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This is the right way to exfoliate—according to your skin type


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Exfoliating your face is a crucial step in your regimen. Sloughing away dead skin cells keeps your complexion looking fresh and vibrant by allowing all the potent ingredients packed in your serums and moisturizers to actually penetrate into skin versus simply sitting on top of your complexion. But as anyone who’s felt the burn after scrubbing too hard can attest: The wrong method of exfoliation can do more harm than good. In fact, it can send your complexion in an extreme direction, making oily skin even oilier and dry skin even drier.

So what’s the solution? Know your skin type—plain and simple. Luckily, it doesn’t take a trip to the dermatologist’s office to figure this out; you simply have to pay attention to what your skin is telling to you. “If you’re prone to redness, you have sensitive skin; stinging or burning, your skin is dry; and if you suffer from breakouts, it’s oily,” explains Doris Day, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. Once you know that you can determine whether you should you slough by way of an alpha-hydroxy- or beta-hydroxy-acid or opt, instead, for manual exfoliation with a grain.

 It’s really a “one size fits none” process.

How often you should do this is a bit trickier, however, and the answer isn’t super straightforward. You have to take the rest of your routine into account, including the length of time you’ve been using your products and how aggressively. For example, if you slather on a retinol, you might not need as much exfoliation because that product already helps to remove dead skin cells daily on a micro-level. It’s really a “one size fits none” process, says Dr. Day. A good rule is to start with once a week exfoliation and see how your skin tolerates it. Here are a few other things that you should keep in mind.

Keep reading for guidelines according to your skin type.

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Oily skin

“The biggest mistake people with oily skin make is over exfoliating,” says Erica Cerpa, founder and lead esthetician at EC Beauty Studio in Hoboken, NJ.  “There’s a common misconception that [women with skin that skews oilier] need to dry out their skin, but that only makes their situation worse.” To deal, try using an exfoliating scrub such as Juice Beauty Stem Cellular Resurfacing Micro-Exfoliant ($55) or higher concentration of AHAs or BHAs such as Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial ($80) to reveal a bright, glowy complexion.

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Dry skin

When you overexpose dry skin, it can become sensitive, so aim to ditch the grains and stick with gentle chemical exfoliators like fruit enzymes that eat away at dead skin, instead. Cerpa recommends applying a papaya peel such as The Organic Pharmacy Enzyme Peel Mask ($79) twice a week and removing it with a warm, damp wash cloth to brighten your skin without needing to vigorously rub it.  Papaya is loaded with papain, an enzyme that helps break down inactive proteins and as a result,  aids in eliminating dead skin cells. 

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Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, Dr. Day says that your best bet is a cleansing brush such as a Clarisonic Mia ($129) with your nightly routine. According to her, the motions of the brush heads are specifically designed to properly exfoliate your skin without irritating it. Start by using it on the lowest setting and try not to put a lot of pressure on the brush while holding it against your complexion, which helps to mitigate irritation.

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Normal skin

While you have the choice of using either method, physical or chemical, Mona Gohara, M.D., a Danbury, Connecticut dermatologist suggests sticking with chemical.  This way, you benefit from other anti-aging properties as well like boosting collagen to minimize fine lines and wrinkles and unclogging your pores, and Dr. Day echoes this, recommending using AHAs to help aid in cellular turnover and even out your skin tone.  If you’d rather use grit, look for a finely granulated exfoliator such as Pai Kukui & Jojoba Bead Skin Brightening Exfoliator ($60) and gently massage it in circular motions into your skin.  It’s important not to be too aggressive as it can over-strip your skin.

Now that you know the right exfoliator for you skin type, figure out if your skin is stressed out and apply these light, whipped moisturizers onto your glowy complexion.