How to Exfoliate Properly - The Ultimate Guide to Exfoliation

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We all have a million questions when it comes to exfoliating….How often should I scrub my face? Is my electric brush too abrasive? What the heck is retinol and should I be using it?? The list of questions goes on and on, but we are here to hopefully shed some light on how to exfoliate properly.

In this article we will cover the different types of exfoliants, their benefits (or lack thereof), what a proper exfoliating routine should consist of as well as list and explain our top exfoliating products here at Facial Lounge.

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Types of Exfoliants

  • Mechanical or Physical: Abrasive soaps, electric brushes, scrubbing loofahs, towels, gloves, etc.

  • Chemical: Retinoids, AHA’s, BHA’s

So let’s break each of these kind of exfoliants down:

The Facts About Mechanical/Physical Exfoliants

Exfoliating scrubs are usually too abrasive

  • Most scrubs use “exfoliating” ingredients like sea salt, plastic beads, almond shells, sugar, etc…

  • Unless the exfoliators are perfectly round beads they will result in micro-tears to the skin, which lead to poor skin tone and scarring.

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Exfoliating scrubs can be over drying

  • Many exfoliating scrubs strip the skin of hydrating oils and do not provide any hydration in return. If you do not have a good moisturizer to replenish the lost hydration your skin will quickly develop dry and itchy patches.

Exfoliating scrubs can contain harmful chemicals

  • Scrubs that use plastic beads as exfoliators more often than not contain BPA, phthalates, petroleum-based ingredients, LDPE, polypropylene and the list goes on….These chemicals can leach from the products and be absorbed by the skin or even inhaled.

  • Recent research studies have found that 90% of sea salt brands are contaminated with microplastics (you can read the full article here at the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology) This means that the likelihood of your sea salt scrub being contaminated with plastics is pretty high.

Exfoliating scrubs don’t work well unless the skin is well prepped

  • Here’s the unfortunate truth...ruthlessly scrubbing away at dry, irritated skin will usually only make the problem worse. In order for your abrasive scrub to really whisk away dead skin cells the skin needs to be well hydrated and softened.

  • When the skin is soft the scrubs are able to easily lift away significantly more dead skin and truly leave your face feeling renewed.

Mechanical/physical exfoliants can be extremely abrasive and irritating

  • Electric brushes, scrubby loofahs/ gloves, products like these can be incredibly abrasive and cause excessive irritation to the skin

Mechanical/physical exfoliants can contain bacteria

  • Unless your electric brush, loofah, exfoliating gloves or cloth has been thoroughly cleansed after use and hung up to completely dry out…..it’s almost definitely growing bacteria.

  • This bacteria growth can lead to break out in normal skin and worsening results for those who already have acne.

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**NOTE: Keep reading below for our suggested exfoliating routine and products!

If you couldn’t tell, we aren’t huge fans of abrasive scrubs for a variety of reasons. At Facial Lounge we always recommend exfoliating acids over physical exfoliants or scrubs.

The Facts About Exfoliating Acids

What are AHA’s?

  • AHA’s (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) are water-soluble sugars that are amazing at smoothing the surface of the skin by gently eating away dead skin cells. Glycolic acid work to break the bond between the top layer of dead skin cells and the lower layer of new skin cells. This loosening allows for the dead layer to be easily washed away and makes way for the soft and fresh new skin.

  • AHA’s are also great for clearing brown spots, discolorations and minimizing fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Types of AHA’s include glycolic or lactic acids.

Benefits of AHA’s

  • Diminish the look of lines and wrinkles

  • Make skin look and feel firmer

  • Provide hydration and actually enhance the natural moisturizing factors within the skin

  • Improve the look of dull, uneven skin tone

  • Smooth out rough texture

  • Visibly reduce the signs of sun damage

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What are BHA’s?

  • BHA’s (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are oil-soluble and come from Willow Bark and Birch Trees. Because BHA’s are oil-souable they are able to penetrate deep into the pores and clear out and blockages. BHA’s also contain anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties making them common in many acne treatments.

  • Types of BHA’s include salicylic acid and beta hydroxy.

Benefits of BHA’s

  • Penetrate deep into the pores to clear out congestion

  • Contain anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties great for acne-prone skin

  • Contain skin-calming properties great for ultra-sensitive, irritated skin

  • Diminish the look of lines and wrinkles

  • Make skin look and feel firmer

  • Hydration

  • Improve the look of dull, uneven skin tone

  • Smooth out rough texture

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What are Retinoids?

  • Retinoid is an umbrella term for compounds that are derived from Vitamin A. Retinoids include: retinyl palmitate (weakest of all the retinoids), retinol (the next strongest), retinaldehyde and adapalene (even stronger but much harder for the skin to tolerate). You can also request prescription strength retinoids from your doctor like tretinoin or tazarotene, but these can be extremely irritating to the skin.

  • One of the most amazing benefits of Retinol is that is actually speeds up cell turnover. From birth until about 30 our skin renews itself every 28 days. As we creep closer to 40, however, the cell regeneration process dramatically slows down resulting in dry, dull and wrinkled skin.

  • Retinol is absorbed on the cellular level and speeds up cell turnover allowing your body to produce fresher, softer and younger skin like it used to in your 20’s.

  • The biggest difference between all the retinoids is just how quickly you will see results. Studies have shown that long-term the results will all be the same regardless of which type of retinoid you use.

