What's a good way to exfoliate my skin?

Neal B. Schultz, MD

Chemical exfoliation is far superior to physical exfoliation. Chemical exfoliants dissolve the accumulated, dead, dulling, clogging cells. Glycolic acid is the gold standard of chemical exfoliants and works best when pH-adjusted and buffered. It should be used if not daily then at least regularly, depending upon your goal of exfoliation, whether it's facial rejuvenation or control and prevention of acne. Gentle physical exfoliation with granular exfoliants, in my view, only has a role in reduction of pore size when accompanied by appropriate chemical exfoliation.

With chemical exfoliation, the amount of exfoliation that you get (the results you get) is proportional only to the strength of that acid. It has nothing to do with the amount of the product that you put on the skin, or on the amount of the time that you leave it there. So, when you put the product on the skin, regardless of how thick it is, because it is only the thin layer in contact with the surface that is doing what you want it to do. Regardless of that, or how you leave it here, because you actually want it to be absorbed into the skin, you get predictable, precise depth of exfoliation and therefore, results. However, with physical exfoliants, the depth of exfoliation that you get, depends on three things. It depends on how strongly you actually exfoliate, in other words, how strongly you rub. It also depends on how long you do it, and what the actual material is that you’re using. The other issue with chemical vs. physical exfoliants is that you get far fewer side effects with chemical exfoliants, because if you can have an irritation with a chemical--first you get a little flaking, then a little irritation, and you see it coming. You feel that something is wrong long before you get a raw, red area. But, with physical exfoliants, it seems to be that people tend to think that if a little is good, more is better, which frequently leads to irritation and even bleeding.

Gentle grains like sugar, oatmeal, or small synthetic beads can be found in common exfoliating products you can use once or twice weekly, depending on the sensitivity of your skin. Exfoliation is a practice that requires experimentation. Some people can tolerate the more abrasive products while others need more gentle formulas that won’t leave skin red and irritated. On the one hand, you’re scrubbing away dead, dulling cells to stimulate new cell growth and reveal that healthy, fresh glow. But on the other hand, you’re doing just that: semi sanding your face! Finding the balance here is key. If you want a more aggressive approach to exfoliation, you can schedule a visit to a dermatologist for a glycolic peel or microdermabrasion. Many have medical assistants or aestheticians in their offices who do these treatments daily.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.