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Basics of exfoliation: Here’s how to get it right

Let’s admit it, we’re no longer obsessed with just cleansing our skin at the end of a long day. In the pursuit of a fresh, glowing face, exfoliation is the next step. An add-on to one’s regular cleansing routine, the products for exfoliation come with multiple ingredients, varied formulations and sometimes complicated application mechanisms that are bound to perplex even the most experienced skincare enthusiasts. We decode the process and products. 

Why exfoliate?

Our skin lives on a 28-day cycle where cells at the bottom of the epidermis gradually become harder as they keep coming back to the surface where they die and flake off to reveal new skin cells. This process slows down as you age. Add to that environmental factors and hormonal changes, and you have skin that looks dull and uneven.

The exfoliation process refines the outermost layer of our epidermis, cleaning away excess sebum and dead skin cells, and repairing dull skin. With regular regimes, the skin gets brighter; serums and moisturisers sink in effortlessly; and one looks fresher and more hydrated. So the health of your skin absolutely depends on exfoliation.

Methods of exfoliation

There is physical exfoliation and a chemical one. The former is about scrubbing on the outside – scrubbing with a brush or with a face scrub. A good scrub would mean rough particles nearly rubbing your skin to perfection with natural ingredients and micro granules. Chemical exfoliation employs acids to cleanse and scrub the skin from within, and uses products with ingredients like glycolic, salicylic or lactic acid to dissolve the dead skin cells.

Physical exfoliation

There are so many ways to do this. All you need to do is bring in a product that has fine particles that massage the skin and give it a good scrub. It is equally about finding the right exfoliants that don’t damage the skin and cause abrasions. A good example is the Shiseido Waso Soft Cushy Polisher that’s made with soybeans and gentle plant-based granules. The Thalgo Gentle Exfoliator features Jojoba oil micro-beads, and the L’Occitane Almond Delicious Paste uses crushed almond nuts and sugar crystals whipped with nourishing almond oil and almond butter for a good clean-up. Even the Bobbi Brown Buffing Grains For Face works well for a gentle, hydrating scrub. Another way to do this is with a Foreo or a Clarisonic device. Add your regular cleanser, and get the gadget to do the rest. 

Chemical exfoliation

Though complicated, it gets results. A healthy use of glycolic, salicylic, lactic acid, retinol or even enzymes help to brighten and cleanse the skin, and clear it of basic issues like acne, hyper-pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles and large pores. The Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), such as glycolic and lactic acid, are most common and easy to use – they stimulate collagen production and brighten the skin (plus, they are actually hydrating). The Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA) or salicylic acid works better on oilier skin because it dissolves the oil within the pore – best for those with acne-prone skin. The strongest is of course the glycolic formulas – they are great at resurfacing and smoothing out uneven skin tone.

Our favourites include Pixi Glow Tonic, which comes with glycolic acid, the Ordinary Peeling Solution with AHAs and BHAs, the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 and Dr.Sheths Gulab & Glycolic Toner, with their Basic Brightening Extra Gentle Daily Peel.

Rules of exfoliation

The better way to ensure your skin gets all the benefits while exfoliating is to stick to doing it at night. Use gentler products after exfoliation: A simple moisturiser will do the trick and don’t forget sunscreen the day after. And if you accidentally over exfoliate (yes, that happens) just give your skin a week’s rest and use something soothing, like aloe vera, on the skin. Most importantly, exfoliate only 2-3 times a week.

Top tip: Hot cloth exfoliation

This one’s all the rage now and ensures your skin stays primed to perfection. Just use an oil or an oil-based cleanser on your skin and massage for a bit. Dip a warm but soft cloth (we love muslin) in warm or hot water for a bit, squeeze, and place on your face for a 5-minute steam. The dead skin comes out once you gently cleanse the face with the cloth and remove the oil. 

All images: Courtesy Shutterstock

Latha Sunadh
Deputy Editor
When she's not trying on a new serum, researching on yet another classic fragrance and sharing lip balms with her 5-year old daughter, Latha Sunadh keeps it reined in with a nice song and a good book. Special skills include obsessing over handmade, home-made and handcrafted luxuries.