Your skin is your largest organ, and it sheds 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every minute [source: Wellsphere]. If rubbing that dead skin away to reveal the shiny, bright skin underneath sounds appealing, what you need is some exfoliation.
Exfoliating means removing the dead layer of skin cells on the skin's outermost surface [source: MedicineNet]. The average person should exfoliate twice a week, but you may need to exfoliate more or less depending on your age and the climate in which you live. For example, older skin doesn't renew as quickly, so too much scrubbing can irritate it. And people who live in warm climates may need to exfoliate more often because heat increases oil and sweat production, both of which can speed up the accumulation of dead cells.
But what you use to remove those dead cells is just as important as how often you exfoliate. Different parts of your body have different skin thicknesses and require different tools. A clean washcloth and a little scrub may be fine for your face, but it won't put a dent in the rough skin on your feet. But with the proper tools, you can have smooth skin from head to toe.
Carpenters and plumbers use specific tools to get different jobs done -- just as you can use specific tools to exfoliate different parts of your skin. On the next pages, you'll learn what types of exfoliating tools can help keep your skin smooth and bright.
Types of Exfoliating Tools
There are two main types of exfoliating tools: chemical and mechanical. For a chemical treatment -- also called a chemical peel -- a solution is applied to the skin that peels off the top layer of skin. Chemical exfoliants contain alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids and enzymes that help loosen skin cells so they're easier to remove [source: Rubin]. Weak solutions that contain chemical exfoliating properties are available over the counter, but you'll need to see a dermatologist for a stronger one.
Mechanical exfoliating tools, on the other hand, require a little manual labor. These tools are abrasives -- such as body scrubs and loofahs -- that remove unwanted skin. However, although they're abrasive, mechanical exfoliating tools should be gentle enough not to irritate your skin. If a tool leaves your skin feeling raw, it may be too harsh.
Regardless of whether you use an exfoliating scrub or just a facial cleanser, you'll need something to help loosen that dead skin. One option is a tightly woven nylon mesh, which will remove more dead skin from your face than a sponge. A loofah is another great exfoliating tool, and while it's too harsh for your face, it can be used to scrub the skin of your torso and back. Exfoliating gloves are another option with abrasive qualities, or you could try exfoliating pouches, porous cloths that contain facial cleanser. For a gentle exfoliating experience, there are micro-exfoliating cloths, which are made from fibers 100 times thinner than a human hair [source: Elle]. And if you're a power tool lover, there's also the electric face brush, a tool that's similar to an electric toothbrush [source: Pack]. But you don't have to buy a special tool just to exfoliate -- even common household items like a towel or washcloth can help loosen dead skin [source: Parker]
Now that you're familiar with different exfoliating tools, check out the following page for tips on choosing the best ones for your skin.
Choosing Exfoliating Tools
There are a variety of exfoliating tools on the market, but you need to pick the right one for your skin. Here's a head-to-toe rundown on the tools you can use.
The best tool for your face is either a micro-exfoliating cloth or a pair of soft exfoliating gloves. Pouches are also a good idea, but they may be too gentle to exfoliate as well as a cloth or gloves. The electric face brush is another option, but its effectiveness depends on bristle type, pressure applied, and type of cleanser -- just like a toothbrush [source: Pack].
For larger parts of your body, such as your torso, use a loofah or mesh sponge because they're more abrasive -- but be sure to keep your loofahs and sponges clean and germ-free by air-drying them after each use [source: MSNBC]. You may have to get a pumice stone for the really thick skin on your elbows, knees and feet. Pumice is lava that's hardened into porous rock, and it works like sandpaper on really rough skin. For tough calluses on your feet, soak your feet in warm water to soften the skin and then exfoliate several times to reach that fresh, soft skin.
Now that you're armed with information on the proper exfoliating tools, you can buff and scrub your way to smooth skin without risking skin damage. For more helpful hints on exfoliating tools and how to use them, visit the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Elle. "Micro-Exfoliation Cloths: A Gentler, Environmentally Friendly Way to Scrub Your Face." (Accessed 8/22/09). http://www.elle.com/Beauty/Makeup-Skin-Care/Micro-Exfoliation-Cloths
- Goins, Liesa. "Make Yourself Beautiful on a Budget." (Accessed 9/14/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/make-yourself-beautiful-on-a-budget
- Health.com. "Exfoliating 101: How to Let Fresh, Radiant Skin Shine Through." (Accessed 8/30/09).http://living.health.com/2008/02/22/exfoliating-101/
- MedicineNet. "Definition of Stratum corneum." (Accessed 8/22/09).http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9550
- MSNBC. "Win the War on Germs: Tips for Clean Living in Your Own Home." (Accessed 8/22/09)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3077037/
- Pack, Peggy. "Dermatologists Offer Advice on Cleansing Face." (Accessed 8/22/09).http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,148399,00.html
- Parker, Hilary. "Psoriasis: Treatments and TipsDuring the Holidays." WebMD. (Accessed 8/31/2009) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/psoriasis-8/treatment-tips-holidays?page=2
- Rubin, Mark G. Chemical Peels. Elsevier Health Services, 2006. (Accessed 8/22/09).http://books.google.com/books?id=moHtKTDJ34C&printsec=frontcover&dq=chemical+peels#v=onepage&q=&f=false
- WebMD. "Cosmetic Procedures: Chemical Peel Treatments." (Accessed 8/30/09).http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/cosmetic-procedures-chemical-peel-treatments
- WebMD. "Women's Skin Care for Your Face." (Accessed 8/30/09).http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/advances-skin-care-9/women-face-skin-care
- Wellsphere. "The Problem With Dead Skin." (Accessed 8/30/09).http://stanford.wellsphere.com/skin-beauty-article/the-problem-with-dead-skin/581985