birch trees or willow bark. These acids break up oil compounds and are therefore used by people who have oily, acne-prone skin. They are also used to treat whiteheads and blackheads.

The primary difference between AHA’s and BHA’s

AHA’s are water-soluble, while BHA’s are oil-soluble. AHA’s, then, are best used to increase skin moisture while BHA’s are best used to clean up excess skin oil.


Plant or fruit enzymes are also commonly used to exfoliate the skin. They typically come from fruit and vegetables like pumpkin, pineapple, papaya or diluted lemon juice.

Mechanical exfoliation

The Dermal Institute uses soft feet after a day at the beach to explain how mechanical exfoliation works. Instead of using chemicals to cause a reaction on the skin, mechanical exfoliation uses a (should be) gentle force to remove dead skin cells.
Some argue that this is a more natural process and simulates the kind of environment that humans found themselves in in our earlier, more primitive years. People who lived in dense forests naturally brushed their skin against the leaves when moving around while people in desert areas experienced frequent exfoliation from the sand in the wind.
Mechanical exfoliants are abrasive materials that are used to physically remove dead skin cells. Commonly used materials include natural components like silica, olive seeds, fine salt (NEVER use coarse salt because this will seriously damage your skin), and corn cob meal. Typical household items can also be used like loofahs, facecloths and dry body brushes.
The Dermal Institute warns readers to stay gentle while using mechanical exfoliants. It is very easy to overdo this kind of exfoliation, which could lead to scratches on the skin or cause inflammation.
Olive oil mixed with fine table salt is a great way to exfoliate the skin while adding moisture.

Exfoliation for different skin types

Exfoliation can benefit all skin types but needs to be used with caution to avoid damage.

Oily skin

Exfoliation can boost the skin’s self-cleaning process by unclogging pores and removing excess oil. BHA’s (Beta hydroxy acid) exfoliants are particularly useful for oily skin because of their ability to dissolve and remove oil. If you have oily skin, you should not exfoliate too often. Over-exfoliation will lead to even more oil production. This happens because the skin feels threatened or damaged and produces more oil to protect itself. Keep exfoliation light and allow enough time in between exfoliation sessions to let the skin regulate itself naturally.

Dry skin

Exfoliation can also benefit dry skin for a number of reasons. Firstly, exfoliation can stimulate oil production in skin types that aren’t producing enough oil. They remove dead skin cells and other pore-blocking gunk that could be blocking the glands that are responsible for oil production. Dry skin types often have thin skin, which long-term exfoliation helps to correct by training the skin to produce new layers of skin.
Since exfoliation can dry out the skin, people with dry skin should use exfoliation methods that add moisture to the skin, like AHA’s (alpha hydroxy acid) chemical exfoliants or mechanical exfoliants that involve olive oil.

Sensitive skin

Your skin can be sensitive – regardless of whether you have oily or dry skin. Long-term exfoliation will train the skin to thicken if done properly, but break it down further if done too harshly or too frequently.
Sensitive skin types should take extra caution not to over-exfoliate. Rather be too gentle and wait too long between exfoliations while allowing your skin to adapt. When it comes to exfoliation, a little really does go a long way.


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