Everybody wants radiant skin—it’s a sign of health and happiness. But unless you’re literally a baby, that kind of complexion doesn’t just happen on its own. To reveal the freshest, newest skin, you’ll want (nay, need!) to exfoliate. Jillian Wright, a trained esthetician and a member of the Well+Good Council, shares how to do it right.
Your skin is constantly producing dead skin cells. Constantly. These cells rapidly proliferate, rising to the surface. But over time, that process slows down. Add makeup, oil, dirt, sweat, and pollution, and you’ve got a recipe for dull, sallow skin. Luckily, you don’t have to live with a less-than-glowing complexion—if you exfoliate, that is.
Exfoliators come in so many types of of textures, consistencies, formulas, applications and scents. There are two main groups: physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. The former buff away dead skin with small particles—anything from pulverized coconut shell to sugar. Chemical exfoliants, conversely, include alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic and lactic) that loosen those skin cells. (Never use exfoliants with plastic beads, which have been phased out this year due to Obama-era regulations.)
Once a week (twice if you’re very active) should be enough to keep your skin soft and smooth. Avoid exfoliating in the morning because it can make your skin sensitive to the sun. Plus, at night, any other ingredients you put on your skin will have a greater chance of penetrating a little deeper. That’s why I recommend applying lotion or moisturizer right after exfoliation. And while choosing the right exfoliant comes down to personal preference, knowing the ins and outs of the category can seriously up your exfoliation game.
Keep scrolling for tips on how to exfoliate your face and body—and have the glowy skin of your dreams.
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For your body
Especially with summer on its way, the skin on your body deserves some exfoliation. You’ll be sweating more, so the dead skin is going to mix with sweat and oil—pretty much a pore-clogging cocktail. Concentrate on your elbows, the back of your arms, ankles, and knees since those spots tend to be rough.
If you prefer a physical scrub, there are a few things to know. Apply it with broad strokes on arms and legs, don’t forget your butt, and feel free to skip your waist area—it’s not typically necessary. You can use a dry brush if you like, but most body scrubs suspend sugar or salt in an oil base. This is beneficial if you are trying to hydrate and nourish your skin. I suggest exfoliating in the bath and letting the sugar or salt crystals along with the oils soak in the tub with you. Another option for your gym bag is Fytt Beauty, which is made for athletes and has a less-greasy feeling.
I recommend using chemical exfoliants before applying self-tanner, though, because oils in physical scrubs can interfere with the bronzing formula and leave you streaky. Instead, use one with either enzymes or an AHA exfoliant, either of which will lift dead skin cells without scrubbing. (Try Cane + Austin 10% Body Retexture Pads.) Another easy option: AHA-based shower gels, which are easy to incorporate into your routine.
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For your face
Exfoliating your face is one of the most gratifying things you can do for yourself. It revs up circulation in your skin, and just by bringing blood to the surface, you’ll have healthier skin. The one thing you have to remember is this: Do not over-exfoliate! You’ll know if your skin is flaky, irritated, or red. (Yes, a small amount of color is fine after exfoliation, but your skin shouldn’t look “angry.”) If you do too much, your skin will overcompensate by either leaning too dry or too oily. So be gentle—you have only one face, after all.
Here’s how to know which type of exfoliant will help your skin type. If your skin is normal and not sensitive, you can pretty much try anything. (Lately, I’ve been loving O’o Hawaii Birdseed Detoxifying Face Scrub, which uses activated charcoal and pearl powder.) But if you’re prone to acne, don’t use a physical exfoliant; it can spread the bacteria that causes pimples, which is certainly not the goal. A better choice is a AHA-based exfoliant, which will help your pores stay clear. For people with sensitive or fragile skin, I recommend a gentle enzyme exfoliant or one that has very small physical component. Intelligent Nutrients Micro-Polish, for instance, uses miniscule jojoba beads to buff skin.
No matter which way you do it, sloughing away dead skin cells helps your skin look best by regulating cellular turnover. That keeps the blood flowing, which oxygenates your skin, which brings out your natural glow. And who doesn’t want a little more radiance in her life?
What should Jillian write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jillian Wright is the co-founder of Indie Beauty Media Group, producer of Indie Beauty Expo, Beauty Independent and BeautyX Summit. A skin health expert, Jillian owned and operated Jillian Wright Clinical Skin Spa prior to founding IBMG in 2015. During her tenure there she also launched her eponymous skincare line. IBE currently produces 3 multiple-day domestic events in New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas, as well as international events in London and Berlin. Wright was recently honored by receiving the INNOCOS’ Emerging Leader of the Year award.
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