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Scrubs, Exfoliants and Exfoliators in Skin Care Products

Exfoliating is the fastest way to get glowing skin. Scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators take off the top dead layer of the skin, leaving it smooth and radiant with an increased ability to reflect light. Some people call smooth, exfoliated skin “glass skin” because of the ability of the skin to reflect light and glow. The desire for glowing skin prompts many people to exfoliate too often, but over-exfoliating skin is not good. This blog discusses exfoliants to use for exfoliation of the face, body, legs, hands and feet.

Many skin care ingredients exfoliate skin- but the exfoliant best for you depends on your skin type and other products in your skin care routine. This blog is a guide to how to safely exfoliate and which scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators to choose and use.

Do you really need to exfoliate? It depends upon your Baumann Skin Type.

How to use different exfoliators and scrubs

How to Exfoliate Skin

To exfoliate your face using a physical exfoliant, start by cleansing your face with your regular cleanser. After washing your face, take a small amount of the exfoliant product and gently massage it onto your skin in circular motions, making sure to avoid the sensitive eye area. Continue massaging the exfoliant for the recommended time specified on the product, usually around 30 seconds to a minute. Rinse off the exfoliant thoroughly with warm water and then gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel. To complete the skincare routine, consider following up with a hydrating mask, serum, or moisturizer for added nourishment and hydration.

It is easy to exfoliate your skin at home. Many skin care products will do this. The hard part is knowing which exfoliators are best for your Baumann Skin Type.  Below I discuss what types of exfoliants there are.

Shop for Scrubs, Exfoliants, and Exfoliators

Facial Scrubs

Facial scrubs are a good way to exfoliate. The abrasive ingredient in them determines if they are good for your skin type or not. Different types of particles used in physical exfoliants can be tailored based on one's skin type. For individuals with oilier skin, larger and more abrasive particles like pumice or magnesium oxide crystals are recommended as their skin can better tolerate these. On the other hand, those with drier, sensitive skin should opt for products containing softer less spiky granules such as ruby crystals and jojoba beads. It is important to be cautious when selecting exfoliants as certain natural ingredients like crushed nutshells, seashells, ground fruit pits, and seeds may have uneven edges and irregular shapes that can potentially harm sensitive skin. 

Most facial scrubs have one of these types of mechanical exfoliators:

  • Apricot Seeds : Crushed apricot seeds are used in some scrubs for their abrasive texture, which helps manually remove dead skin cells.
  • Jojoba Beads : Smooth, round beads made from jojoba oil that gently exfoliate without causing skin damage.
  • Sugar Crystals : Naturally abrasive, sugar is used in scrubs to exfoliate and also offers humectant properties to hydrate the skin.
  • Salt Crystals : Similar to sugar, salt is used for its abrasive properties and is often found in body scrubs.
  • Coffee Grounds : Used in scrubs for their gritty texture, coffee grounds can help exfoliate and are thought to improve circulation.
  • Microbeads : (Note: Microbeads were commonly used but are now banned in many countries due to environmental concerns. They are small plastic beads.)
  • Bamboo Powder : A fine, gentle exfoliant derived from bamboo, suitable for more sensitive skin.
  • Rice Bran : Ground rice bran is used for its gentle exfoliating properties and is popular in Asian beauty products.

These are exfoliating facial scrubs that I recommend to my patients:

Peels

Peels use acids to dissolve attachments between cells.  This can burn your skin if you have very sensitive skin or a thin stratum corneum.  Do not use peels unless you have guidance from a skincare expert- and NEVER go in the sun after using an at home exfoliating peel on your face or any exposed areas.

These are peels that we like for some skin types:

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Toners

Exfoliating toners may be found in skin care routines to treat acne or melasma routines.  These are some toners that we recommend mostly to Oily Baumann Skin Types.

