From clearing grime build-up to helping rid dead cells, exfoliation can work wonders on your skin, even more so in the winters. We talked to dermatologists to decode the how, when, and why of exfoliation.
We all know that the skin is a vital part of our anatomy as its tissues protect our muscles, bones, and internal organs from direct exposure; but what many don’t know is that to keep up with its 24×7 job of protecting our body, our skin has to constantly go through a life cycle — a process of renewal and rejuvenation.
Skin cell turnover is the rate at which our skin produces new cells. These travel from the lowest layer of the epidermis to the top layer, die and then shed off to reveal healthier, younger skin. Due to a variety of reasons, our cell renewal factor slows down, which leads to an unnecessary accumulation of dead skin, and this is where exfoliation comes in.
Exfoliation aids in clearing clogged pores and getting rid of dead skin cells. Dr. Madhuri Agarwal, Founder and Medical Director of Yavana Aesthetic Clinic, says, “According to our usual skin cycle, we generally shed dead cells of old skin on a regular basis, but in case the skin functioning is not normal due to various reasons, such as an unhealthy lifestyle, continuous travel, pollution, changing climate, health problems, etc., the dead cells pile up on the surface of the skin and are not shed regularly.”
Age is an important factor as well. She adds, “With age too, the cell turnover slows down and the dead cells are not shed properly. Due to this, the skin appears dull, dry and dark. A regular exfoliation routine helps remove the dead cells and makes the skin more healthy, hydrated and smooth. Hence it is essential to have exfoliation in a skincare regime.”
She adds that in the winter season, the dead cell build up is even more as compared to the warmer months. Therefore, it is important to exfoliate regularly.
How often should you exfoliate?
Most dermatologists agree that exfoliating a couple of times a week in the winters is the best idea. “While the frequency of exfoliation depends on your unique skin type, a maximum of 2-3 times a week is the right frequency,” says Dr. Neena Chopra, Director, Beauty and Technical, Just Herbs, adding, “This way, not only are you regularly clearing away dead skin but you’re also not being too abrasive on the skin.”
Avoid going overboard, they warn. “Too much exfoliation may lead to skin damage and pigmentation,” cautions Dr. Reema Arora, Medical Head Facial Aesthetic, Cocoona Centre for Aesthetic Transformation, New Delhi. Moreover, too much of exfoliating can also lead to sensitive skin or rashes. Two times a week is sufficient to take care of the dead cells without stripping the healthy skin or irritating the normal skin.
Different skin types, different products
You’ve probably seen a variety of products on the shelves that lend themselves to exfoliation. Scrubs, beads, exfoliating washes, pumice stones, gloves and brushes all fall under this category. While scrubs, beads, soft brushes and other gentle products are best suited to facial skin, gloves, pumice stones are better for the rest of the body. Also, gently rub these over those oft-forgotten elbows, knees and heels to rid dry winter skin.
Dr. Agarwal also points out, “Keep in mind that the one single exfoliator cannot be used by all skin types, so avoid picking a generic scrub. Instead, it is advisable to pick a scrub according to skin type. For oily skin, use a gel-based scrub, whereas for dry skin, use a cream-based scrub.”
She also adds that mechanical exfoliates (brushes, gloves, pumice stones) are good for oily skin and should be avoided on sensitive skin, while chemical exfoliants (AHA or BHA glycolic acid, salicylic acid) are milder and better for sensitive and acne-prone skin.
And for those with acne who thought exfoliation is a bad idea, think again. Busting the myth, Dr. Agarwal says, “They require the exfoliation to reduce the oil and dirt build up in the blocked pores and minimise the new acne. Simply choose the right scrub and avoid scrubbing the face too vigorously.”
Dr. Anju Methil, Dermatologist, The Skin and Shape Clinic Mumbai adds, “Acne-prone skin is sensitive, but exfoliation can be done but with care or with salicylic and mandelic acid peels at a dermatologists office as these provide exfoliation along with medicinal properties which help in the control of acne.” She cautions, “The only skin types that should avoid scrubs and exfoliators are those with very dry skin and sensitive skin.”
Tips before you exfoliate
There are a few things to keep in mind while exfoliating. “In the winter season, use a mild face wash and then use the exfoliator, never skip the face wash before using the exfoliator,” says Dr Agarwal, adding, “after the exfoliation, apply a mild alcohol free toner to soothe the skin. Then follow it up with a Vitamin C or moisturising cream.”
Dr. Arora reiterates, “It is important to moisturise the skin as exfoliation can lead to excessive dryness. Healthy skin is always well-moisturised.”
Dr. Chopra suggests, “Wet your face before exfoliating. Ideally, you would have cleansed it with a gentle and mild foaming cleanser. Rub the exfoliator onto your face, covering all areas with the grits. Massage it in, using a circular motion for a few minutes. Gently work the exfoliator into the pores. Wipe the exfoliator off your face or body using a clean cloth, or rinse with warm water and then pat dry.”
Also, avoid exfoliation for at least 2-3 days if a skin treatment was recently done, advises Dr. Agarwal.