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Choosing the Right Exfoliant, Chemical vs Physical

Beautiful skin is always in style and one of the best ways to get there is by regular exfoliation of your skin. Exfoliation is the process of sloughing off the dead skin cells on the top layer of your epidermis to allow newer, younger skin to surface. Performing this type of cleaning on a semi regular basis will dramatically improve the performance of your skin care products. Without a thick layer of dead cells to try and penetrate through, your products will be able reach deeper layers of your epidermis. The end result is more vibrant and healthier skin!

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As a licensed esthetician the question I most commonly receive from my skin care clients is “Which exfoliant is right for me?” There are countless choices on the market, but the basic two are physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants. Let’s take a closer look at what classifies an exfoliant as one or the other and which is best for certain skin types.

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Physical exfoliation is the actual buffing or scrubbing of the skin to remove dead cells. People with large pores and oily skin (not acne-prone) will benefit the most from physical exfoliation. This can be accomplished in many ways. Shaving and using a washcloth or loofa during cleansing are two of the more common forms. Facial exfoliating products, usually called scrubs, contain different types of abrasive ingredients that manually slough off dead cells. Synthetic beads are gentle on the skin but not so good for the environment. Natural ingredients such as almond, walnut, or apricot pieces are too aggressive and can actually scratch the skin causing irritation and the spread of bacteria. That is not to say that all natural scrubs are bad. Ground adzuki beans, oatmeal, and baking soda are all wonderful exfoliants that safely buff the skin without causing damage. When choosing your physical exfoliation tool try to avoid substances with excessive oils. These oils may act like a glue and hold the dead cells on the surface of the skin leading to clogged pores. Some of my favorite products are Bobbi Brown’s Buffing Grains which can be added to any cleanser, Laura Mercier’s Face Polish, or a nice pinch of baking soda in my favorite creamy cleanser. FYI, baking soda can be added to your shampoo as a safe exfoliant for your hair to remove product buildup!

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Chemical exfoliation dissolves the bonds that hold skin cells together making it easy for them to be shed. Chemical exfoliants can be broken down into a couple sub-groups, AHA (alpha hydroxyl acid) and BHA (beta hydroxyl acid). AHA’s include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and a few others. These are water soluble exfoliants and can be applied at different strengths to create a more superficial or deep peel. They are wonderful for dry, sun damaged, mature skin that needs a faster rate of cell turnover as well as sebum stimulation. Deeper chemical peels can be preformed by professionals at medical spa’s, dermatologist office, and even some plastic surgeons offices. NeoStrata brand makes an entire collection of AHA based skin care that is highly recommended by doctors. I also love SkinCeuticals Retexturizing Activator. BHA is salicylic acid, derived from the willow bark tree, (so is aspirin) it is oil soluble and works wonders for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid can break down the oils that clog pores and reduce inflammation, a powerful treatment combination against acne. Skin care professionals offer many BHA treatments that are much stronger than what can be purchased over the counter, but everyday treatment of acne is important. Some products I like are Neutrogena’s Rapid 2-in1 Fight and Fade Gel and Philosophy’s On a Clear Day Oil Free Acne Spot Treatment.

Chemical exfoliants tend to be less aggressive than physical exfoliants but overuse of either may irritate your skin. Normally it is best to choose one or the other as your choice of exfoliation. Remember to exfoliate no more than 3 times weekly depending on your skin’s needs. There are some cases where using both chemical and physical exfoliation could be beneficial. However, it is best to discuss such a special type of treatment plan with your dermatologists prior to beginning it. Taking care of your skin is the best way to preserve it and make sure that your best accessory is in tip top shape.

* Hollie Jean is a Savannah Makeup Artist and licensed esthetician. As a health and well being enthusiast she believes in keeping things simple. You can find Hollie Jean on twitter @holliejean *

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