Essence

Essences, which are another name for facial toners, may contain exfoliating ingredients such as hydroxy acids and enzymes. The best exfoliating face toners for oily skin or combination skin have salicylic acid to clear pores. The best essences and face toners for dry skin should have hydroxy acids like glycolic acid.

glycolic acid

Types of Exfoliants

There are two main types of skincare products that exfoliate skin: 

  1. Mechanical exfoliators 
  2. Chemical Exfoliators

Skincare products to exfoliate the skin may contain mechanical exfoliators, chemical exfoliators, or both. Other products that you might not realize are exfoliants are retinoids and ascorbic acid.

Choose exfoliators by your Baumann Skin Type for best results. You can shop and read reviews by your skin type. Once you take the quiz -  look for your skin type octagon with your skin type number and color. This will guide you to the best exfoliants and exfoliators for your skin type. If you do not see the octagons- it means you need to take the quiz or log in.


Mechanical Exfoliators

Mechanical exfoliation is also called physical exfoliation and is a skincare method that involves using a hard substance or tool to manually remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This process can be achieved by applying a liquid, gel, or scrub containing granules like microbeads or sugars, or by using tools such as sponges, towels, or brushes. The manual exfoliation technique essentially works by gently 'scrubbing' the skin to slough off dead cells and reveal a smoother complexion. While physical exfoliation offers various benefits, there is a risk of over-exfoliation if too much pressure is applied or if the process is repeated too frequently. Additionally, the abrasiveness of some exfoliants can potentially cause skin irritation and compromise the skin's natural barrier function. It is crucial to choose the right physical exfoliant based on individual skin thickness and sensitivity to avoid these issues and achieve optimal results.Mechanical exfoliators use a rough substance s to scratch the surface of the skin removing dead skin cells.

Types of mechanical exfoliators are:

  • sugar
  • apricot seeds
  • jojoba beads
  • aluminum crystals
  • face brush
  • face scrub
  • loofa
  • microdermabrasion
  • dermaplaning
azelaic acid

Chemical Exfoliators

Manual exfoliation involves using a physical tool, liquid, gel, or scrub to physically slough off the dead surface cells from the skin. On the contrary, chemical exfoliation involves the use of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes to break down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, allowing them to be shed more easily. In essence, manual exfoliation physically scrubs away dead cells while chemical exfoliation chemically dissolves them. The two methods differ in their mechanism of action and the potential level of skin irritation they may cause. Chemical exfoliation is generally considered gentler and more suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin due to its less abrasive nature, while manual exfoliation can be more aggressive and may not be suitable for all skin types.

Chemical exfoliators that use low pH ingredients such as acids or enzymes help dissolve the attachments between cells.


Types of chemicals exfoliators are:

What happens when you don

What happens if you don't exfoliate?

The skin exfoliates itself in a process called desquamation- so using extra exfoliation is  not necessary to maintain skin health.  However, exfoliation can make your skin glow and look radiant instantly. 

When the skin’s surface is not smooth, dead skin cells heap upon the top layer of the skin. This decreases light reflection.

5 things that can happen if you do not exfoliate skin:

  1. Your skin will look dull
  2. Your skin will not glow
  3. Your skin will feel rough
  4. Darker skin may get a grey and ashy 
  5. You may have tiny dry lines

Signs you need to exfoliate

When dead skin cells heap up on the skin's surface, your skin looks less radiant and stops glowing.

7 signs that you need to exfoliate:

  1. Ashy skin
  2. Skin feels rough
  3. Skin is dull
  4. Skin does not reflect light
  5. Skin is not radiant
  6. Your skin looks old
  7. Crepey skin with a rough texture

How Often To Exfoliate

How many times a day or week you should exfoliate depends upon your Baumann Skin Type. If you have a Resistant Baumann Skin Type, you can exfoliate every day. Below is what I tell my patients about how often to exfoliate depending on their skin type.

How often should you exfoliate sensitive skin?

Sensitive Baumann Skin Types should be careful and only exfoliate 2-3 times a week. Some subtypes of sensitive skin such as rosacea prone skin, may not be able to exfoliate at all.  Never exfoliate if your skin if it hurts, or is red or stinging.  


