How to exfoliate for your skin type

Image: Vogue 

Exfoliating is important year-round, but particularly as the temperature get colder and the air gets drier. When skin is dry the dead skin cells, if not properly sloughed away, can cause clogged pores resulting in breakouts. According to Dr. Dennis Gross, NYC-based dermatologist and founder of his namesake skincare brand, exfoliating daily also has anti-aging benefits. “It helps to reduce and fade dark spots, firms the skin, while removing dry skin.” And that’s not all!

Dr. Neal Schultz, NYC-based dermatologist, host of and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz goes so far as to say that along with SPF exfoliation is the best therapeutic skincare treatment that you can do at home to get healthier, more radiant, and younger-looking skin. “It  makes other skincare ingredients/products apply and penetrate better, evens skin tone, treats and prevents ingrown hairs, reduces oil content (the root cause of acne) in your skin, helps prevent breakouts (even hormonal/menstrual) and makes existing breakouts heal faster. It also reduces the appearance of enlarged pores.”

Not all exfoliators are created equally, however. Not only are there different types, but depending on your skin you should proceed in a certain way.

Image: Vogue

What are the different kinds of exfoliation and what are the pros and cons?

There are two types of exfoliants: chemical and physical (also called mechanical). “Chemical exfoliants essentially dissolve the glue holding the unwanted dead skin cells on while physical exfoliants mechanically remove them by rubbing or abrading them off,” explains Dr. Schultz . “Chemical exfoliants can be suitable for all skin types, even for sensitive skin, while physical exfoliants should never be used on sensitive skin. Chemical exfoliation gives much better, consistent and predictable results than any form of physical exfoliation because the outcome of physical exfoliation depends on three variables which are never the same: How much pressure or how hard you rub, how long you treat any given area, the lack of constancy of the physical exfoliating medium (i.e. granules or loofah).”

Dr. Schultz considers glycolic acid the gold standard in superficial peeling agents. “When properly formulated (i.e. balanced, buffered, pH adjusted) and applied, it gives you smoother, brighter, more even toned, smaller pored younger looking skin – with no downtime (no redness, no irritation).” For the record, Dr. Schultz  has performed over 60,000 glycolic peels in his office!

If you are going to opt for physical exfoliation Dr. Schultz underlines that you should start with a gentle one and apply it with a loofah or washcloth. “Try circular motions with gentle pressure for a few minutes. Lubrication with a gentle cleanser will help avoid irritation. Please remember that if a little is good, more isn’t necessarily better.” Next, he suggests trying a cleanser with exfoliating granules, but make sure you choose one with round or smooth granules, not one with sharp, hard or angular particles like crushed nut shells which, he says, can be too sharp and abrasive and actually damage your skin. “Other products to look for are granular cleansers with polyethylene beads, which are also round and smooth.”

Does how often you exfoliate depend on the season? Your skin type?

Dr. Gross suggests exfoliating every single day no matter what season it is. “It’s the key to making skin look beautiful. My peel is specially formulated to remove dead, dull skin that is accumulated over 24 hours. Using it daily allows for a cycle exfoliating away dull, dead skin cells and cell-turnover. It is also a multi-tasking product because it gives you a dose of anti-aging ingredients every single day. Note Dr. Gross’ peels come in several strengths based on frequency and number of acids including Universal Formula, Extra Strength, Medi-Spa (a weekly treatment), and Ultra Gentle Daily Peel for those who have sensitive skin, or are just trying peels for the first time.

What are important things to keep in mind in regards to exfoliation based on your skin type?

Dry: “Make sure to not over-exfoliate because this dry out your skin even more. This will lead to irritation, as well as flakiness,” says Dr. Gross.

Sensitive: “If your skin is sensitive or irritated due to rosacea, eczema, prescription, or over the counter retinols, make sure to consult with your dermatologist before treatment,” says Dr. Gross.

Acne prone skin? “Avoid harsh scrubs that can irritate and opt for gentle microexfoliation instead. For acne prone skin, look for treatments with salicylic acid or sulfur which controls the oil that feeds the bacteria.”

As far as ingredients, Dr Schultz stresses that the gold standard is glycolic acid and/or salicylic acid for normal, oily skin, or acne prone skin. “I would recommend kits based on lactic acid only for truly sensitive skin (which I define as skin FREQUENTLY irritated by MANY COMMON skincare ingredients). For thicker dull skin with lots of excess retained dulling or clogging dead cells go for higher concentrations of glycolic and/or salicylic. Lactic just won’t be potent enough here.”

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