Elizabeth Best | 08 January 2020

Remember the bad old days, when we thought exfoliation meant sandpapering our faces within an inch of their lives? Turns out there are much better ways (and those old ways can lead to premature aging, eep!).

Now we’ve entered a whole new era of acids, microbeads and powders, oh my. How do you even make sense of what’s best for your skin?

Why is exfoliating important? 

Getting rid of old, dead skin cells paves the way for new, healthy and collagen filled skin cells to come on through. Think skin that’s brighter, tighter, more plump and ready to take in any moisturisers or serums you might want to layer on. That means more of the good stuff can penetrate to where it’s needed. 

Types of exfoliants

There are two types of formulas for exfoliation on the market at the moment: physical or chemical. When it comes to physical, we’re talking beads or an abrasive type substance used to help physically buff off dead skin cells and nasties. A lot of people prefer these types because it actually feels like they’re properly scrubbing and “working". The big problem with these is you have to be careful of what type of abrasive substance is in them. If it’s too strong it can cause micro tears in the skin, which can add to aging and skin damage. 

Chemical exfoliants use formulas based on either enzymes or acids. These include alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) such as glycolic acid or beta-hydroxy acids (BHA) such as salicylic acid. These work by loosening the bond between cells allowing the dead skin cells to loosen and slough off. 

So which type is right for you? 

Skin prone to breakouts: Chemical exfoliants are your jam in this instance. Not only do they slough off dead skin cells but they also help dry out any active pimples and breakouts you may have. Salicylic acid in particular is gonna be your bestie. 

Sensitive skin: Pure acids and beads are likely to be a little too strong for your skin. You want to look for anything with a rice powder base. Try the Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant. This powder can help you achieve brighter, smoother skin. The powder activates upon contact with water, releasing papain, salicylic acid and rice enzymes to polish skin to perfection. Your skin will be baby smooth and you can actually feel the effects of this one directly after using it. 

Skin in need of a peel: Sometimes you need something a little bit stronger to get the best out of your skin, especially if it’s been a while. Chemical exfoliants with more than one acid type are usually referred to as peels. But don’t freak out, we’re not talking peels with downtime where you need to hide your face. These ones are just a great way to kick start cell renewal. Try the Murad Replenishing Multi-Acid Peel. Phase one is a AHA/BHA/Transexamic acid blend that works to resurface your skin. Then phase two features adaptogenic holy basil rich in antioxidants, and omega rich oils to replenish the skin’s surface and lead to a more vibrant complexion. I use this one when my skin needs a bit of a reboot. 

Mature skin: Be on the lookout for a chemical exfoliant featuring an AHA acid such as glycolic. This type treats the signs of aging such as fine lines and wrinkles as well as scarring and pigmentation. Try Paula’s Choice Resist Advanced Smoothing Treatment 10% AHA

Uneven skin tone: Ditto the AHA for uneven skin tone. Glycolic is a holy grail when it comes to brightening the skin and evening out dark spots. Try The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

For your body: The skin on your body is much thicker than on your face, so you can afford to use stronger exfoliants. Scrubbing those dead skin cells off your body is great because it allows your moisturiser to sink in much better, while also preventing body breakouts and clogged pores. For this, I really love Dermalogica Thermafoliant Body Scrub. It’s a dual-action body exfoliant, with both physical properties (in this case Indian bamboo stem) and chemical properties in the form of papain and lactic acid. It’s choc-full of antioxidants and bio-lipids to keep your skin’s moisture barrier intact. 

How often should you exfoliate? 

Read the label to see how often your particular formula recommends use. But as a general rule, unless otherwise stated you should be looking to exfoliate twice a week, up to three times for congested, break-out-prone skin. 

About the author


Elizabeth Best is a journalist, beauty expert, foodie and travel lover with a mild obsession for all things shimmery. She likes long walks down the makeup aisle and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @thebeautypalate.


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