The average life cycle of a skin cell is 28 days. Toward the end, dead cells move to the outer layer of your skin, making it dull and flaky. You can speed up the process and help your skin shed dead cells with exfoliation.
We asked Rawn Bosley, MD, medical director of Prism Dermatology in Southlake, TX, for best practices.
Should I exfoliate my whole body or just certain areas?
Be gentle with sensitive areas like your face, avoiding harsh chemicals and aggressive physical scrubs. For thicker skin on your elbows, knees, and feet, you can try more frequent exfoliation, scrubs, and brushes.
How often should I do it?
A common mistake is too much, too soon. I recommend easing into exfoliation by starting one to two times a week, then working your way up to daily use. I also recommend starting with a gentle method before trying more abrasive methods. The key is to listen to your skin. You may be OK with daily exfoliation, but if you have sensitive skin, weekly may be better. The method you choose also makes a difference. Manual or physical exfoliation may cause mild sensitivity, which limits how often you can do it.
What’s the difference between manual and chemical exfoliation?
Manual exfoliation, which uses tools like scrubs, brushes, and sponges, works well because it directly loosens and removes dead skin. But if you do it too often or too harshly, you may harm your skin. Chemical exfoliation is versatile, can be used on many areas of your body, and comes in different strengths. But chemicals that are too strong may cause skin irritation and sensitivity.
Which products do you recommend?
Try mixing natural exfoliates like sugar and oats with natural oils or water to create a manual exfoliating scrub. For chemical exfoliation, try cleaners or lotions with gentle solutions of hydroxy acids like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid.
Can I go to a dermatologist for exfoliation?
A dermatologist may recommend specific solutions for you. A dermatologist can also help rejuvenate your skin with in-office procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and dermaplaning.
When is it best not to exfoliate?
Don’t exfoliate compromised or damaged skin. If your skin is dry, it may cause more harm than good. If you have sensitive skin, avoid abrasive exfoliation. Be careful with retinoids, which increase the rate of skin cell turnover. Exfoliating too often while using a retinoid can irritate your skin.
For safe, effective exfoliation, try these tips from Bosley.
If you’re using an exfoliation brush, start with a soft bristle or silicone brush, which is gentle on your skin.
Check the label on manual exfoliating products. Most scrubs and brushes tell you where the product is safe for use.
If you’re using a chemical exfoliator, apply it gently. Apply it with a soft washcloth instead of something abrasive.
Try exfoliating your face in the morning. It may boost the effectiveness of your skin-care products.
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