Exfoliation 101

How I exfoliate must be one of the most asked questions around this time of year, when most of us in the UK are facing cold winds and dropping temperatures.  My answer is always one word and that is ‘safely.’

You can load up on antioxidants or enjoy regular monthly facials, there are tons of ways to get the healthy, smooth, glowing skin we all want.  However exfoliation is amongst the best ways to improve your skin’s texture, smooth it and brighten it up and it’s something all of us can do do right at home.  But, it’s really easy to overdo the exfoliation, doing it too often or using the wrong product or method for your skin type.  Therefore, learn here how to properly exfoliate your skin without causing skin inflammation and sensitivity. 

Skin Layers

When exfoliating the skin, you are removing the dead skin cells that make up the outer layer of your skin – the Epidermis.   This layer is actually made up of 5 layers from the bottom layer called the Basal layer, where the baby skin cells form, to the outer layer, where the skin cells have matured, flattened and form the Stratum Corneum.  Think of the Stratum Corneum as the protective outer layer that keeps our skin and body healthy and free from invasion from bacteria and from infection.  

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliating the skin is the removal of dead cells from the outer layer using an exfoliant, which could be either a chemical or physical exfoliant.

Physical Exfoliation

There are a few ways to physically exfoliate such as using the fast moving bristly brush such as the “Clarisonic” facial tool.  Or a few celebs like the use of the body brush which you use to dry brush the skin on your body.   Personally I wouldn’t advocate the “Clarisonic” as I have seen many faces made sensitive by this tool and the dry body brush treatment seems like torture to me!   However, you can use other physical exfoliants such as a scrub with microbeads or sugar to smooth and refine the skin.  With the microbeads, you need to be careful, when I was at college we went through a phase of using St. Ives Apricot scrub and I am telling you right now….be wary of using this as it scrubs skin so hard that it can cause it to tear!  

When looking for a good physical skin scrub, check that the granules are something akin to ‘jojoba seeds’ or gentle enough to help slough the dead skin cells off without causing injury to the skin.

Chemical Exfoliation

I do like chemical exfoliation by way of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or enzymes which all help to loosen the glue-like substance that holds dead skin cells together so they can be easily removed.

Why You Should Exfoliate Your Skin

Your skin is always repairing and replacing itself and you can have layers upon layers of dead skin all over your body.   Exfoliating helps rid your body of these leftover dead skin cells, revealing smoother, healthier and brighter skin immediately.   Not only will you have fresher looking skin, but your skin care products will now be absorbed deeper into your skin and be able to do their job.  Whereas, if you have thickened skin riddled with dead skin cells, any amounts of good serums and moisturisers will not be able to penetrate – thereby wasting your hard earned cash!

Who would find exfoliation helpful?

Acne Sufferers

If you have acne-prone skin, exfoliation can help clear out clogged pores that are enabling your acne.  Exfoliating will also help fade acne scars by accelerating skin cell turnover and stimulating collagen production.

Keratosis Pilaris

Do you suffer from those patches of dry, dead skin cell bumps called Keratosis Pilaris?  Then exfoliating is a ‘must do’ treatment for you.  


Anyone with hyper pigmentation will benefit from a gentle exfoliation as this will get rid of the pigmented dead skin, whilst quickening up the skin renewal system to reveal fresher, brighter skin.

Ageing skin

It’s okay in your younger years to exfoliate now and then, but that’s when your skin is turning over fast! As we age this skin cell renewal slows down and causes thickened lines and wrinkles!   Using a chemical exfoliating ingredient such as glycolic acid is going to speed things up again, giving you younger looking skin. Who doesn’t want that!!

How to Exfoliate Your Face

When using a physical exfoliant, start by cleansing your face with your regular cleanser.  Then, take a marrow fat pea size amount of your face scrub and apply it onto your face in circular motions, paying attention to your problem areas.  Gently massage the scrub onto the skin for at least 30 seconds, then rinse off with warm water.  Then gently pat your skin with a clean towel.   Now follow up with your hydrating mask, serum or moisturiser.

When using a chemical exfoliant cleanse your skin with your regular cleanser.  Apply your chemical exfoliant onto a pre-moistened cloth or pad, then apply this all over your face and allow a few minutes for the exfoliant to be absorbed into the skin.  Then follow up with serum and moisturiser. 

*Do check the instructions of your chemical exfoliant as some may state they need to be washed off*

What Do I Like?

Personally, I prefer my chemical exfoliants in a cleanser that I can use every day and wash off with a face cloth – which gives it extra exfoliating help.   A couple of times a week at night, I like to add in a physical exfoliating step by way of a gentle skin scrub.  *Only do this step within your night time routine*  

Remember that when using exfoliants of any kind, you are taking a layer of dead skin off the outside layer making your skin more prone to sunburn.  Therefore it’s really important to apply a sunscreen every day and it will state this on all chemical exfoliating lotions. 

Sensitive Skin

If you have inflammatory acne, rosacea or hypersensitive skin – ask your skin aesthetician or dermatologist what exfoliant to use and how often to use it.

What you may want to consider are chemical exfoliants called ‘Polyhydroxy Acids’ such as gluconolactone and lactobionic.  They’re supposed to be as effective as AHA’s but do not cause skin to become sensitive.   The main difference is that they have a larger molecular structure and therefore do not penetrate the skin as deeply.  Finally, you should only exfoliate one to three times a week depending on your skin type, as exfoliating too often or too hard may cause micro-tears on the skin’s surface and damage your skin’s protective layer.