With skincare getting as much attention as makeup these days, our options for exfoliation are ever-expanding. Fortunately, the course, grainy scrubs we used to swear by in high school are falling out of use—and with good reason! The irregular shape of, say, apricot kernel particles, can actually leave micro-tears in skin, doing more damage than good. In place of these once ubiquitous aggressive scrubs, peels, resurfacing masks, sonic devices, cleansing powders, and gentle sponges offer a variety of ways to exfoliate—and no one with sensitive skin needs to be left out of the fun.
Exfoliation is a natural process that occurs as our skin cells replace themselves. While the body is capable of doing this on its own, many of us choose to lend it a helping hand to optimise the process—especially since natural exfoliation slows down as you age. Also, dry skin, sun damage, and oily skin can get in the way of ideal, natural exfoliation, sometimes slowing down the speed at which cells turnover. The results? Uneven skintone, rough patches, acne, and/or dull skin. Furthermore, a popular theory is that exfoliation helps your skin better absorb the active ingredients in your follow-up products—serums, night creams, etc. The flip side of this is that exfoliation may make your skin more vulnerable to UV damage—so always be generous with your SPF!
What exfoliant is best for you?
Depending on your skin type and concerns (as well as your budget), you may gravitate towards a particular type of exfoliant or find that a combination of the following best suits your needs. If you do opt for a combination of exfoliating methods, begin with one and gradually incorporate the second method to allow skin to get used to your desired level of exfoliation. Too much exfoliation at once can lead to sensitive, inflamed skin.
Comes in the form of: Peels, toners, serums, and masks.
Who it’s best for: Most skin types—but be sure to look for an active ingredient that addresses your concerns. Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs; a.k.a. glycolic acid) exfoliate the top layer of skin and are therefore fairly gentle. Products with AHAs are best suited for sensitive, mature, and sun-damaged skin. They help address hyperpigmentation and dull skin.
Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA) is preferred for oily complexions because it’s actually able to penetrate pore-clogging oil—plus, it is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, so it helps in the fight against breakouts.
Other chemical exfoliants include natural fruit acids and enzymes used to brighten skin and slough off dull, dead skin cells.
Try it: Suzanne Kaufmann Enzyme Peel is formulated with mild fruit acids, including that of kiwis, apples, and papayas. Suitable for thin, sensitive skin, this peel helps remove dead skin cells for a smoother complexion. Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask is a natural BHA exfoliating treatment that targets clogged pores and uneven texture.
Comes in the form of: Battery-powered, sonic devices.
Who it’s best for: All skin types—Many sonic devices come in sensitive-skin models, and the intensity of vibrations are adjustable on several devices. Sonic devices are especially suited for those who wear heavy makeup and need a thorough cleanse at the end of the day.
Try it: The FOREO Luna uses sonic technology to cleanse skin of dead skin cells, makeup, dirt, and oil. I’m partial to the Luna because it’s nonporous, meaning that bacteria cannot build up in the bristles (they’re silicone). The bristles are gentle enough for daily use. In addition to its cleansing mode, the Luna has an anti-aging mode, which uses lower-frequency sonic pulsations to help relax wrinkles and fine lines. For either mode, the intensity of the vibration may be increased or decreased to your preference.
The FOREO Luna certainly isn’t the only sonic cleaning device out there, so be sure do a bit of research to find the model that best suits your skin’s needs and your budget. Whichever model you choose, rest assured that a sonic device is great for travel—no spills!
Comes in the form of: Sponges, brushes, scrubs, and cleansing grains/exfoliating powders (Your washcloth and cotton rounds also fall into this category!)
Who it’s best for: Everyone. There are so many ways to customise manual exfoliation.
Try it: One of the most affordable and gentle options for exfoliation is a konjac sponge or “potato.” This ultra-soft and mineral-rich sponge comes from a plant native to Asia. Konjac sponges can be infused with special ingredients—including clay and activated charcoal, but having tried several varieties, I can’t say that using a pink clay vs. green clay sponge makes a noticeable difference. (If you want to really benefit from those ingredients, use them in a mask!)
Another fairly universal option is exfoliating powder (sometimes called “cleansing grains”). These are usually made with natural, finely milled grains and roots (like brown rice and tapioca). They’re activated with a small splash of liquid (water, toner, or oil) that turns them into a paste with which you can massage your face. I’m currently using the powder cleanser and masque by Twinkle Apothecary. It’s definitely left my skin feeling smoother and looking brighter.
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