  • We always recommend starting with a gentler retinoid like retinol or even retinyl palmitate to allow your skin to adjust. After a few months if your skin does not become irritated you can try a stronger type of retinoid and so on. Always give you skin a few weeks to months to adjust and never use a stronger retinoid if what you are currently using is irritating you.

Benefits of Retinol

  • Speeds up cell turnover

  • Increases collagen and elastin production

  • Prevents wrinkles

  • Reduces current wrinkles and fine lines

  • Brightens dull skin

  • Reduces sun spots, hyperpigmentation, scarring

  • Evens out complexion

  • Regulates oily skin

  • Keeps pores from clogging

** NOTE: Exfoliating chemicals tend to make the skin more sensitive so it is critical that you wear sunscreen when using products with any of these ingredients. Hopefully, we are preaching to the choir since you all should be wearing sunscreen daily anyways!

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Our Suggested Exfoliation Routine

  1. At night thoroughly cleanse the skin and apply a chemical exfoliant (Facial in a Bottle Night, Retinol Resurfacing Night Treatment) on its own or along with a good moisturizer or serum (Superhero Plant Stem Cell Serum, Deep and Clean Refining Serum) . The chemical exfoliant will gently do its work during the night to eat away dead skin cells and hydrate the skin. Your moisturizer or serum will simply add extra hydration if you feel it is necessary. For best results apply your chemical exfoliant on a nightly basis!

  2. In the morning cleanse skin with either a standard face wash or an exfoliating face wash. Because the skin has been properly hydrated and the dead skin cells have been loosened your scrubbing face wash will be able to lift away so much more dull, flaky, dead skin. If you feel your skin is extra sensitive then try using your abrasive scrub just 2-3 times a week in the mornings.

  3. After cleansing in the morning apply a healing serum with ingredients like Vitamin A, C or  E and/or antioxidants (Facial in a Bottle Day, Barrier Repair Antioxidant Booster). This will support and calm the new skin that has been uncovered. It will continue to minimize pores, reduce lines and wrinkles, even skin tone, etc during the day. After applying your Vitamin A and/or C, E serum apply your moisturizer to continue to keep skin plump and soft.

  4. For those who really love the feel of their exfoliating towel, loufah or electric brush we strongly encourage you to make sure you are cleansing these thoroughly after use and allowing them to dry completely between uses. All brushes, towels, gloves, etc should be changed every three months minimum. If you are hydrating your skin properly and using and effective chemical exfoliant excessively abrasive products like these are completely unnecessary. Again, we always recommend chemical exfoliators over physical because they are less irritating and cannot grow bacteria. If you just can’t go without the feel of an exfoliating scrub or brush then we recommend using a scrub that has natural and perfectly rounded exfoliators (Foaming Facial Scrub).

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Hopefully this gave some useful insight into the world of facial exfoliants! Below is a list of our top selling exfoliating products:

Face Washes

Foaming Facial Scrub

Great to use in the mornings. Utilizes all natural Equadorian ivory palm and jojoba beadlets to gently whisk away dead skin cells. Essentials oils clear pores, absorb excess oil and hydrate skin after exfoliation.

Deep and Clean Foaming Mousse

Great to use in the mornings for extra exfoliation or at night before bed to thoroughly clear pores before applying products. AHA/BHA blend penetrates deep under the skin to clear out blocked pores. Pore-purifying essential oils balance pore ecology. Sulfate-free foam dissolves oil on contact.

Antioxidant Scrub

Another great scrub to use either in the morning or at night. This ultra-hydrating wash is great for those who have extra dry and/or sensitive skin. Gentle micrograins refine skin to a new clarity and smoothness, while the ultra-moisturizing scrub base keeps skin supple and comfortable throughout the exfoliation process. Buffs away fine lines, visibly diminishes coarse or enlarged pores, and helps slow signs of aging.

Serums/Treatments

Facial in a Bottle Night

Use at night before applying moisturizer or other serums. Hands down our top selling product! This incredibly hydrating and refining serum uses AHA’s to eat away dead skin cells and a blend of natural plant extracts to provide deep and calming hydration.

Retinol Resurfacing Night Treatment

Use at night before applying moisturizer. Time-release Retinol gently smoothes the appearance of lines. Matrixyl peptides restore the look of skin’s youthful tone & texture. Ophthalmologist approved for use around the eyes.

Facial in a Bottle Day

Best to use in the mornings before applying moisturizer. Packed with powerful healers like Vitamin C and E this product is great for reducing redness and irritation, minimizing pores and reducing fine lines.

Barrier Repair Antioxidant Booster

Another great option to use in the mornings or at night! This antioxidant rich product delivers anti-aging and cell healing ingredients to the skin. An amazing product to help protect against environmental toxins.

Face Masks

Papaya Enzyme Scrub

A great exfoliating mask to use before a big event to smooth skin even more. Allows for a soft and smooth palate for makeup to be applied. This gentle, creamy, smooth, non-granular exfoliant combines the natural double exfoliating fruit enzyme action of Papaya and Pineapple to gently smooth, refine, brighten and clarify the complexion. Infuses a potent, yet soothing form of Vitamin B3/Niacinamide for a softer, brighter, more luminous complexion.

We know it is quite a bit of information to take in, but lucky for you we LOVE answering questions. Feel free to leave a comment or contact us through any of our social media accounts for more information or help with formulating a customized exfoliation routine for you.

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References used for this article:

  • Facial Lounge Staff

  • Journal of Environmental Science and Technology

  • National Geographic

  • Murad

  • WebMD

  • MarieClaire

Leigh Ann LindseyComment