How often should you exfoliate dry skin?

Exfoliate dry skin one to two times a week.  Only exfoliate if your skin is dull or is flaking. Exfoliate in the day time or before an event.  There is no need to exfoliate your skin before bedtime because the dead skin cells will build up on the top layer of your skin again overnight.

Can exfoliating too much cause dry skin?

Yes!  Exfoliating skin injures the skin barrier.  If you want to exfoliate your dry skin, use a barrier repair moisturizer afterwards.


dry skin types need a barrier repair moisturizer

Barrier repair moisturizers to use after exfoliating dry skin:



Benefits of Exfoliating

The skin naturally exfoliates itself in a process called desquamation. In some instances, the face needs help exfoliating because it is not desquamating enough, resulting in retained skin cells on the surface of the skin.These dead skin cells on the surface of skin make the skin feel rough. When the surface of the skin is not smooth, the skin looks dull because light is not reflected well. Exfoliants renew skin and make it  radiant and glowing

10 benefits of exfoliating skin are:

  1. Fading age spots and dark spots
  2. Reducing fine lines and wrinkles (temporarily)
  3. Increasing absorption of other products
  4. Unclogging pores
  5. Shrinking pores
  6. Improving the appearance of aged skin
  7. Smoothing skin
  8. Removing hard skin
  9. Thin calluses
  10. Get rid of bumps on skin










How Many Exfoliators To Use In Your Skin Care Routine

You probably do not realize how many exfoliators are in your skin care routine. Many ingredients such as Vitamin C exfoliate but you do not realize it.

When starting a new skin care routine, most Baumann Skin Types should only use 1 type of exfoliation per day.  However, some skin types can use 2-3 types per day.


The key is to not over-exfoliate.  When you begin a new skincare routine,  do not use more than 1 or 2 types of exfoliators at once or you can over-exfoliate the skin.  The amount of exfoliators you use, the frequency that you exfoliate every day, and which exfoliator is best depends upon your Baumann Skin Type®.  



What skin treatments exfoliate?

Many medical spas offer skin treatments to exfoliate. These are the types of exfoliating treatments to ask your doctor or medical provider about:

  • Body Scrubs
  • Dermaplaning
  • Exfoliating Masks
  • Face brushes
  • Facial scrubs
  • HydraFacial
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical Peels
  • Laser

What skin care ingredients exfoliate?

List of exfoliating ingredients found in skincare products:

List of exfoliants and exfoliators in skin care products:

Natural and Clean Exfoliating Ingredients:

There are many natural exfoliants and exfoliators that meet clean ingredient standards.  Some examples are:

  • Apricot Pits- finely ground
  • Almonds- finely ground
  • Oatmeal- ground
  • Papaya enzymes
  • Pumpkin enzymes
  • Sugar

Sea salt is very rough on the skin so if you choose to exfoliate with kosher salt or sea salt- be very gentle.  Sugar is a better natural option to exfoliate skin.

Do not use baking soda to exfoliate your face! Baking soda has a pH of 8 and is very alkaline and irritating to your skin.  You can cause a chemical burn.

Environmentally Friendly Exfoliants and Scrubs

There are many face scrubs to exfoliate the face, however, many have come under scrutiny because they can hurt the environment. In fact, plastic microbeads have been banned from beauty products in the US because of plastic buildup in the waterways. 

Environmentally friendly, eco-friendly, sustainable face scrub ingredients include:

  • Coffee grounds- Can have sharp edges that are too rough for sensitive skin
  • Jojoba beads - Do not have rough edges that can damage the skin. Come in different sizes that can determine mild, moderate, or deep exfoliation.
  • Oatmeal- Best exfoliating ingredient for sensitive skin but not very exfoliating
  • Sugar- A very common DIY at home exfoliator, but very harsh and irritating due to small size and large surface area, causing increased amounts of friction.


Vitamin C

Is Vitamin C an Exfoliant?

Ascorbic acid is an exfoliant. Vitamin C is an acid called ascorbic acid. 

