Every Question You've Ever Had About Exfoliation for Glowy Skin, Answered

Anyone else notice how everyone's always banging on about just how amazing exfoliating is? Well, it's all true.

Personally, it's my favourite step in my skincare routine because it gives my skin a 'my body is a temple' radiance and glow like nothing else.

But what is exfoliation? Are there different types of exfoliation? And what's better - physical vs chemical exfoliation?

You can find out everything you need to know about exfoliation by listening to the Week 6 episode of Skincare School the podcast below (or keep scrolling for the quick version).

What Is Exfoliation?

Exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells using skincare products.

Our skin naturally turns over skin cells - generally, we shed one layer of dead skin a day - but this rate declines with age (fun!). Hence, exfoliating speeds up this process.

What Does Exfoliation Do For Skin?

Exfoliating is pretty satisfying because it's the one step in your skincare routine that delivers visible results, fast.

A build up of dead skin can can make the skin look and feel dull and rough. Exfoliating can help reveal fresh skin cells, giving the skin a radiant, glowy appearance. This is why a lot people say they wake up with super glowy skin after exfoliating the night before.

You can shop exfoliators here.

Are There Different Types of Exfoliation?

There are two main types of exfoliation: physical exfoliation (or manual exfoliation) and chemical exfoliation. But what's the difference?

1. Physical/Manual Exfoliation: What Is It?

A physical exfoliant is any product that physically buffs dead skin cells away via a rubbing or scrubbing action, hence the term 'manual exfoliation'. They usually contain small spherical particles that gently exfoliates the skin's service.

Common physical exfoliants include face scrubs, cleansing cloths or flannels and cleansing brushes. Physical exfoliation can give the skin an instant (and very satisfying) smooth feel, but it's also easy to go overboard.

You can shop physical exfoliants and scrubs here. You can also learn more about physical exfoliation in our YouTube video below.

2. Chemical Exfoliation: What Is It?

Beloved by many beauty editors, chemical exfoliation refers to products containing mild acids and/or enzymes.

Here's a breakdown of the main chemical exfoliation ingredients:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (or AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid gently loosen dead skin cells on the surface of the skin, rather than physically scrubbing them away.

  • Beta-hydroxy acids (or BHAs) like salicylic acid are smaller and oil-soluble, so they can dislodge buildups of dead skin cells, oil and debris within the pores and deeper layers of the skin.

  • Polyhydroxy acids (or PHAs) are larger and offer very gentle exfoliation on the uppermost layers of the skin.

  • Exfoliating enzymes like papain (an enzyme derived from papaya) and bromelain (an enzyme derived from pineapple) digest dead skin cells.

These chemical exfoliating ingredients work by gently dissolving the 'glue' that cements dead skin cells together.

You can shop chemical exfoliants here: exfoliating serums, salicylic acid/BHA exfoliants, AHA exfoliants. You can also learn more about chemical exfoliants in our YouTube video below.

Physical vs Chemical Exfoliation: Which Is Better?

Whether you choose a physical or chemical exfoliant, both will help your skin turn over cells faster than it can on its own.

If you enjoy the feeling of manual exfoliation and love the instant results, go for it! If you have sensitised or acne-prone skin that can become irritated from scrubbing, you might prefer a chemical exfoliant.

Exfoliating with a salicylic acid chemical exfoliant can also be great for oily, congested or acne-prone skin types.

You can learn more about salicylic acid in our YouTube video below.

Can You Exfoliate Too Much?

Absolutely! There is 100 per cent such a thing as over-exfoliating.

If you go too hard with exfoliants, you can impair your skin barrier. While too many dead skin cells can leave skin looking dull, our skin barrier (or stratum corneum) needs some layers of dead skin to keep environmental irritants out, and hydration in.

An impaired skin barrier results in skin that stings and feels uncomfortable, even when using products that don't usually sting (even water). The answer? Stripping your skincare routine right back to basics for around four to six weeks.

How Often Should I Exfoliate?

How often you exfoliate depends on your skin type, skin concerns and what feels right for you.

Generally speaking, you can use an exfoliating product between one and three times a week in the evening. If you're new to exfoliating, start with a gentle product once a week, and build up to every second or third evening.

Beginners might also like to start with an exfoliating cleanser that combines your cleansing and chemical exfoliating steps.

How To Exfoliate Face.

If using an exfoliating cleanser, apply to wet skin and massage before rinsing off. If using an exfoliating scrub, gently massage into wet skin and rinse.

For liquid chemical exfoliants, saturate a cotton pad and swipe over the face (avoiding the eye area) or tip some into your hands and pat into the skin. Exfoliating serums can be applied to clean, dry skin. You can also apply a moisturiser over the top after exfoliating.

Now you know what exfoliation is and why your skin will love it, here are some of the best-selling exfoliating products on Adore in order of strength.

This list includes the best exfoliating cleansers, the best physical exfoliant, the best enzyme mask, and the best chemical exfoliants.

Shop The Best Physical and Chemical Exfoliants:
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