Exfoliating 101, all your questions answered

Exfoliating your skin is a super important part of your skincare routine.

Implementing a simple, exfoliating treatment plan can help to treat several skin conditions effectively.

In the clinic, many of the questions asked focus on exfoliation.

So buckle up for some fresh learnings with our 101 exfoliation guide – it’s going to be a smooth ride.

Exfoliation explained

Q: What is exfoliation? Why should I care?

A: An easy one to begin with! Exfoliating is the act of sloughing off dead skin cells, to reveal newly generated ones.

You care because it’s a natural part of your skin’s life cycle known as desquamation. As we age cellular turnover slows down and stubborn skin cells adhere to our skin’s surface, causing our once vibrant skin to look dull and dry, so on occasion, it needs a boost, which is where your exfoliation comes in.

How do I exfoliate?

Q: How Can I exfoliate?

A: There are three ways you can do this—manually, with a scrub, a rough washcloth, or mechanically with a microdermabrasion machine; or chemically, with acids like glycolic, salicylic, lactic, or mandelic acid.

This article on the types of exfoliation methods will help guide you.

When should I start exfoliating?

A: Everyone needs to figure out the right way to exfoliate for their skin type, how often and the modality you use will depend on your individual skin type and texture. If exfoliation makes your skin red and irritated, don’t do it too frequently.

Exfoliation is a practice that requires experimentation. Some people can tolerate more abrasive products while others need a more gentle exfoliation, leaving their skin red and irritated.

On the one hand, you are scrubbing dead cells to stimulate new growth and reveal a healthy fresh glow. On the other, you’re semi-sanding your face, so finding the correct balance is key.

In your 20’s: We recommend starting to gently exfoliate in your 20s.

In your 30’s: You may want to consider scheduling a course of mild chemical peels or the occasional microdermabrasion once a month when you reach your 30s to give your skin a boost. Again go carefully, if you over-treat your skin, you could be setting yourself up for irritation and inflammation.

In your 40s and upwards: It may be time to up the frequency. This is the time when your skin begins to thin and becomes very vulnerable to the environment. The natural enzymes in your skin begin to work less effectively at removing dead skin cells, so they hang on and prevent your skin from reflecting light. The result is an ashy and dull look.

What are the types of exfoliation?

Q: There are four types of exfoliant treatments what are they?


  • Physical Scrubs – sloughs off the outermost layer of dead skin.

  • Enzymes – A chemical exfoliation dissolves dead skin cells and the glue that holds them together, allowing a more thorough exfoliation. these are a great option if you have sensitve skin

  • Beta Hydroxy Acids – Chemical exfoliation goes a little deeper into the pores where it dissolves built-up congestion. Salicylic Acid is the most common beta hydroxy acid, which is oil-soluble, so it helps to flush out clogged pores.

  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid – This is a water-soluble form of chemical exfoliation, that will lighten and brighten your skin, depending o the strength they can also trigger cellular activity like collagen hyaluronic acid production. Acids like glycolic, malic, and lactic are all forms of alpha-hydroxy acids.

Physical exfoliation explained

Q: We often hear the term physical exfoliant what is this exactly?

A: These are usually scrub based and is used to exfoliate the surface of your skin. This type of physical exfoliation removes the dead skin cells sitting on the surface of your skin; they are a great way to address flaky, dry areas of concern.

But there are a few things we want you to keep in mind the next time you scrub your face. Size and shape matters, that’s right, the smaller the granules, spheres, or powder, the less harsh your scrub will be.

Opt for exfoliants that use spherical exfoliating particles; ingredients like shells, nuts, sugar, or coffee grounds have jagged, sharp edges, which can easily catch on your skin, causing tiny micro-tears that lead to inflammation (see below). So a coffee or sugar scrub will make for an amazing body treatment, skip using it on your face.

Remember, scrubs are not for everyone. If you have irritated skin, we recommend avoiding these.

Chemical exfoliation explained

Q: What is chemical exfoliation?

A: Chemical exfoliants are ingredients like enzymes, and acids, that dissolve dead skin instead of scrubbing as physical exfoliants do.

Enzymes, BHAs, and AHAs, are all forms of chemical peels which work by loosening the bonds that hold your skin cells together, called the intracellular matrix.

Q: As I introduce different types of chemical exfoliants into my routine, my skin turns pink, why?

This is due to a rush of blood to the surface of your skin. This blood packed with oxygen and nutrients is crucial for healthy skin. While your skin is your body’s largest organ, it is also the last organ to receive this nourishment, making it incredibly important to use products that stimulate the skin. So don’t be afraid. This redness will subside over time to reveal a rosy glow.

What is physical vs chemical exfoliation

Q: How is physical and chemical different? Should they be used in conjunction? Anything we need to know before doing both?

