You trim your hair every few months and file your nails when they get too long, but are you giving your skin the same attention? In addition to washing your face and applying a daily moisturizer, a regular exfoliation routine can help slough off the outer layer of dead skin cells and keep your skin from looking flaky and lifeless. But you can have too much of a good thing: Exfoliation should be done with care and with caution, and how (and how often) you do it should depend on your skin type and sensitivity level.
There are many different types of exfoliation products and methods, from over-the-counter scrubs and brushes to in-office procedures performed by a dermatologist. No matter what type you use, be sure to always use a moisturizer and sunscreen afterward, since the process can leave skin raw and sensitive. "Exfoliation strips away dead skin cells, but it also strips away oil—so you have to replenish that moisture right away," says New York City-based dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD. "Still, it can do wonders for a dull complexion if it's done right." Use these five tips to restore your natural glow.
When it comes to exfoliation, less is more, cautions Laura F. Sandoval, DO, a senior clinical research fellow in the department of dermatology at Wake Forest University. "We actually tell most patients not to exfoliate, because once people start, they can get very aggressive and it can really irritate their skin," she says. This is especially true of people with sensitive skin, or who are already on a medicine, like retinol, for acne or anti-aging benefits. "Those products act as exfoliants already, so you probably don't need to do much else on top of using them and a gentle face wash. If you're not already using a prescription-strength product and you want to give exfoliation a try, try it once a week for dry skin or twice a week for oily skin, and see how your face reacts.
Browse the skin-care aisle at your local pharmacy or search online for DIY skin-care "recipes" and you'll find facial scrubs containing everything from sugar and salt to ground-up rocks and seeds. But a wash with larger particles or sharp edges can result in more irritation than exfoliation, leaving your face with tiny scratches that make it more prone to breakouts and infection. Because of this, the International Dermal Institute does not recommend scrubs with crushed fruit pits, shells, or "similar damaging substrates." [Howard] Instead, choose a scrub that uses a gentle exfoliant, like synthetic microbeads, or a chemical exfoliant, such as lactic acid.
If you're curious about trying a skin-care brush, choose one that's meant specifically for use on the face; because our skin is much more sensitive here, these brushes can't be as rough as what we'd use on the rest of our body. You can find both manual and electric brushes in a variety of shapes and textures, but the important thing to remember is to follow instructions and use them as directed. David McDaniel, MD, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Virginia Beach, recommends battery-operated Clarisonic brushes to his patients with dry, flaky skin. "They're really quite good and very gentle, as long as you don't overdo it and use them too often," he says.
Even if your face isn't dry and flaky, chances are your lips get that way every once in a while – especially in the winter months when temperatures and humidity drop. When chapped lips strike, gently scrub away dead skin with a soft toothbrush. First, apply a thin layer of lip balm or Vaseline, and then gently rub the bristles in small circles on and around your lips. If you want to get creative, you can also make your own lip scrub using equal parts honey and sugar. Rub it gently into your lips using your fingers, wipe off with a damp washcloth, and always apply a hydrating lip balm afterward to lock in moisture. [Scott]
If you're not satisfied with the results of your at-home exfoliation, consider talking to your dermatologist about microdermabrasion or chemical peels. These procedures are done at a doctor's office or medical spa, and they can quickly provide results for people suffering from acne, skin discoloration or wrinkles and other signs of aging. Light chemical peels, which remove just the outer layer of skin, can be done as much as once a week for up to six weeks, while deeper chemical peels (used to treat deeper wrinkles, scars or uneven skin tone) should be done much less often. [Mayo Clinic]
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- Bruno, Karen. "The Truth About Skin Care for Your Face." WebMD. November 19, 2012. (October 13, 2013) http://www.webmd.com/beauty/advances-skin-care-9/women-face-skin-care
- Howard, Diana. "Methods of Exfoliation." International Dermal Institute. (October 13, 2013) http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/20_article_Methods_of_Exfoliation.html
- Karcher, Cheryl, MD. Personal interview. September 13, 2013.
- Mayo Clinic. "Chemical Peel." May 30, 2012. (October 13, 2013) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/chemical-peel/MY02019
- McDaniel, David, MD. Personal interview. September 15, 2013.
- Percia, Jill. "Exfoliation: TLC Vs. Tough Love." July 26, 2011. (October 15, 2013) http://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/exfoliation-face
- Scott, Audrey. "How to Make an Exfoliating Lip Treatment." DailyGlow. September 16, 2011. (October 15, 2013) http://www.dailyglow.com/how-to-make-an-exfoliating-lip-treatment.html
- Tanzi, Elizabeth, MD. "Skin Clinic: How to Properly Exfoliate." DoctorOz.com. December 9, 2011. (October 15, 2013)