Most vitamin C serums are at a low acidic pH.  The Vitamin C serums that are pH 3 or lower are exfoliants.  For example, SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic is an exfoliant.

Vitamin C creams are not a low pH in most cases- so Vitamin C creams do not exfoliate skin like serums do.

However, Vitamin C serums are strong exfoliants.  They are also antioxidants and tyrosinase inhibitors


Hyaluronic acid

Is Hyaluronic acid an exfoliant?

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is not an exfoliant.  It is a glycosaminoglycan and a humectant.  It helps skin hold onto water but HA does not exfoliate skin.

It increases penetration of other ingredients and can increase effectiveness of exfoliants and exfoliators.

niacinamide

Is Niacinamide an exfoliant?

retinol

Is retinol an exfoliant?

Retinol and other retinoids are one of the best exfoliants which is why you peel when you first begin a retinoid.

The exfoliant properties of retinoids is part of the cause of side effects seen with retinol.

Be careful when beginning retinoids. You can easily over exfoliate.  I recommend using no more than one other exfoliant when beginning retinoids.

Best Exfoliators By Skin Type

The best exfoliant for your face is one that will make your skin glow but will not over exfoliate. Which is best for your face depends upon your Baumann Skin type and what other products are in your skin care regimen.  Here is some general advice and tips to help learn about which exfoliators are best for your face or body.

Our top recommendation is to take the quiz and shop for scrubs, exfoliants, and exfoliators by your Baumann Skin Type.

Best Exfoliators for Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is more prone to inflammation.  Too much inflammation can lead to uneven skin pigmentation and skin aging.

Exfoliators can increase inflammation in sensitive skin types and hurt your skin! They can also cause hyperpigmentation if you get inflamed from overuse.

If you have sensitive skin, you should only use exfoliating ingredients that are right for your Baumann Skin Type®.  This is important because every day in our dermatology practices we see patients who have made their acne, rosacea, or irritated skin worse by using the wrong exfoliating ingredients.

Salicylic acid cleansers might be right for you if you have oily sensitive skin and hydroxyacid cleansers might be right for you if you have dry sensitive skin, but please take the quiz and get our recommendations before using any type of scrubs, exfoliants and exfoliators.

Misuse of exfoliators is one of the biggest mistake that I see my sensitive skin patients make!


Best Exfoliators Dry Skin

The best exfoliators for dry skin are hydroxyacid cleansers or creams that contain hydroxyacids. Here are some low strength hydroxyacid creams that can be used to exfoliate dry skin:

Best Exfoliators for Normal and Combination Skin

If you believe you have normal or combination skin we strongly suggest you take the Baumann Skin Type Quiz because these are not true skin types.  But- these are exfoliators that might work for you:

Best Exfoliators for Oily Skin

For oily skin, we prefer salicylic acid cleansers or toners. Here are some exfoliating salicylic acid toners for oily skin types. Toners should be applied after cleansing the face.

Low pH cleansers for exfoliating the skin

Best Face Wash to Exfoliate the Face

For most skin types I recommend exfoliating the face with a low pH cleanser. If you are dry, chose a hydoxyacid cleanser.  If you are oily, choose a salicylic acid cleanser. You can learn more about shopping for cleansers by your skin type here. 

The best face wash to exfoliate the face daily will have chemical exfoliators.  These can be natural skin exfoliators like papaya or pumpkin enzymes that are gentle or strong exfoliators like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and phytic acid.

Exfoliating Face Wash for Oily Skin

The best face washes to exfoliate oily skin types are salicylic acid face washes.

Exfoliating Face Wash for Dry Skin

The best face washes to exfoliate dry types are hydroxyacid face washes.


Best Face Brush to Exfoliate the Face

There are many good face brushes to exfoliate the face. Face brushes should be used with the best cleanser for your Baumann Skin Type.

Face brushes are not advised for dry skin types because increased friction can impair the skin barrier

Sensitive skin types should not use a face brush. (See discussion of exfoliation for sensitive skin above).

