Growing up, I would always grab a ubiquitous facial scrub at the drugstore (which will not be named, but I’m sure you can guess what it is), and go at it on my face, thinking that I was giving my skin just what it needed. It wasn’t until about a decade later that a lawsuit happened and I realized I was rubbing microbeads all over my face in the name of exfoliation, actually doing more harm than good.
This is probably why physical exfoliants have gotten a bad rap. Use the wrong one and you can make micro-tears on the surface of your skin (not to mention it’ll just feel like you’re taking sandpaper to your face). With the rise in popularity (and accessibility) of chemical exfoliants, there’s not even really a need to use a facial scrub anyways.
Alas, in an act of beauty research, I found a Reddit skin-care subthread of a skin-care devotee declaring their love for physical exfoliants. “Physical exfoliation isn’t the devil!” the Redditor (so daringly) states. “There is no need to bash someone who simply prefers to physically exfoliate their skin over chemically exfoliating it. For me, physically exfoliating makes my skin feel a lot cleaner and like I actually cleansed my pores.”
They’re not wrong—there’s no reason not to physically exfoliate, if that’s your preferred method of ridding yourself of dead skin cells. “Yes, physical exfoliants are fine for your skin,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. “Those with normal to oily skin can use physical exfoliants such as face scrubs and facial brushes to further deep clean and take off the surface of the skin.”
All you have to do is avoid overly abrasive exfoliants—and opt for ground-up walnut shells and jojoba beads. “Most physical exfoliants on the market are made out of safe ingredients, but definitely avoid plastic beads or balls,” says Dr. Patel. Instead, look for gentle scrubbers like jojoba beads, or she also recommends sugar crystals and apricot seeds.
“If you have oily skin it is safe to exfoliate in the shower every day,” she says. “Those with combination or dry skin may only be able to tolerate physical exfoliation every two to three days.” And a final word of advice: “When exfoliating, rub in a circular motion and rinse off well, so the dead skin cells are taken off,” says Dr. Patel. Then you can scrub away—minus the detrimental effects and add in a refreshed glow instead.
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