Exfoliating is a controversial activity. We can be led to believe that forcibly removing dead skin cells leaves skin fresh and radiant, but this isn’t always true.
In fact, when exfoliating is not done correctly, it can cause your skin to become dry, itchy, and then, extra greasy. This is because your skin reacts to having its natural oils stripped off by becoming more oily to compensate for its loss. This happens all over our body, and is a natural response to something being out of balance – the body tries to even it out. This is how we maintain homeostasis: the ultimate balancing act.
Exfoliating is not for everyone and not for every part of the body. Exfoliating, more than just your towel while drying yourself, for example, can make acne or breakouts worse. The action of your towel is quite enough exfoliating for most people, which might seem gross – aren’t the dead cells supposed to come off in the shower? – and is why your towels start to smell if you don’t wash them. There is still plenty of you coming off in the towel – oils, dead skin cells, bits you missed. (This is normal and healthy and no amount of scrubbing or washing will change this.)
Exfoliating too hard can also damage the skin, so understanding your skin type can be the clue to getting the most out of your exfoliation program – which might include not exfoliating at all.
Figuring out what your skin type is:
- Normal skin – clear, not sensitive
- Sensitive skin – can sting/burn after using certain products, reacts to a lot of things
- Dry skin – flaky, itchy, rough
- Oily skin – greasy, shiny, slick in certain areas
- Combination skin – a mixture of dry and oily
How you exfoliate matters – mechanical or chemical?
Mechanical exfoliation is the manual labour kind, with exfoliation gloves, creams with tiny beads or abrasives, and other rubbing-action styles with brushes, sponges, or scrubbers. Chemical exfoliation is the style used in chemical peels to dissolve skin cells.
How to exfoliate correctly
- Don’t go over the same skin over and over with mechanical exfoliation and stick to areas that may need it – elbows, knees, but avoid exfoliating your face.
- Some over-the-counter products can cause your skin to become more sensitive or to peel. You may already be using exfoliating products, so check the ingredients.
- Anyone with dry, sensitive or breakout-prone skin should avoid exfoliating
- Anyone with oily skin may wish to try chemical peels or even laser resurfacing.
- Anyone with dark skin or pigmentation problems should avoid exfoliating due to the risk of pigmentation issues.
- Be kind! Your skin doesn’t need to be beaten into submission. Gently gently.
- Apply moisturiser immediately after drying yourself after exfoliating to maintain hydration.
- Choose a realistic schedule – don’t overdo it. Less can be more.
Talk to your dermatologist about your skin.