If you choose to use a face brush, you should only use one other type of exfoliation in your skincare routine, and this includes the type of cleanser that you are using with the face brush.

So- if you are using a retinoid and a face brush, do not use a hydroxy acid cleanser, toner, or face cream to exfoliate the skin.


Exfoliate Face DIY - Do it Yourself Face Exfoliation at Home

Don’t want to spend a lot of money on a face exfoliator? You can exfoliate the face naturally at home.  Most people use sugar mixed with a lotion of milk or honey on the face, however, sugar is too rough on the skin and leads to over-exfoliation. Sugar is a good exfoliator for the lips when mixed with a little honey or oil, but it is too irritating to the face.  The best natural way to exfoliate the face at home is with a washcloth. Use the cloth in circular movements gently around the face to loosen the attachments between cells using mechanical exfoliation.


Best Dermatologist Treatments to Exfoliate the Face

Exfoliation treatments make the skin glow immediately. If you want to have a professional exfoliation treatment with a dermatologist or aesthetician, consider the following exfoliation treatments:



natural exfoliation

How to Exfoliate Skin Naturally

  • Wash your face twice a day
  • Use warm water to wash face and body
  • Stay in bath or shower for at least 7 minutes once a day
  • Wipe skin gently with a cloth or loofa in a circular motion
  • Drink more water
  • Use a sugar or oatmeal scrub

Body Exfoliators

There are face exfoliators, feet exfoliators, hand exfoliators, leg exfoliators and even lip exfoliators. These all use similar technologies to exfoliate the skin.

The best exfoliator depends on:

  • what your skin type is
  • what body area you want to exfoliate
  • other products in your regimen
  • are you on retinoids
  • if you want a natural exfoliator
  • if you want a DIY exfoliator to use at home
  • if you want to go to your aesthetician or dermatologist

All of these treatments with exfoliants and exfoliators do the same thing- they remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, helping the skin to reflect light and increase glow. The nice thing about exfoliators is that they work fast.

Exfoliators can be used to exfoliate the body, arms, shoulders, legs and feet.

Feet Exfoliators

When feet get scaly, rough or have thick skin and calluses, scrubs, feet feels and other exfoliators can help. You can use mechanical or chemical exfoliators on the feet.

Chemical Exfoliants for Feet

There are many benefits of exfoliating the feet using chemical exfoliation products like glycolic, malic, and lactic acids. These can be applied as a mask, peel, cream or gel and lead to shedding of rough skin layers on the feet within a few days. These foot masks and peels  give you smoother and softer feet fast and address rough spots on the feet. You most likely will need to use these once a week.

This is the most popular and and best foot peel on the market.  I use these myself.

Scrubs and Physical Exfoliants for Feet

The bottoms of the feet, known for rough spots, benefit from physical exfoliation methods like scrubs, stones, and files. For a more intense treatment, use chemical exfoliation first and follow with a scrub or pumice stone.

Leg Exfoliators

Always exfoliate before shaving your legs - not after. To exfoliate the legs, start with a brush or loofa using gentle pressure to loosen cell attachments. You do not need to do this step if you just shaved your legs because the razor has a similar effect.  I like to do this in the shower. Then use a chemical or physical exfoliator. For chemical exfoliants, massage into the skin and follow the directions on the product label. For physical exfoliants like scrubs, wet the legs with warm or hot water. Rub into the legs in a circular motion in the shower and rinse off with warm water. 

Lip Exfoliators

Lip exfoliators often contain sugar because sugar makes the lip smoothing product taste great. Sugar can be used to exfoliate the body and lips, but sugar is too harsh to use as a face exfoliator.

Bikini Area Exfoliators

Bikini area exfoliators can be used to help prevent and remove in grown hairs in the groin area. For the bikini area, it is recommended to use a sensitive-skin product and gently scrub along the bikini line before letting it sit for a few minutes. For manual exfoliants like scrubs, gentle scrubbing and rinsing with warm water are advised. If using a chemical exfoliant, massage into the skin and follow up with a fragrance-free moisturizer.

