How Often To Exfoliate? + A Roundup Of Gentle Exfoliating Methods

Exfoliation not only makes the skin look fresher but also unclogs pores. The "traditional" western way of exfoliation is to use a strong gritty scrub once a week. Recently the once-a-week trend is slowly getting replaced by the daily exfoliating routine where you use a very gentle method of exfoliating most days.

Gentle mechanical exfoliators:

Daily exfoliation can be mechanical or chemical. The gentlest form of mechanical exfoliation is the Konjac sponge, which is suitable for even very sensitive skin. Sometimes before applying make-up in the winter I'll go over my face with a Konjac sponge to remove and dry skin flakes. The silicon pads are also very gentle. Then there are microfiber cloths and the slightly harsher muslin cloths, often used to remove make-up -- these can be used often providing you don't use a lot of force. Clay face masks make great daily exfoliators if you massage them in gently. My favourites are the Khadi sandalwood mask, Rhassoul clay and of course almond paste -- all three are very gentle. Then there are all the face brushes -- electric like the Clarisonic and manual ones. Here I'd advise most people to err on the side of caution and use the softest possible brushes. And not every day.

Exfoliants to avoid:

I am not a huge fan of grainy/gritty scrubs like salt or sugar for the face. They can tear the skin easily and thus make more spaces for dirt and bacteria. Also, research shows that they affect the skin barrier function.  The worst offender is be the St Ives apricot scrub.
Another scrub that nobody should ever use is the plastic microbeads which are a seriously bad for the environment (polythylene or polypropylene on the ingredient list).

Chemical exfoliation:

Alpha and Beta Hydroxy Acids loosen the dead skin, I have explained it here. A lot of cosmetics contain smaller concentrations of acids, especially anti-acne, anti-ageing and masques). They are a godsend for skin with very delicate capillaries that can't stand mechanical exfoliation. Both AHAs and BHAs can be used daily if necessary, in lower concentrations (1-2% for BHAs, till 10% for AHAs). If you are a newbie to hydroxy acids, start with a small amount every third day and work up to every day. Dial back if your skin becomes dry and irritated.
If you are doing regular chemical exfoliation you should exfoliate mechanically 1-2 times a week to remove the loosened dead skin cells. This could be as simple as using a microfiber cloth during cleansing. If you don't chances are the skin flakes will block your pores.

The rule of thumb is -- the gentler the method, the more often it can be used. Observe your skin and see how it reacts. My skin doesn't like to be scrubbed too heavily and I had broken a lot of capillaries by using scrubs that are way too harsh (St Ives with the walnut shells). So I prefer regular but gentle exfoliation.
If you are Caucasian you must remember that your skin is statistically thinner that east Asian (or black) skin, so don't copy the aggressive cleaning techniques that you find on east Asian beauty blogs. 

Personally I like to rotate a couple of exfoliants because no two are the same. Clays draw out impurities from the skin, microfiber gathers dead skin flakes, Konjac root and the silicone pad make a nice massage, almond paste calms dry skin and hydroxy acids even out the skin tone and lighten light lines.I'd say that on the average I exfoliate every 2-3 days.

What does your exfoliation routine look like? What if your skin type and which exfoliator brings you best results?

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