There once was a time when exfoliation was a simple affair – or so we thought: slough away dead skin cells with your chosen scrub two or three times a week and cue the next step in your beauty regimen. But skincare experts believe many of us have been doing it wrong all along. “We’ve always said that exfoliation is the heart of a good skincare regimen,” says Tracy May-Harriott, international education director for Elizabeth Arden Professional. “But so often those who need to exfoliate the most are the ones who do it the least,” she says.
According to May-Harriott one of the biggest beauty myths we’ve fallen for is that exfoliating more frequently will combat oily skin. In fact, the opposite is true. Before even heading to the beauty counter in search of the ideal exfoliator, May-Harriott says assessing your skin’s oil control and levels is crucial. “If you’ve got really oily skin the last thing you want to be doing is scrubbing every second day; you’re just going to increase oil production,” May-Harriott says explaining that good exfoliator won’t only remove dead skin, it will also activate sebaceous glands bringing more oil to the epidermis, creating a more hydrated complexion.“Think about that same action for someone who has really dry skin though. If you’ve got dry skin you need to be doing two or three mechanical scrubs a week to get moisture into the skin,” she explains.
Traditional exfoliants and scrubs aren’t the only considerations we need to be making either. “Exfoliation has become so generalised. We always just think scrubs, and people traditionally think of a granular exfoliant,” May-Harriott says. “But these days your cleanser can be exfoliating, your moisturiser can be exfoliating and your serum too.”
May-Harriott is referring to enzymes – often fruit derivatives – and hydroxy acids that provide a different type of exfoliation to mechanical exfoliation using the gritty formulas we’re all familiar with. Unlike traditional formulations alpha hydroxy acids and enzymes – which are found in everything from cleansers to masks – dissolve old skin cells and are thought to stimulate cell turnover in the epidermis to refine skin texture, clarity and luminosity. “Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), are naturally occurring substances derived from plant sources and milk. Fruit and vegetables such as apples, grapes, cherries, lemons, papaya, tomatoes and pineapple all contain AHAs,” explains Skin Institute clinical educator and cosmetic nurse, Tania Mackenzie.
Glycolic and lactic acids are two of the more common AHAs used in new-age exfoliators. “A mild lactic acid cleanser is the gentlest option to help hydrate and gently clean the skin,” explains Mackenzie. “For more robust skin types, these lactic acid cleansers, depending on the brand, can often be used as both cleanser and mask, which can be left on the skin for a few minutes following the initial cleanse,” she explains. As well as helping skin restore radiance and translucency, AHAs can help combat superficial pigmentation. “We are also removing the melanin pigment that is stored inside that skin cell. So by regular exfoliation with AHAs you will notice a brightening of your skin, with a more uniform skin tone,” explains Mackenzie.