Salicylic acid cleansers and scrubs a great choice to help prevent and treat in grown hairs, but make sure you wash off nay cleansers completely before moisturizing.

This hydroxy acid scrub is both a physical and chemical exfoliator that is a great brightening scrub for the bikini area.  It helps prevent and get rid of in grown bikini hairs. Use it gently and in a warm shower. I think that scrubs like PIdanti Smoothing Polish are the best exfoliators for the bikini area.

Skin Conditions

Acne

Although many of my patients have heard that mechanical exfoliating is good for acne, but over exfoliating the skin can make acne worse. If you have acne, you should avoid mechanical exfoliation such as scrubs which can irritate the hair follicle and cause breakouts and make it more likely that you will become irritated from your acne medications. If you have acne, exfoliate with chemical exfoliators like hydroxy acids and salicylic acids instead of facial brushes and scrubs.

Over-exfoliated skin in acne patients is very common because patients often feel that acne is caused by unclean skin and they think exfoliating will help acne. Over exfoliating disturbs the skin's natural desquamation process and can lead to clogged pores and skin purging.

Salicylic acid is the best exfoliator for acne because:

Be careful when using salicylic acid with acne medications such as retinoids and benzoyl peroxides. This can lead to too much exfoliation and skin inflammation.

salicyilic acid

Eczema

Do not use a mechanical or chemical exfoliator is you have eczema.  These can further disrupt the fragile skin barrier. Instead use a barrier repair moisturizer.

Psoriasis

Over exfoliation can worsen psoriasis. Patients are often tempted to use exfoliators to remove psoriasis scales and improve skin roughness from eczema. However, friction and injury can lead to the Koebner phenomenon (skin injury) which worsens psoriasis.

Black Skin and Skin of Color

If you have black skin, you may notice that the skin gets an ashy tone when dry.  The best way to exfoliate black skin is by using one of the exfoliators discussed above, followed by a moisturizer.  Make sure you do not over-exfoliate because that can lead to inflammation followed by hyperpigmentation. Using the best skincare routine for black skin that considers your Baumann Skin Type® will help prevent ashy skin. 

Ingredients To Use After Exfoliating

The top layer of the skin is thinner after exfoliating so you need to be careful what you us on your kin.  For example, don't use alcohol or astringents after exfoliating. These are often in toners. Below I discuss which ingredients you can and cannot use after exfoliating.

Vitamin C

You can exfoliate before using Vitamin C.  It is best to use a low pH cleanser like a AHA or BHA to lower the pH before applying Vitamin C serum.  This helps the Vitamin C penetrate better. 

Vitamin C serums are expensive so you want as much absorption as possible because ascorbic acid does not absorb very well.


Retinol

Retinoids are strong exfoliators themselves. For most skin types- it is best not to use another exfoliant in your skincare routine while using retinol.  You can add a scrub or chemical exfoliator once you are using the retinol every night with no side effects.

Exfoliation is a normal skin process that sometimes needs a boost from exfoliants and exfoliators. Choosing the best exfoliants and exfoliators and using them properly is the key to good skin exfoliation.

Look for your skin type octagon when shopping for scrubs, exfoliants, and exfoliators so you know you are buying the best ones for your skin type.


Learn about skin care science

How should you exfoliate your face using a physical exfoliant?

To exfoliate your face using a physical exfoliant, start by cleansing your face with your regular cleanser. After washing your face, take a small amount of the exfoliant product and gently massage it onto your skin in circular motions, making sure to avoid the sensitive eye area. Continue massaging the exfoliant for the recommended time specified on the product, usually around 30 seconds to a minute. Rinse off the exfoliant thoroughly with warm water and then gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel. To complete the skincare routine, consider following up with a hydrating mask, serum, or moisturizer for added nourishment and hydration.

What are the different types of particles used in physical exfoliants based on skin type?

