Exfoliation. Scrubbing the skin to remove dead skin cells. How necessary is it? Won't my dead skin cells just come off when they need to? Let's talk about scrubs, scrubbers (of varying kinds), and your skin!
First of all, is scrubbing necessary? I believe it is. There are all kinds of skin care products out there with mica and other iridescent ingredients that are supposed to "brighten" your skin. Let's get real, ladies. These creams (or cremes, depending on the branding) do not brighten. If the lotion itself is glowing, it is not making your skin brighter by nourishing your skin. It is putting a thin layer of glitter on your skin. So how do you nourish your skin and really make it glow (not just sparkle)?
Moisturizers of varying kinds are the main vehicle of topical nutrients to the skin, this is true. But if dead skin cells are crowding the surface of your skin, then moisturizers only aid in clogging the surface of your skin. You may see a "glow" at first, but it is anything but healthy. Then, the next thing you'll see are little bumps, that gradually grow into pimples. Or irritation that seems to be in response to the cream, but is perhaps actually because your skin is suffocating. When dead skin cells combine with oil on your skin, they clog pores, blocking your skin's natural oil (sebum) inside, along with the normally friendly bacteria found on your skin. these blocked pores basically allow the sebum and bacteria to ferment there until you have a pimple. So pimples are basically a bacterial infection on the surface of your skin (gross, I know, but true). That is the reason that so many doctors prescribe antibiotics for severe acne (not something I approve of. I know people who now require the strongest antibiotics for even the tiniest infections, just because they got such a major dose of strong antibiotics so consistently in their teens). So exfoliating, then, is a key ingredient to keeping your skin clear.
Exfoliating - brushing or scrubbing away the topmost layers of dead skin - basically allows your skin to breathe. Also, as skin cells die, they flatten and are stretched out. They are no longer the plump, healthy cells they used to be, and as a result, they are often much more dull than healthy, live skin cells. This is one reason that scrubbing helps return a healthy glow to your skin.
Finally, exfoliation allows the nutrients in your skin care products to sink deeper into the layers of the skin, instead of sitting on top getting soaked up by dead skin cells. This example may seem in strange taste, so bear with me, but can you imagine trying to give a dead man vitamins? He does not need them. In fact, he does not need anything, except to decompose, because he's dead. Now think of your dead skin cells in that way. They do not need vitamins, antioxidants, or moisturizers. All they need is to be swept away to make room for healthy skin cells.
Now, having established that exfoliating is necessary, how should you exfoliate? Sometimes just watching the television for twenty minutes gives you the idea that there are as many exfoliants as there are women in the world. Which one is right for you?
First of all, there are many different skin types. Sensitive, dry, normal, combination, oily, and maturing. A scrub that is a favorite for someone with oily, blemished prone skin is probably not a good pick for someone who has sensitive skin (although people with dry skin and people with aging skin can usually use a good number of the same products).
Someone with sensitive skin will want to use a gentle facecloth when washing their face, and that may well be enough exfoliation. If you feel like you need more, though, you can use a scrub once a week. Try to find something with very few ingredients, high in moisture, with no added fragrance or color. 95% of skin care allergies and sensitivities are related to dyes, fragrance, and preservatives. You will want something with polished, fine granules, so as not to irritate your skin. Again, those with sensitive skin should only use a scrub once a week.
Dry skin and Mature skin can basically be put in the same category. You may find that a soft bristled face brush gives you the exfoliation you need without being an irritant to your skin. If you think you need something a little softer, there are all kinds of face loofahs, cloths, and even "bath lily/puff" styled facial exfoliators that might work well for you. You can use these every day 2x a day when washing your face. As for using a scrub, you can exfoliate twice a week, potentially three if you feel like you're needing more and it doesn't aggravate your skin.
As far as what to use as an additional scrub, Vitamin C is necessary for your skin to produce collagen, and Vitamin E is very nourishing, both of these are great ingredients for people with dry skin. Also ingredients like grapefruit extract, guarana, or kinetin are particularly good for mature skin, and can help with severely dry skin, too. Look for something with polished scrubbers, but they can be slightly larger than what you would need for sensitive skin. ground walnut shell, oatmeal based, and other "fruit and nut" type scrubs are great (just make sure they are, in fact, facial scrubs and not body scrubs. These are not really interchangeable).
People with combination skin do not necessarily need to have a "potent" scrub, if your facewash is purifying, your toner is more of an astringent, and your moisturizer is moisture balancing (look for something with seaweed, specifically one called bladderwrack, for great moisture balance!); than your scrub can simply be a scrub. Again, fine to normal sized polished granules. There is a certain famous grocery store brand that has an "apricot" scrub with unpolished granules. Microscopic slides of post-scrub skin showed what looked like tiny cat scratches on the surface of the skin cell. This, of course, is not the goal of exfoliation, so no matter what your skin type, use a scrub with polished scrubbers. People with combination skin can also scrub two to three times a week.
People with oily / blemished prone skin can usually deal with something like a soft bristled face brush when washing your face. I use one every time I wash my face and my skin never feels irritated or aggravated. As far as scrubs, again the granules should be polished, and look for something with a mild-to-strong astringent. I prefer tea tree oil (in fact most of my skin care products employ either tea tree or bladderwrack). One of my favorite scrubs actually uses ground tea tree leaves as the exfoliant. You can scrub 3 times a week. With oily skin, it is a good idea to get those three times a week in, because sebum (oil) can be a binding agent, holding dead skin cells in place that might otherwise be very easily shed.
Another good question: When do you scrub? This is very important. I worked at a skin care store in Boston and more than half of my coworkers did not actually know the answer to this question. Many people assume that if you get the dead skin cells off, then your cleanser will cleanse more deeply. These people scrub before they wash your face. This is a very bad idea. The little granules in scrubs can push dirt deeper into your pores. As a general rule you want to clean the area first, then scrub. Then you should follow with a toner, and finally moisturize. Your scrub is what you use for deep cleaning, not your cleanser. Your daily cleanser is for surface dirt and makeup, not for extracting all the toxins from your pores. Masks and scrubs were developed for this purpose. So remember, wash first, then scrub!
Now, a word on the environment. Please please please do not use scrubs with polyurethane beads. Sure, they are gentle on your skin. I make no argument there. But just think of how many little pieces of plastic are going down the drain to who-knows-where! Fish and aquatic animals can swallow them, they can break down and leach chemicals into the earth. We don't need any more toxins! So, please do NOT use scrubs with polyurethane beads!
Headed to study at Oxford University
5 years ago