The skin naturally renews itself every 30 days or so. This process happens when the outer layer of the skin, or epidermis, sheds dead cells and replaces them with new ones.
Dead skin cells shed through normal daily activities, such as pulling clothes on and off. A person is unaware when old skin cells fall off throughout the day.
Exfoliation is when a person gets rid of these dead skin cells from the top layer of skin more quickly. However, people must take great care when using an exfoliant to do this, as these products can easily damage or irritate the skin.
In this article, we look at the different ways to exfoliate the skin on the face, taking skin type into consideration. We also look at what to avoid as the skin is more delicate on the face than on some other areas of the body.
How to exfoliate the face
If someone wishes to exfoliate their face, there are a number of steps they should take:
- Use gentle methods specifically for the face.
- Avoid the delicate skin around the eyes and on the lips.
- Make sure that the face is always clean before exfoliating.
- Exfoliate the skin either manually or chemically.
Manual exfoliation involves using a tool or scrub to remove dead skin cells from the face physically.
Chemical exfoliation involves using a mild acid to dissolve dead skin cells.
Most products marketed for use on the face contain low levels of chemical exfoliants, so they are safe for use by the majority of people.
Chemical exfoliants may not be suitable for those with sensitive or dry skin, as they can cause dryness or irritation.
For any chemical exfoliation, building up use gradually can help prevent skin irritation.
People should not use chemical exfoliants more than once per week initially. A dermatologist can advise on use and choosing the right product.
The most common types of chemical exfoliants are:
- alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)
- beta hydroxy acid (BHA)
It is advisable not to use AHAs, BHAs, and retinol together as they will be too harsh on the skin.
Forms of exfoliants
Below, we list the various exfoliants that may be options.
Using a washcloth is a good option for those with more sensitive skin.
Take an ordinary washcloth and moisten with warm water, then use this to rub the skin gently in small circles.
Cleansing the face before exfoliating may also be beneficial as this opens up the skin's pores.
2. Natural sponge
A natural sponge can work well to get rid of dead skin cells on the face.
Wet and wring out the sponge, then use small circular movements to exfoliate the face.
Try not to put too much pressure on the skin, as this can cause irritation. Light strokes should easily get rid of dead skin cells, as they are no longer firmly attached to the surface.
3. Face scrub
Exfoliating scrubs are a popular way to get rid of dead skin cells from the face. However, they can damage the skin as the ingredients may cause micro tears or irritation.
Avoid products that contain hard bits that do not dissolve, such as nutshell.
Scrubs that manufacturers have made from salt or sugar dissolve easily and are gentle on the skin. However, people should still only use them with caution and no more than once per week. They are generally not suitable for people with sensitive or dry skin.
As an alternative to buying commercial face scrubs, a person may want to make their own at home, such as a sugar or oatmeal scrub. Again, they should only apply these to the face once a week.
AHAs work by dissolving the top layer of skin to reveal new skin cells underneath.
Use AHAs to make pores appear smaller or to lessen the appearance of fine lines.
Glycolic acid is the most common AHA.
BHAs penetrate the pores to unclog them and are more suited to oily and combination skin types.
Salicylic acid is the most common BHA, and medical professionals use these to treat acne.
What to avoid
Below, we list what to avoid when exfoliating and tips to prevent damage to the skin.
- Take care if using products that already contain benzoyl peroxide or retinol, as the American Academy of Dermatology suggest. Exfoliating on top of using these products can cause skin problems.
- Avoid buying products that manufacturers have designed for use on other areas of the body, as they are too harsh for the delicate skin on the face. Choose a product that is specifically for use on the face.
- Avoid exfoliating damaged or sunburnt skin or if there is an existing skin condition. Testing an exfoliant on a small patch of skin can help check for irritation.
- Moisturize after exfoliating and use a high factor sunscreen to protect the skin. All exfoliation increases sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) light.
- Exfoliate before shaving or using other methods of hair removal. This helps to prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores that may become more open during shaving.
- Avoid exfoliating on the morning of an important event, or even the night before. Removing dead skin from the face may cause some redness or irritation.
It is important to understand a person's skin type to find the best way of removing and exfoliating dead skin from the face.
The main skin types are:
A person can determine their skin type at home by washing their face with water, then gently patting it dry. After 1 hour, a tissue should be pressed to the chin, nose, forehead, and cheeks in turn. By looking for traces of oil on the tissue, a person should be able to work out their skin type, as follows:
- Normal skin: No oil on the tissue, and no evidence of dryness.
- Dry skin: No oil on the tissue, and the skin feels tight or looks flaky.
- Oily skin: Oil on the tissue, and skin looks shiny.
- Combination skin: Cheeks are normal or dry; oil on the tissue from nose, forehead, or chin.
- Sensitive skin: Skin feels itchy and looks red, or dry.
A range of exfoliants is available, and there are many simple recipes for making a scrub at home. Use exfoliants with care, as they can damage sensitive skin.
Overuse of exfoliants or the use of products that are too harsh can be irritating even to skin that is not sensitive.
Gently exfoliating once a week with the correct type of exfoliant for a person's skin type can help make the complexion appear clearer. It may also help to treat or prevent breakouts.