Different types of particles used in physical exfoliants can be tailored based on one's skin type. For individuals with oilier skin, larger and more abrasive particles like pumice or magnesium oxide crystals are recommended as their skin can better tolerate these. On the other hand, those with drier, sensitive skin should opt for products containing smaller granules such as ruby crystals and jojoba beads. It is important to be cautious when selecting exfoliants as certain natural ingredients like crushed nutshells, seashells, ground fruit pits, and seeds may have uneven edges and irregular shapes that can potentially harm sensitive skin.

What is physical exfoliation and how does it work?

Physical exfoliation is a skincare method that involves using a hard substance or tool to manually remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This process can be achieved by applying a liquid, gel, or scrub containing granules like microbeads or sugars, or by using tools such as sponges, towels, or brushes. The manual exfoliation technique essentially works by gently 'scrubbing' the skin to slough off dead cells and reveal a smoother complexion. While physical exfoliation offers various benefits, there is a risk of over-exfoliation if too much pressure is applied or if the process is repeated too frequently. Additionally, the abrasiveness of some exfoliants can potentially cause skin irritation and compromise the skin's natural barrier function. It is crucial to choose the right physical exfoliant based on individual skin thickness and sensitivity to avoid these issues and achieve optimal results.

How does manual or physical exfoliation differ from chemical exfoliation?

Manual exfoliation involves using a physical tool, liquid, gel, or scrub to physically slough off the dead surface cells from the skin. On the contrary, chemical exfoliation involves the use of alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes to break down the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, allowing them to be shed more easily. In essence, manual exfoliation physically scrubs away dead cells while chemical exfoliation chemically dissolves them. The two methods differ in their mechanism of action and the potential level of skin irritation they may cause. Chemical exfoliation is generally considered gentler and more suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin due to its less abrasive nature, while manual exfoliation can be more aggressive and may not be suitable for all skin types.

Is it good to exfoliate dry skin?

Exfoliating dry skin can make it look better immediately- but long term, it can make dry skin  even more dehydrated. Only use them when you need a quick fix to look more radiant or allow makeup to go on smoother. Exfoliating can injure your skin barrier and make dry skin worse.

Does exfoliation make psoriasis worse?

If you exfoliate to hard or with very sharp abrasive exfoliants, this can make psoriasis worse.

Can I exfoliate if I have eczema?

Eczema gets worse with friction, which is why it is often found in areas of the skin that rub against clothing.

For this reason, if you have atopic dermatitis (eczema), avoid scrubs and exfoliators and instead use an eczema cream or soothing oil.

Scrub Versus Exfoliator- What is the Difference?

A scrub is a type of exfoliator. Other examples of exfoliants and exfoliators are hydroxy acids, microdermabrasion, retinoids, chemical peels, and face brushes.

Why do I itch and turn red after exfoliation?

If you itch and turn red after exfoliation, you may have a common skin condition called dermatographism. If you get dermatographism, it may be too uncomfortable for you to use a physical exfoliator that causes friction. Try switching to a more gentle exfoliant like an enzyme exfoliant rather than a scrub.

How to stop itching after exfoliation?

Apply a soothing oil like Argan Oil to the itching skin. The anti-inflammatory benefits of argan oil will calm the skin. PAORR Argan Oil is a natural and clean Argan Oil that can soothe over exfoliated skin overnight.

If this does not work, take an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin) to prevent redness, itching, wheals or hives. 

Best References and Scientific Publications on Exfoliants:

  1. Baumann L. Cleansing Agents in Ch. 40 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  2. Baumann, L. Ch. Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
  3. Ditre, C. M., & Chilek, K. D. (2008). 16 Exfoliants, Moisturizers and More: AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs. Procedures in Cosmetic Dermatology Series: Cosmeceuticals E-Book, 111.
  4. Christensen, M. S., Nacht, S., Kantor, S. L., & Gans, E. H. (1978). A method for measuring desquamation and its use for assessing the effects of some common exfoliants. Journal of Investigative Dermatology71(5), 289-294.
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