Reader Q&A: Exfoliation

Dear Below Freezing Beauty,
When going gets tough, I get exfoliating. I would exfoliate every day if I was sure it was good for me. I’ve read differing opinions on the topic. Most concerning are exfoliating face cleansers; I’ve read that they do more damage than good. Is this true? Is it because too much exfoliation can be a bad thing? Or are exfoliating beads the culprit?
Sincerely, Smooth As Silky Silk

(Seriously, I’m not making these up. That’s how she signed it.)

I loooooove to exfoliate. Let me say it again: I loooooooove to exfoliate. Is there anything in the world that feels better than freshly scrubbed skin? I’ll answer that for you: No. No, there is not. Exfoliating removes dead skin from the surface of your epidermis, which stimulates blood flow and cell turnover, leaves your skin brighter, softer and smoother, and makes it better able to absorb product. It’s one of the most satisfying parts of my beauty routine.

That being said, SASS, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Pretty much everything I’ve read recommends exfoliating no more than twice a week (once if you have sensitive skin). You don’t want to strip your skin and dry it out. And the general understanding right now is that you don’t want to scrub your face with anything too coarse. One of the more polarizing products out there is St. Ives Apricot Scrub. (Check out the reviews on MakeUpAlley.) Some people swear by it, but there’s a lot of concern that the ground nut hulls in the product are too sharp and rough to use on facial skin. If you’re exfoliating with something that’s too rough, it can tear or damage the skin on your face, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of exfoliating in the first place. I’m not a big fan of microbeads personally, but there’s something to be said for using a product in which the physical exfoliant doesn’t have any hard edges.

There’s always the DIY/natural route, although you still run into that same rough-edges issue. I used to make this scrub/mask with sugar, apple cider vinegar and green tea:

I loved the way it made my face feel, but I stopped using it after a while because I was concerned that rubbing sugar crystals all over my face was going to end up doing more harm than good. If you’re going to use a sugar scrub on your face, I recommend using superfine baker’s sugar. (I am a big fan of sugar scrubs for the body, particularly the Australian Igloo from this year’s LUSH holiday collection. And I swear by this DIY sugar scrub for lips.)

Personally, I’ve turned to technology for my exfoliating help. I wash my face twice a day with the Clarisonic, which I love. It isn’t an exfoliating device per se, but it does have a sort of exfoliating effect because it cleans so deeply and effectively. It was absolutely worth the investment. My face has never been cleaner.

I’ve mentioned before that I have adult acne (despite having basically perfect skin when I was a teenager. LIFE IS NOT FAIR). I’ve found that effective facial exfoliation helps keep my skin under control. I’m hoping for the Personal Microderm system for Christmas (hint, hint, Santa). In the meantime, for the past few months I’ve been using the i-Skin Intelligent Microdermabrasion System, which I picked up at my local Sally Beauty. It’s usually about $36, but I got mine on sale for something like $25 with the Beauty Club discount. I was nervous about trying it out because I was concerned it would be too harsh for my face, but that turned out to not be a problem. (I do recommend starting out slowly at first, though.) The i-Skin is a handheld device with a replaceable sponge head. The device vibrates as you use it to gently rub a corundum crystal cream on your face. It’s an imperfect system (it doesn’t exfoliate quite as intensely as I think I’d like, and I can’t seem to get through a session without corundum grit somehow getting into my mouth), but it has been effective.

I used the i-Skin about once a week for several months, followed each time by Philosophy Hope in a Jar moisturizer, and it made a huge difference in my skin. My husband actually commented on it. My breakouts decreased, my skin tone evened out, and my whole face was just sort of… well, glowy.

The downside to using technology, of course, is that it only works when you use it. Used morning and night, the Clarisonic adds about six minutes total to my face-washing routines, and lately I’ve been running late almost every morning and going to bed too late almost every night, so I’ve been skipping it in favor of “daily facial” wipes, which are convenient in a pinch but just don’t actually get my face clean. And I need replacement heads for my i-Skin, and Sally Beauty is way out in East Anchorage. So my skin’s not looking or feeling as good as it could right now. In fact, I’m about to jump up and go do something to rectify this situation right now, so thanks for the reminder, SASS. I’ll leave you with a few suggestions for further reading:

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