A: Your skin is a magical organ; it is constantly regenerating itself. To have a great functioning skin, you need to regularly but gently exfoliate. We recommend both chemical and physical exfoliation for this.

If you don’t have sensitive skin, you can alternate between using gentle scrubs, as well as a mild chemical exfoliant. It’s a little bit like a workout for the skin. But remember, also like a workout, you can’t immediately run a marathon. If you’re completely new to exfoliation, we recommend taking it easy.

In terms of physical exfoliation, we like powders, enzymes from fruit and gentle gommage peels. With chemical exfoliation, what you use will completely depend on your skin type. For instance, if you are prone to breakouts, BHA is beneficial. If you are looking for plumping and rehydration, alpha hydroxy acids are your best bet.

Q: What happens if we over-exfoliate?

A: This can cause inflammation and wear down the skin’s protective barrier function, causing sensitivity, dehydration, and inflammation. An easy and effective way to prevent this from happening is to beef up your skin’s barrier function before exfoliating by pressing in hydration.

Exfoliating benefits

Q: What are the benefits of exfoliating?

Answer The many beauty benefits of exfoliating are endless. It removes dirt, makeup, and stubborn skin cells, revealing a youthful, glowing complexion. Giving lacklustre skin, a visible luminous glow -read on why it’s a good idea to exfoliate.

Clears Congestion: If you suffer from a combination or oily skin, one that is plagued by breakouts, blackheads, whiteheads, or daily shine, then regular exfoliating may just become your new best friend. A formula containing salicylic acid like Resq anti-blemish complex will help to flush out the follicular wall, neutralising acne-causing bacteria clearing pores. Follow with Sos soothing complex, rich in manuka honey and kanuka to calm your skin.

Helps clear acne breakouts: Skin can easily become congested, pores become clogged, and the natural oils from the skin become trapped beneath the surface, these bacteria love this type of oily environment. Fortunately, by introducing a very gentle chemical peel into your routine, you can keep your skin free from stubborn blockages, helping to stop acne in its tracks.

Helps products to penetrate deeper: Regular exfoliation dislodges stubborn skin cells removing blockages from the skin. This encourages the absorption of active, topically applied ingredients into the epidermis, helping you get the most out of your skincare products.

Fights premature ageing: Want to know another fab beauty benefit of regular exfoliation? It can help slow down the hands of time and fight signs of premature ageing. The simple stimulating rubbing and slouching action or a topical chemical peel will help to boost collagen and improve circulation, bringing both nourishment and nutrients up from the dermis to the surface of your skin. The exfoliation action naturally stimulates the fibroblasts in the skin, helping to synthesize collagen, your skin’s internal scaffolding.

Removes waste: Did you know that regular exfoliation stimulates your lymph? It can help to encourage the removal of toxins stored in the fatty tissues under your skin.

After you have exfoliated

Q: I have been told what you do after you exfoliate can make a difference to your skin

A: Most people don’t realize, that the way to properly exfoliate, means that after you’re done with the exfoliating step, you should moisturise because exfoliating your skin can help your other products work more efficaciously.

Because you’re removing skin that’s wanting to be sloughed off in the first place, that means you are revealing new skin underneath the surface, and that skin needs to be rehydrated. So we recommend whipping out your favourite moisturiser or hyaluronic product and get anointing. Fortify barrier repair cream or Quench ultra-hydrating gel are a great place to start.

Exfoliating and sensitive skin

Q: Is it ok to exfoliate sensitive skin?

A: This is a tricky subject; you need to strike a delicate balance, so we created a whole article on this subject, which you can read here.

Micro tears in your skin

Q: Are micro-tears in the skin real?

A: Micro tears occur when you use something with a sharp edge that creates an invisible laceration in the outer layer of your skin.

Q: Think of when you scratch yourself, say with a sharp edge of your nail, and it creates a tiny little laceration. If the skin on your face isn’t scratched too deep, then no blood will form, but the invisible laceration is still there.

Harsh bristles, such as from a Clarisonic brush, can create micro-tears when pressed too firmly on the skin. Also, natural facial scrubs can have sharp edges, too. Those that contain walnut and apricot, for example, have little sharp edges when rubbed over the skin. This is why perfectly round, non-plastic exfoliating ingredients are better to use in facial scrubs or powders.

The problem with micro-tears is that they can create these tiny cracks in your skin, allowing moisture to escape easily, thus upsetting the protective barrier. Also, irritants can get down to the nerve endings causing a stinging sensation, so products that might not normally sting you, and now might start stinging if there are micro-tears in your skin.

Want to learn more about exfoliation? This beginner’s guide by dermatologists may help you.

One thought on “Exfoliating 101, all your questions answered

  1. Reyna says:

    This is really interesting, its clear you really know what your talking about when it comes to the skin.
    I have shared your site in my social networks!

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