When you hear the word “exfoliation” you probably think about using a face wash with little scrubbing beads. While this type of facial exfoliator can be great, there’s much more to exfoliating your face than a face wash with microbeads. In fact, there are dozens of robust ingredients that can help you effectively exfoliate your skin.
What is Exfoliation?
Our skin is naturally, and constantly, shedding its own dead cells. When these dead cells become detached, they sit on the surface of our skin, ready to be swept away. If they don’t, they can get caught in our skin’s natural oil, called sebum, and clog our pores, leading to blackheads and whiteheads. Worse, if bacteria finds these dead cells and sebum, our pores can become infected, and this is when inflammatory acne forms.
Face washes, or facial cleansers, are specifically created to help get rid of these dead cells. Some cleansers just contain soap to wash away bacteria and grime, but many (more than you probably realize) contain an exfoliant to help get rid of dead cells.
Types of Exfoliation
There are two types of exfoliating ingredients: physical and chemical. Each category contains several different actives that benefit different skin types in specific ways.
A physical exfoliator is a cleanser that includes tiny scrubbing particles that can be felt with bare hands. Commonly labeled as face scrubs, these granule-based formulas help to slough away the dead skin cells on the surface of your skin. Facial scrubs contain a range of physical exfoliators, including: microbeads, jojoba beads, salt, sugar, bamboo beads, nut granules (mainly walnut and almond), baking soda, and rice powder.
Physical exfoliants are a great way to make sure all the dead cells on the surface of your skin are scrubbed away. They’re ideal if you have dry, flaky skin that is consistently shedding. Whatever ingredient the cleanser contains, it can feel great to scrub at your face and feel the granules as they exfoliate your skin.
The only trouble with physical exfoliants is that they are often too harsh if you have acne and/or sensitive skin. For starters, the granules can irritate pimples and problem areas that are already present. Plus, physical exfoliators inadvertently pick up bacteria that can then spread to other parts of your face — causing even more breakouts.
Acid, or chemical exfoliators, sound a bit intimidating, but these types of face scrubs are incredibly beneficial for your complexion. In fact, many ingredients you may already be using are chemical exfoliants.
Chemical exfoliants are included in skincare formulas because they work by penetrating the bonds that dead skin cells have to your living skin cells. Think about chemical exfoliants as little Pac-Man that eat up all of the dirt, debris, and dead skin cells that clog your pores and cause whiteheads, blackheads and other blemishes. This chemical process can’t be seen by the naked eye, but it can definitely be felt after you’ve washed your face — skin feels smooth, soft, and refreshed.
Chemical exfoliants are divided into two subcategories: AHAs and BHAs.
AHAs, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids
These are mostly derived from natural ingredients: citric acid from citrus, glycolic acid from sugar cane, lactic acid from milk, malic acid from apples, and tartaric acid from grapes. All of these acids are able to enhance our skin’s natural moisture, smooth rough texture, diminish the look of wrinkles and fine lines, and improve dull or uneven skin tones.
Beta Hydroxy Acids, or BHAs
This category usually refers to salicylic acid, but the category also includes beta hydroxybutanoic acid, tropic acid or trethocanic acid. These all-star exfoliators are similar to AHAs, but with three major differences:
1. BHAs work more deeply within our skin, inside the lining of our pores.
2. They are oil soluble, meaning they are ideal for oily skin.
3. They are a great ingredient for calming red complexions — even those who have chronic conditions, like rosacea.
The SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser includes salicylic acid, a robust BHA that’s excellent for exfoliating skin. It also contains allantoin, a skin-soothing ingredient that helps rejuvenate the complexion. Grapefruit, eucalyptus and green tea extracts all ensure skin is thoroughly cleansed and remains hydrated and moisturized.
Whichever type of exfoliant is best for you — chemical or physical — be careful not to over-exfoliate. Washing your face more than twice a day isn’t good for your skin, as it can strip away too many natural oils and moisture. Lastly, make sure you’re always following your morning and evening cleanse with a treatment and moisturizer!